updated 04:22 pm EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
RFID sensors added to shoulder pads allow position, speed tracking in 17 stadiums
The National Football League (NFL) is embracing additional technology in the upcoming season, with a deal that allows real-time player statistics reporting. The data, which is being called "Next Gen Stats," is made possible by an agreement with Zebra Technologies. Through the Zebra MotionWorks system, fans, players and coaches will have future access to data generated from location measurements during play.
Players will be tracked by two radio-frequency identification transmitters (RFID) within the shoulder pads they wear during the games. The NFL states that data will be collected on all 32 teams, through receivers installed in about half of the league's stadiums. Data gathered includes distance, position and speeds, thanks to the RFID location tracking. It's believed that the data will help the NFL create new experiences, as well as looking into the future possibilities of the game.
"Working with Zebra will give fans, teams, coaches and players a deeper look into the game they love," said NFL Vice President of Media Strategy Vishal Shah. "Zebra's tracking technology will help teams to evolve training, scouting and evaluation through increased knowledge of player performance, as well as provide ways for our teams and partners to enhance the fan experience."
Shah tells USA Today that the data won't be available to teams for the first year of testing, as the league figures out if the program is worth pursuing, as well as for considerations of competition. He added that the information is sent to the NFL cloud, which then allows it to be used in the stadium in a matter of seconds. For the future, the data could be used in apps or other on-screen experiences.
"But as you imagine, longer-term, that is the vision," said Shah. "Ultimately, we're going to have a whole bunch of location-based data that's coming out of live-game environment, and we want teams to be able to marry that up to what they're doing in practice facilities themselves."
Currently, 17 teams will take part in a broad test initiative that will collect data during the entire season. Fifteen of the teams are involved in Thursday night broadcasts, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Green Bay, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, New England, Oakland, San Francisco, St. Louis, Washington. The two remaining stadiums belong to the Detroit Lions and the New Orleans Saints.
The new tracking technology builds on other tests the NFL has run, including the use of GPS and infrared.