Sportress of Blogitude

NFL players to wear tracking technology in pads to enhance fan experience


If the coverage of the National Football League on television wasn’t already a comprehensive, engrossing and captivating spectacle in its current incarnation, be prepared to be even further inundated courtesy of a technological advancement that will only further enhance the fan experience and allow them to delve even deeper into the game.

The NFL has revealed that every player in the league will be outfitted with two tiny sensors that will track their movements and ultimately will be used to further allow fans, even those at the stadium on game days, inside the action.

The sensors run on a watch battery, will emit a signal 25 times per second and are smaller than quarter and will be placed under the top cup of shoulder pads. Sensors will also be attached to officials and placed on yardage sticks.

Vishal Shah, the NFL’s vice president of domestic media and business development, discussed the intriguing innovation with USA Today.

“What you’re going to see is touchpoints that happen throughout the league,” he said. “Certainly, the most comprehensive and impactful might be to the fans themselves. But it’s going to touch areas of our league and give us a deeper understanding of our game.”

In a partnership with Zebra Technologies, a major player in radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, the NFL will also outfit 17 stadiums with the technology needed to track and monitor player movement in real time. Receivers will be placed all around the stadium that will connect to a hub and servers that in turn will be able to produce statistics and data within a second, data that eventually will be available for use in television broadcasts.

“For those of us that are coaches from our couches, we’re like, ‘Oh, come on! That guy was open!’ Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t,” said Jill Stelfox, general manager of Zebra’s location solutions division, which produces its MotionWorks software.

“If we know closing distance of a defender and an offensive guy, you can really know whether that hit would be made or whether he really could’ve made that play.”

Stelfox added that time and patience will be needed before all the bells and whistles afforded by the sensors will be fully realized.

“It takes time and history with these kind of systems to really get the full flavor of what’s possible,” Stelfox said. “There’s even more we can’t think of that’s possible.”