NFL Motion Capture

7 Ways Sports Technology is Changing the NFL

Sports technology is turning into a pretty big business lately and for good reason — it’s proving to be quite attractive to athletes, coaches, and spectators alike. What sports technologies are having the biggest impact on the game?

Read on to learn more about seven sports technologies that are changing the NFL.

No. 1 – Sideline Tablets

NFL sideline tablet

In July of 2014, the NFL announced that Microsoft Surface** tablets would be used on the sidelines during games. Since then, the tablets have been seen being used regularly by coaches, staff, and players throughout every NFL game.

How it changes the game:

Sideline tablets change the way teams strategize, since the technology reduces the amount of lag time between when aerial photos of the opposition are taken and when they can be viewed by the coaches and staff. In addition, players can now review video replays mere moments after the play has occurred, right on the tablets.

Clearly, this is a far cry from the paper-and-pencil and black-and-white-photo era that reigned just a few short years ago.

No. 2 – Health & Fitness Wearables

Fitbit Charge HR

 

Over the past few years, health-monitoring tech has exploded in popularity. Many of these devices, such as the FitBit Charge HR, JawBone Up3, and Microsoft Band**, provide real-time data about all sorts of health-oriented metrics including heart rate, perspiration, rate of breath, and many others — depending on the sophistication of the device.

The area of society that has arguably benefited the most? Professional sports.

We’ve discussed the importance of fitness-tracking tech for potential NFL athletes in past, but the important point to consider is that professional athletes are always looking for an edge over the competition. Health-monitoring tech has proven that if used properly, it can provide exactly that sort of advantage.

How it changes the game:

Coaches can now monitor the health metrics of their players to help guide practice, determine when players are getting fatigued, and even help make decisions about which players should be on the field when — as evidenced by a recent interview with Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.

The great thing about these sort of devices is that as you collect more data about the athletes, the more detailed your analysis can get. Patterns will start to emerge and coaches will come to understand the athlete’s physical abilities in ways that just weren’t possible in the past. In this way, it becomes easier than ever to decide which players are in the best shape and which players need to put in a little extra time to get their “game ready” physique in order.

No. 3 – Body Motion-Capturing Devices

NFL should pad sensors

If you’ve ever wondered how fast a player was accelerating, how high they jumped, or what their top speed was when they dashed across the field into the end zone, you’ll definitely appreciate the NFL’s new found interest in using body motion-capturing devices during games.

Starting in 2014, all shoulder pads used in the NFL came equipped with two tiny sensors that transmit all sorts of data about player location, speed, and motion. Ultimately, this should allow the NFL to answer many of the questions that fans have been pondering about their favorite athletes or teams for years.

How it changes the game:

The biggest benefit of this tech is that it allows the fans to gain a greater insight into exactly how quickly things are moving during the game. This is mainly only useful for entertainment purposes, but you can also imagine that some enterprising teams or players might use this sort of data to find weaknesses and determine which of their players will match up best with upcoming opponents — that is, identify any top speed or acceleration mismatches before those potential mismatches translate into points for the opposition.

No. 4 – Big Data and the Cloud

NFL Cloud

With all of the data that the NFL will be generating about player movement — thanks to embedded sensors like those mentioned above — the league will need to find some way to make sense of that massive data set. This monumental task falls squarely into the realm of Big Data, since it won’t be long until there will undoubtedly be an unruly amount of information to process.

To understand the sort of processing that will need done, consider just one (completely made up on the spot) example, where an NFL statistician is trying to determine the fastest speed recorded by a running back as they were crossing the goal line for a touchdown.

To answer that somewhat simple question, the data processing application would need to query the data set for all touchdowns that were scored by running backs on running plays (as opposed to passes) and then sort by current speed at the goal line. The algorithm would likely need to “look” at every touchdown play that was a run. The processing time of this is going to vary based on how the actual database is set up and how much information exists in the database, but it should be noted that the data set will only continue getting larger with each game that’s played, so it wouldn’t be long before the amount of data that would need processed becomes quite large.

How it changes the game:

The end goal of collecting and processing all of this data is to provide a more enjoyable experience for fans — one which allows the fans to analyze games, players, and coaches in ways that seemed unimaginable just a few short years ago.

Will all of this effort really add anything to the average fan’s experience? It’s hard to say. But for the “die-hard” football fans who just can’t get enough of player stats, this new era of Big Data Football will likely seem like Christmas has come early — every Sunday.

No. 5 – Concussion-detection Equipment

concussion detecting sensor

Concussion-detection sensors were mentioned in a previous post, but there’s no denying that the interest in these sorts of devices is heating up — and for good reason. Concussion awareness has been growing over the past few years and people are looking for ways to reduce both the number of concussions and the amount of concussed players who remain on the field due to being unaware of their injury.

Numerous devices are now on the market to help identify when a concussion occurs including small tabs that get tucked into headbands, special helmets with built-in sensors, and even high-tech mouth guards that send data wirelessly to the sidelines after high-intensity impact — the last one was actually adopted for use by the NFL.

How it changes the game:

Concussion detection equipment won’t help prevent concussions, but it certainly can help identify when a player has suffered a traumatic blow to the head, which goes a long way towards ensuring that these players will receive swift medical attention, instead of just”shaking it off” and hopping back on the field. Of course, we’d ultimately like to see concussions eliminated from the game somehow, but as a first step, concussion detection seems like a good route to take.

No. 6 – Next-Gen Sports Stadiums

NFL Logo

120 yard-long TV screens, rooftop gardens, solar-powered lighting, and free WiFi for all visitors are just a few of the perks becoming standard in modern NFL stadiums. All told, there are hundreds of tweaks NFL owners and stadium managers have been making to help entice fans into the stadium and enjoy an unforgettable experience.

For teams like the Dallas Cowboys and the Jacksonville Jaguars, this has meant adding extraordinarily large TV screens to their stadiums. For other teams, such as the San Francisco 49er’s, the upgrades have included over 2,000 HDTV’s scattered throughout the stadium, around 70 4k TV’s in the luxury suites, two supersized LED screens at either end zone, and a mobile phone app that allows fans to watch replays, order concessions right from their seats, and even figure out which bathroom around them has the shortest line — anyone else feel like we’re living in the future?

How it changes the game:

Truth be told, all of these perks do very little for the actual game. I mean, being able to order your hot dog from the stands doesn’t have any impact at all on the players running around on the field. However, from a fan’s standpoint, these sorts of perks can easily go a long way towards providing an experience that is worth repeating. That is, these high-tech solutions to many of the inconveniences which have plagued sports stadiums for ages may entice fans to come watch a few more games per season, even if their team isn’t doing well.

As a fan of the NFL who’s watched a game live in person (at Heinz field), I can say that many of the perks available at the San Francisco 49ers stadium do indeed sound quite appealing — and I’d be much more inclined to catch a game there than at a stadium that’s still operating like it’s 1970 (e.g. the Oakland Coliseum).

In the long run, I’d be surprised if most stadiums weren’t outfitted with similar high-tech gear as what’s currently found in the higher-end stadiums for two reasons:

  1. The high tech additions to the stadium really can make the fan experience better (see the list of perks 49er’s fans can access during the game)
  2. Stadium managers and team owners are in competition with each other. If one team adds a bunch of really cool high-tech gear to their stadium, it’s only a matter of time before another team follows suit.

No. 7 – Online Video Streaming

NFL Streaming

If you’ve spent any time on this blog at all, you’ll probably know that I think pretty highly of the concept of streaming video online. After all, with traditional TV viewership declining, mobile apps like Sling TV bringing the live TV-watching experience anywhere there’s an Internet connection, video streaming revenues surpassing that of disc rentals, and a whole slew of fancy devices available to bring streaming content to your HDTV with ease, it’s only a matter of time before online streaming video becomes the undisputed champion of the entertainment world.

The big question though is how does any of this affect the NFL?

How it changes the game:

The rise of online streaming video changes the way many fans watch the game each week. More specifically, online streaming changes which games fans can watch on Sunday afternoon and how many games they can watch.

The leading technology in this space is NFL Sunday Ticket, which allows fans to watch every game from pretty much any device (including iPads, Android devices, Roku, and Chromecast), no matter where you live in the United States. This means someone who grew up in Pennsylvania can watch the Steelers play the Browns on Sunday while living in the Pacific Northwest — a game that typically wouldn’t be broadcast in the Seattle area. It also means that fans can stream multiple games at once, which can be quite entertaining, especially if you’re a fantasy football fan.

Similar to high-tech sports stadiums, online streaming doesn’t really affect the players or coaches all that much, but it certainly does wonders for the fans. At the end of the day, the NFL couldn’t even exist without the fans, so the importance of this sort of “fan experience improving” tech really shouldn’t be underestimated.

Final Thoughts

Sports tech is doing great things for the NFL, both on and off the field. I’m excited about many of the technologies in this list, but perhaps even more exciting is the thought of what technologies will be heading our way in the years to come.

Your Turn:

Did I overlook any other emerging or otherwise interesting sports technologies? If so, share your findings in the comments below!

 

**Reminder: Since I’m mentioning a Microsoft product, it’s worth reminding readers that I work for Microsoft. With that said, my job has very little to do with the Microsoft Surface tablets or the Microsoft Band. Still, I’d like to be as transparent as possible about my involvement in the tech industry in general and with Microsoft products specifically.Image Credits: BlackBox Biometrics, mashable.com

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