September 29, 2022
The NFL is using technology in innovative ways, creating a more entertaining and safer sport.
Coaches and players often call football a game of inches. As the NFL embraces technology, however, it's becoming a game of gigabytes.
What technology is used in football?
Perhaps technology's biggest benefit is that RFID chips, wireless communication and machine learning offer a better understanding of the sport.
The NFL is using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to facilitate better data on players and their performances.
Zebra Sport Solution is the NFL's official on-field player tracking provider. Players wear RFID chips in their shoulder pads while stadium tracking devices monitor player movement. Teams gather data on speed, acceleration and distance traveled, using that data to make in-game adjustments, review previous plays and scout opponents.
The NFL views this data to make changes to the game. In 2018, for example, the league implemented new kickoff return rules to prohibit two-man blocking wedges and running starts for players covering kicks. Concussions dropped 38 percent from the previous three seasons as a result.
Beyond preventing injuries, RFID technology can sometimes predict them. If a receiver typically gets off the line at a certain speed and is suddenly slower, he may have a lower extremity injury.
NFL officials also wear RFID chips, so the league sees how they line up before, during and after plays. That helps cut down on the need for replay reviews, which have gotten their own overhaul.
The use of NFL Vision software has beefed up its existing HD video and freeze-frame instant replay system by connecting on-field officials with their supervisors in New York league offices, shortening replay review length and getting us back to the action more quickly.
How does the NFL use computer science?
The league is using technology to improve how teams adapt during a game. Previously, staff would fax black-and-white bird's-eye view images to the sidelines. Today, coaches immediately receive high-res color images on secure Microsoft Surface tablets. The NFL's Sideline Viewing System lets coaches and players swiftly review previous plays, zoom in, make annotations and save favorites for later viewing.
The NFL also deploys technology to benefit the health of the players. Trainers can access electronic medical records via the cloud, reducing the likelihood of choosing unsafe treatment methods. The X2 Biosystems app assesses concussions, helping determine whether a player returns to a game after a hard hit.
The NFL and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have created the Digital Athlete, a virtual representation of an NFL player.
The Digital Athlete combines AWS technology with NFL data, using video footage, player activity, running speeds, equipment and weather to better learn how injuries occur. Through in-game scenario simulations, the league hopes to minimize the impact of injuries and perhaps prevent them in the first place.
Additionally, Riddell's InSite Analytics pairs in-helmet technology with data analysis on impacts to the head. The service sends alerts for different types of impacts and where they're happening, giving players a heads-up on possible injuries.
How has technology improved football performance?
Football is a game of repetition, but team availability, injury concerns and weather sometimes present limitations.
Virtual reality (VR) tools such as Strivr's Immersive Learning let athletes practice without the physical toll, recognizing patterns and becoming more confident come game day. Former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is among the players to use Strivr's technology to memorize hundreds of plays every season.
The players on the field aren't the only ones benefiting from technology. Stats Perform's PressBox Live uses AI technology to collect information like passing grids, drive charts and team patterns, then transmits that data in real-time to announcers and digital teams to share during broadcasts and across social media channels. These immersive insights bring fans closer to the action, even when they're watching from home.
As fantasy football and betting have become more prevalent, the data has found other uses. Betting platforms offer personalized highlights and tips, while fantasy football tools use machine learning to predict player scores based on matchups, weather conditions and historical performances.
Does the NFL have goal line technology?
The NFL uses RFID transmitters inside game balls, but isn't yet using them to confirm touchdowns. The league's concern is that a valid touchdown could be denied if a transmitter were located on the part of the ball that didn't cross the goal line. Instead, the NFL uses a mix of cameras and replay review to confirm or overturn what the officials call on the field.
In the meantime, pylon cameras offer unique looks at player positioning around the goal line.
The NFL recently introduced Hawk-Eye Innovations' Synchronized Multi-Angle Replay Technology (SMART). Hawk-Eye uses multiple camera systems to quickly compile all possible angles, letting officials review the best look at the action. Hawk-Eye is no stranger to innovation — they're behind the technology that determines whether a ball is in or out during a tennis match.
How has technology affected the NFL?
An early adopter of technology, the NFL first experimented with electronic coach-to-player communications way back in 1956. The Cleveland Browns added radio receivers to the quarterback's helmet so the coach could talk to him.
By the mid-'90s, the league introduced a similar wireless communication system for all teams. Then in 2008, the NFL allowed coaches and designated defensive players to communicate with each other. Since then, the league has switched from analog to digital to improve sound quality and reduce interference and now lets officials communicate via headsets.
Through technology, the NFL has evolved tremendously. At your next home tailgate party, take a moment to celebrate the exciting moments ahead.
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