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The Internet of Things comes to the NFL

Thor Olavsrud | Sept. 8, 2015
Every NFL player and stadium will be equipped with RFID sensors and receivers, respectively, this football season, allowing the league to track fine-grained location data for every play.

Lynx is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, an end to the NFL deal and restoration of patents.

In the NFL, it's go big or go home

With a hardware and software solution in hand, Stelfox says Zebra had to find a customer. It decided to go after the biggest fish in the pond: the National Football League. It started with a meeting in December 2012, before the Zebra Sports Solutions unit had even launched. The partners went live with a trial in 2013, equipping more than 2,000 players with the tags and 18 of the league's 31 stadiums with receivers. Tags were also deployed on officials, yard markers and pylons.

Over the course of the season, more than 17,000 plays of NextGen Stats were measured — more than 1.7 billion sets of XY player coordinates measured, transmitted and stored during games.

"Every NFL stadium is connected to a command center here in San Jose," Stelfox says. "That command center has to operate as sort of a central command of all the data. When the data is collected in the stadium, it's sent in the stadium to the broadcaster in the stadium — it never leaves the stadium from a broadcaster perspective — but it's also distributed out to the NFL cloud."

All that happens in under a couple of seconds.

"The command center is our point of clarity," she says. "We can see every tag on every player from San Jose when the game is live. If there's something that goes wrong, we know about it very quickly and we have dual recovery. All of that is controlled from a single point of coverage in San Jose."

For coaching staff and players, the technology won't yet be available during games.

"Initially, it's really more of the post-game," Swensson says. "Right now, we have a lot of stuff going on on the sidelines. It could just be too much of a distraction during the game. It might be a place we get down the line, but right now it's not what we're trying to solve for."

That said, the data will be available to coaching staff and players who could use it for post-game evaluations. It may also play a role in training.

"We've just scratched the surface of what we can do with the data," Swensson says. "Every week there's another thought about how we can expand upon the information we've pulled together."

"The possibilities are truly endless," adds Stelfox. "The players love this kind of tracking technology because of that. They're professional athletes by every stretch of the imagination. They want more data about themselves — how they can stay hydrated better, perform better. Anything that can help them do that, they really want."


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