From basketball to soccer, technology is having a growing impact on sports across the board. NFL league chiefs are the latest to embrace this brave new world, with plans to install digital tracking chips inside the shoulder pads of every player for the coming season. About the size of a quarter, the RFID (radio-frequency identification) sensors will be able to monitor the position, speed and acceleration of players.
The first to benefit will be television broadcasters, who can incorporate this new mine of data and statistics in their on-screen graphics and game analysis. According to Zebra Technologies, the firm behind the gadgetry, the information could also be relayed to fans via stadium scoreboards or second-screen apps on phones and tablets.
“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,” Jill Stelfox of Zebra Technologies told USA Today. Eventually, the data will be shared with teams and coaches too, but the developers want to test the reliability of the hardware and the accuracy of its results before that happens.
“What you’re going to see is touchpoints that happen throughout the league,” said Vishal Shah, the NFL’s vice president of domestic media and business development. “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.”
17 stadiums are going to be kitted out with the necessary RFID receivers for the coming season: Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, New England, New Orleans, Oakland, San Francisco, St. Louis and Washington. The technology is expected to be refined fairly rapidly, too — the planned next generation of chips will be able to detect heart rate, lung capacity and temperature.