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Technology Changing the Future of Sports

In an increasingly digital world, technology innovations are impacting every sector and forcing companies to adapt. The sports industry is no different. IoT in sports is changing the game by providing live, actionable insights from wearables, equipment, stadiums, environment and more.

Impact of IoT in Sports

IoT is revolutionizing the way coaches facilitate training, manage players, and address key situations in each game. Combining advanced analytics with sensors and game video, coaches can easily process vast amounts of data to obtain metrics on player efficiency, player performance, and opponent weaknesses to better develop the in-game strategy.

The impact of the Internet of Things and IoT devices now reaches into almost every area of our lives – and this includes the playing field.

IoT in sports is also shaping the way that sports physicians, physical therapists, and team doctors are reducing injuries and helping players heal faster. Embedded devices such as smart insoles and built-in chips offer real-time tracking that provides a holistic view of the athlete, allowing organizations to make the best decision for their longevity and health.

Technology and the NFL – “a slow-moving machine”

While the NFL has made strides in utilizing new technology, there is still tons of room for improvement. One notable innovation the NFL should consider moving forward with the use of sensors, especially in determining first downs.

Bleacher Report once called the NFL a “slow-moving machine” in terms of incorporating technology into the game. Which I have to agree. For example, since 1906, football teams have needed 10 yards for a first down and from the sideline, two sticks connected by a chain have measured the required distance. The NFL still uses chains to measure yardage. For a game of inches, the chains have never seemed like an exact science. The NFL has been a game long advanced by technological innovations, from player safety with helmets, video replays, and in-game analytics, the chains are antiques.

The ritualistic on-field measurement can be a dramatic, momentum-swinging event as anticipated as any pass or handoff. As exciting it is to watch the referees extend the chains to confirm your team’s big defensive stop or clutch offensive conversion, there have been dozens of patented inventions to improve or abolish the need for chains.

Players train year-round, coaches scout other teams for endless hours and owners give out millions and millions of dollars for the best talent and at the end of the day, games are decided, careers are decided, by those chain measurements.

Technology vs. Tradition

Giants’ president, John Mara, who is on the NFL’s competition committee stated,

“Yes, it is subject to human error, just like anything else is. But I think it’s one of the traditions that we have in the game, and I don’t think any of us have felt a real compelling need to make a change.”

These are the types of values that the NFL, as the steward of the game, must consider as traditions bump up against technology.

The NFL has also infamously resisted using goal-line technology, which has been widely used in soccer. This is done by high-speed cameras strategically placed inside the ground. The method so far honed for soccer involves running a thin electrical cable underneath the goal line and in the goal’s frame that generates a magnetic field. A lightweight sensor in the ball detects when a certain amount of the ball has passed this defined line. The whole process takes mere seconds, with the decision no longer subject to argument.

To date, many of the technologies adopted by the league have made the game better. Pressure sensors embedded in the gloves of wide receivers might be worth exploring too, to help referees determine whether or not the football was caught.

RFID Tags in the NFL

Before the 2016 season, Zebra Technologies brought next-gen stats to the NFL by implementing their RFID chips in NFL players’ pads to track speed, distance covered, acceleration and deceleration.

IoT in Sports: RFID Shoulder Pads
IoT in Sports: RFID Shoulder Pads

In 2017, however, they planned on taking it a step further by implementing their tags into NFL balls themselves on NFL Sundays. The chips will measure things like rotation, ball speed and ball location throughout games.

The RFID tags measured location and performance data, captured 25 times per second for every play in every game during the 2017 season. The ball data was collected at twice the rate of player tracking data because the ball travels at more than twice the speed of the players. As for the ball itself, the chip doesn’t affect things like weight or rotation and meets all specifications for game day footballs. Teams also began using the chips in practice to measure quarterbacks and special teams, while the league continues to think of the best uses for this technology.

“The awareness of workloads and the wear and tear on players has been helpful. It’s allowed us to communicate with players on a better playing field, and they know we can tell better how they’re feeling,” stated Seahawks head coach, Pete Carroll.

Zebra and the NFL have installed receiver boxes around the perimeter of a stadium – all 31 NFL stadiums are outfitted with the technology. Those receiver boxes are able to read signals that are transmitted from nickel-sized chips that we place inside the shoulder pads of a player.

Potential of RFID Tags in Sports

The full potential of RFID tags is still far from tapped, but the possibilities for the technology are nearly endless. For starters, the measurement of location could be used to take the subjectivity out of spot measurements, depending on where and how the tags are implemented.

Players are increasingly getting hooked up with heart rate monitors, hydration patches and other wearable technology. Using a Microsoft Surface Tablet, an app alerts coaches if a player has been running for too long, they’re dehydrated, or if their heart rate is too elevated.

Going forward it is likely that we’ll see IoT in sports and technology play a significantly larger role on NFL Sundays.

Super Bowl Sunday

The technology of note planned for use in this coming Sunday’s Super Bowl.

“We’re in a golden age because [technology] continues to get better. Every year, there’s a new level of high-speed camera or better quality audio or some type of enhanced replay device.” – CBS Sports executive producer Harold Bryant

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