New technology in the NFL is making football more engaging for fans and safer for players.
Digital technologies are impacting our lives at a quickening pace, but you won’t find the National Football League standing on the sidelines.
The league is barreling into the action and grabbing big headlines for some of its forward-thinking uses of new technology.
Quarterback training, player tracking and game broadcasts are three big aspects of the sport that are being transformed by technology. Even early into the 2015 NFL season fans are seeing significant changes to the game.
Here are three technologies making an impact on the NFL this year.
The most intriguing NFL tech innovation has been the use of virtual reality (VR) to train quarterbacks. The idea is that an NFL team can use VR headsets to train their quarterback without putting him through physically taxing practices.
Additionally, the VR can be used in lieu of regular game film review. Instead of watching a video of an opponent’s last game, the player can relive it on the field in a virtual reality simulation.
Both uses are attractive to teams because they improve game play while reducing risk. The headsets help keep the quarterback safe. And with the new collective bargaining agreements, practice time is limited, but VR time is not.
The Patriots, 49ers, Buccaneers, Vikings, Cowboys and Eagles were some of the early adopters of VR tech this offseason.
As EON Sports VR CEO Brendan Reilly explained, “VR takes Xs and Os from a playbook editor, and it breathes life into them.”
As fantasy leagues continue to rise in popularity, fans pay attention to performance tracking more than ever. So it comes as no surprise that the NFL now has an Official On-Field Player-Tracking Provider from Zebra Technologies.
This season, Zebra’s Radio Frequency Identification System (RFID) was rolled out across every NFL stadium, including Wembley in London. The system communicates with wireless tracking technology that the NFL has put in every player’s shoulder pads throughout the league.
Together the wearables and the RFID system work to provide fans at home with what are being called “next generation stats.” This includes real-time information on a player’s speed, distance and direction traveled during each game.
Fans can access this information in the newly upgraded NFL 2015 app for Xbox One and Windows 10. The statistics will be included as part of every game replay on the app.
“Replays like a one-yard touchdown run, you don’t really need Next Gen Stats,” Todd Stevens, Executive Producer at Microsoft told Wired.
“But some of these plays, like a long pass play, are truly spectacular. We wanted to give them a bit of special sauce.”
Fans aren’t the only ones who get something special.
The NFL hopes that the Zebra tech will give teams the ability to mine the data gathered by the sensors during games and practices. This will help trainers manage a player’s health, and give coaches extra insights that may play a role in managing the roster formation.
The technology, however, is still in its infancy.
This is the first season this tech has been fully implemented across the league so it’s true data gathering powers are not fully recognized. It will take several seasons for coaches, scouts and front office personnel to run statistical analysis and develop historical data patterns on their players.
For now, the Zebra tech will continue to measure every play of every game, and fans can enjoy the new visuals and insights as part of their Sunday routines.
Pylon Cam Gives New Perspectives on the Game
The broadcast channels are also getting into the tech fun this season with an innovative new camera placement.
The “Pylon Cam,” a custom-built pylon located on the goal line that houses many high-resolution cameras, records bird’s eye views down the sidelines and across the end zone plane.
This camera technology isn’t new, but it has limitations.
“They’re not a live camera, they’re meant as a first or second look,” ESPN’s Jay Rothman,
Monday Night Football producer, explained to the LA Times. “We had it in the preseason right away in the first series in Tampa. We used them in our second game, and Jameis Winston went for the pylon for the touchdown.
Despite the constraints, adding cameras that are close to the field of play makes a lot of sense. Football is a game of inches, and the ability to better review a play from various angles means more eyes on the field.
“I think they’re going to be extremely helpful in critical situations when you’re looking at the four corners of the end zone and at the goal line.”