NFL's Latest Field Addition: Zebra Technologies

By Jose Gallardo

With the NFL football season in full swing and millions of viewers tuning in to watch America’s most watch television show, one thing is for sure, drama will be at the forefront of the season. Consumption of data in real time by both fans and teams is a hunger not easily filled as insight into the performance of players is like food is to a starving man. For the NFL, this need is now met by a company named Zebra as it connect NFL fans more closely with the players.

This technology is not something new; to be exact, the NFL has utilized it for two years but hadn't made the information public. Now that it has been refined and perfected, the NFL will release the information, including all 32 NFL teams.

Zebra places two RFID sensors inside an NFL players’ uniform, one on the left shoulder pad and one on the right. The sensors will be read by twenty radio receivers placed all around the stadium. The information is then received and processed live to provide feedback on a player’s attributes such as: speed, distance traveled, acceleration and deceleration. The sensors are tracking players 15 times per second so as to give analysts a precise reading on the player statistics with a +/- six inch margin of error.

In the past couple of years, throughout each NFL football game, you see coaches and players with a tablet on the field reviewing formations, schemes and coverages. Moving forward, that may be half of what they look for as users will now receive information on how fast a receiver actually is and even more important how fast the defender that is covering him is as well. It will also be giving coaches a clear advantage into placing receivers with better match ups during games and practice.  The health of a player can also be tracked, coaches can see how the energy of players is being drained from play to play and the ability to judge reaction times as the ball is snapped. Players that begin to slow down in the fourth quarter can be substituted and players with pre-injury symptoms can be spotted before a more serious injury occurs such as the tearing of an ACL occurs.

Some players think that all of this information might hurt them in the long run. Coaches having the ability to precisely measure a players’ efficiency is definitely going to be a factor down the road that will be included in player contracts. But at the end of the day, the NFL will be the winner as they capitalize on a fan’s higher level of attachment to the sport.