Once dubbed as a slow league, averse to game-changing technology, America’s most popular league NFL has moved away from watching game films on Apple iPads and training videos culled from drones to advanced tech upgrades such as better stadium WiFi, wearables and real-time tracking technology. And now over the years, data has been married into every facet of NFL. This is one major league that loves its data that has the potential to reap millions of profits. From game stats to drafting of players based on grading and trait based analysis and powering fan engagement, data is finely tuning the league.
Real-time tracking technology has also made a dramatic impact in NFL, allowing the league to experiment with quarter-sized radio-frequency identification transmitters embedded in the shoulder pads of each player, a system developed by Zebra Technologies. The transmitters collect data on the player’s speed, position and other metrics in real-time.
It is the same RFID chips deployed by Zebra Technologies that gave higher visibility into asset tracking and greater supply chain visibility across industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, retail and more. Analytics India Magazine caught up with Jill Stelfox, VP & GM of Zebra Location Solutions who gave a peek into RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology and the partnership with industry leading Kinduct world’s leading data and analytics solutions provider.
RFID vs GPS
One of the most popular asset tracking technologies, the NFL chose to go with RFID over GPS because RFID is accurate up to 15 cm (6 inches), while GPS is only accurate to the meter, revealed Stelfox. Here’s where the two differ. While RFID technology is battery-operated and works extremely well in small range, GPS is satellite-based and works well in long range. An inexpensive option compared to GPS technology, RFID has been widely used in enterprises for better utilization of IT assets and reducing overhead costs.
“The Zebra Sports Solution leverages the same tracking and location solutions technology that Zebra implements globally for multinational corporations in healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and transportation & logistics to give visibility to an organization’s assets, people and transactions,” shared Stelfox.
In NFL, RFID chips are not only changing the game for teams and coaches, this has also improved fan engagement by making stats on player activity available to fans and broadcasters, via the Next Gen Stats program.
Future of NFL analytics
According to consulting group Booz Allen Hamilton, historically NFL had the least amount of data to play with. But now with sensors on shoulder pads or wearable tech, the league is awash with data. Predictive analytics is used to help teams make better informed decisions regarding a) game strategy; b) building better teams; c) training and player management; d) most importantly monetizing fan engagement; e) scouting talent.
Today, predictive analytics can crunch data to eliminate guesswork during draft process and even forecast injuries in players. When it comes to player management and injury prevention, with so much frenzied activity on the side, computer tracking technology wouldn’t have been able to deliver the goods. With Zebra’s tracking solutions, NFL teams have access to terabytes of data that redefined the playbook with every snap of the ball. As the “Official On-Field Player Tracking Provider” of the NFL, Zebra captures high-speed player data and converts it into real-time, usable statistics.
There’s more to it — the technology is used by coaches and trainers to gain greater visibility into player dynamics, and they can customize workouts to focus on speed, agility and other critical elements of the game. Stelfox reveals users receive real-time updates that are fed into customized analysis and individual action plans for athlete and team preparation, injury prevention, and performance enhancement. These updates are available to all NFL and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams that use the Zebra Sports practice system.
Besides, on the coaching end, data and analytics enables trainers to understand how the players are performing physically. Subsequently, the input from coaches limits the chances of injury, aids faster recovery and leads to better training scenarios. With data-based evaluation becoming the norm, teams are always coming up with the best analytical methods to evaluate data effectively.
Bottomline – can a team win a Super Bowl on the back of analytics
Data has raised the bar for players who find ways to push the physical limits and coaches who are drumming up personalized training sessions around the needs of the players. The number game has been significantly upped and advanced analytics in NFL has moved beyond having a consultant onboard to determining how far you can go with data. Mid-size companies have spawned on the back of this and it’s no longer the future and teams are heavily investing in build tech staff and technology to raise the bar
Today, in NFL, every team is knee-deep in numbers. That explains Zebra Technologies recent tie-up with Kinduct Athlete Management System. Canada-based Kinduct Technologies is at the forefront of advanced analytics and data aggregation. One of the chief highlights is that Kinduct has been able to standardize what metric matters the most in sports, separating noise from data to crank out actionable insights
With the integration with industry leading Kinduct Athlete Management System, teams will get an extended, detailed view into players’ health, wellness, and overall performance.
Now that NFL is turning into a big data machine, analyzing structured and unstructured queries on the side and diving deep into fan sentiments, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find a time winning the NFL on the back data-driven decisions anytime soon.
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Richa Bhatia is a seasoned journalist with six-years experience in reportage and news coverage and has had stints at Times of India and The Indian Express. She is an avid reader, mum to a feisty two-year-old and loves writing about the next-gen technology that is shaping our world.