Tech

In Depth Guide to the NFL Technology & Media Ecosystem

by Kevin MerisanuSep 08 2019

The NFL season is officially underway, and it's their 100th season... pretty impressive. While there may be a varying opinion on the NFL and player relations, the fact, the NFL has the highest attendance of any professional sports league in the world by some distance.

"As of February 2019, each team receives $255 million annually from the league's television contracts, up 150% from $99.9 million in 2010. Under the current television contracts, which began during the 2014 season, regular-season games are broadcast on five networks: CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN, and the NFL Network."

This means, their content gotta be top-notch, and there is no shortage of technology that makes the viewing and playing experience better than any other major professional sports league.

We decided to put together an in-depth guide to the tech used by the NFL and what they all do to help create a high-level ecosystem backed by millions of dollars.

Zebra Technologies

Bringing a whole new level to sports analysis, Zebra Technologies teamed up with the NFL to create radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for players’ shoulder pads. The devices transmit to receivers which are planted around the stadium and can send real-time data around the world in a matter of seconds

Zebra, the NFL's official partner in adding chips to balls and shoulder pads, has been the most successful so far at meeting the league's stringent requirements. The RFID chip system is the same one it had already used in manufacturing and hospitals—John Pollard, VP of business development at the company, called it an "asset-tracking product."

When it comes to performance, wearable tech is used to track exertion and fatigue—basically using numbers to reiterate the importance of rest to being game-day ready.

STATSports' Apex system (the one some NFL teams use) combines a GPS and an accelerometer to track player movement and adds biometric insights such as heart rate as well. It tracks over 50 different metrics in real-time, from the number of sprints to the number of impacts.

Currently, the NFL doesn't permit GPS tracking in games, while the NCAA does. "If a practice is going a little longer, it quantifies what a coach would already see as far as player exertion—just to kind of reinforce it," Carey added.

The company also had chips inside footballs in each game this season, but the NFL didn’t release that data through Next Gen Stats because it was still evaluating how best to do so. When the league releases all in-game data to the clubs, per the competition committee, ball tracking data will be included.

MVPs (Mobile Virtual Players)

MVPs are remote-controlled and designed to right themselves as soon as they’re tackled. This technology eliminates the need for live tackling during practice, reducing the risk of injury or concussion for players.

The Sprint is the newest mobile, remote-controlled, self-righting, padded training dummy that will hit the fields in 2019! SPRINT was designed with high schools in mind, budget-friendly ($3,450) and enhanced performance on rougher grass fields.

Specs on this are pretty impressive too, with the battery lasting from 3-6 hours and able reach speeds up to 16 MPH. Built-in smart technology steering correcting and self-righting.

Using a device called the Catapult OptimEye S5, real-time data tracking of players’ performance could help scouts find the best for the NFL. In addition to the players’ sensors, the partnership utilizes IoT tech to allow communication with sensors built into footballs trialed by the NFL, which measure data such as spin rate and velocity.

Here is how they calculate what they call PlayerLoad

Strivr

Born out of Stanford University in 2015, Strive was first introduced to the NFL through the Dallas Cowboys, whose players used the technology to watch pre-recorded plays in 360 degrees to help them prepare for upcoming games.

Pretty impressive what is and will continue to be possible. Players work hard to train physically, but equally, training the mind is just as important. With the speed of the game getting faster, players need to do all they can to keep up. Tech like VR will allow them endless game scenarios without the physical battering taken while playing.

Fan Jersey

Using sensory technology, the Fan Jersey made by Wearable Experiments connects fans directly to their favourite team by allowing them to feel what their team feels.

"We:eX was brought on board to merge hardware, software and apparel design for a seamlessly integrated experience. With the newly launched Alert Shirt, the company weaves these three elements together with real-time sports data, which is transmitted via a smartphone app to the electronics within the jersey. The Alert Shirt then converts the data into powerful sensations that simulate live sports action."

HoloLens

Microsoft and the NFL are collaborating on a concept whereby football fans can view football games as 3D holograms, watching and analyzing the action from all angles.

Last year, Microsoft revealed how HoloLens, its holographic headset, could show users a 3D rendering of a stadium, with detailed information such as attendance and weather.

As the NFL season has begun, we'll see the use of more of this technology than ever and the progress made over the last 100 years. From sideline cameras, wearable tech, VR and robotic training dummies - there is a lot to be excited about in the merging of tech and the world of sports.

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