Zebra Technologies Scores Big With NFL Partnership

Introducing Zebra Technologies, “The Official On-Field Player-Tracking Provider” of the NFL! Yes, we said NFL—the tech company and industry leader has partnered with the National Football League to support their “ongoing initiative of improving the way fans, teams, and networks watch, coach, play and analyze the game.” Zebra always brings the best of the best to any of their partners in any sector, and their work within the sports and entertainment industry is just the start of their progress in finding solutions for football.

Visibility On and Off the Field
Zebra Technologies pushes out from the warehouses and factories of companies within the supply chain industries and onto the fields of the NFL with its Next Gen Stats sports statistics program. Zebra works to provide “visibility where it’s needed” by developing real-time data that should “emerge as quickly as the game is played.” With this program, Zebra has been able to burgeon the amount of information available to both teams and their fans.

How it’s Done
To track players (and referees), Zebra uses small RFID devices to collect and curate data. These tags track vital stats (both indoors and outdoors) within a range of six inches. Coaches are able to use this motion data to change their game while preparing for the rest of the season. To view players’ stats in real time, Zebra implements algorithms to gather the data, which is easily integratable with graphic systems, perfect for both live broadcast and replay.

At the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, home to the Oakland Raiders, Zebra implemented twenty-two sensors to collect data. In addition, they placed chips into the shoulder pads of every player (as well as referees), with linemen receiving an additional chip for their constant mobility and movement of their shoulders. With chipped footballs, Zebra can analyze how a quarterback spins the ball, sending out signals more than ten times per second!

To analyze the data, three Zebra employees fact-check each other and ensure validity with the NFL head office to provide information as quickly as possible, without compromising its integrity. There are other options available, such as optics, but this isn’t a practical option for the NFL where a bounty of players and referees are on the field at the same time. Or, they could have opted for GPS, which isn’t sensible, either, as it warrants an inefficient lag, relying on receivers within the same stadium.

Accessing the Data
When Zebra first partnered with the NFL to develop Next Gen Stats, teams would only receive their own personal information. Now, teams are starting to receive more and more information about other teams in the league. Deciding who gets what information is another slippery slope for both Zebra and the NFL. Some teams even have deals with Zebra where they have access to more data.

Teams are able to receive information about injured players—this can be crucial to tracking and monitoring their recovery process. Some players over exhaust themselves before the game with pregame warm-ups. With Zebra, teams are able to identify if a player is wearing himself out with a few back-and-forth throws on the sidelines. Next Gen Stats can also help determine how much longer a player can continue in the NFL, and for how many years they can prolong their professional football career.

Integrating the Fan Experience
Zebra is proud to be able to provide fans with real-time stats, engaging with those who love their teams the most. Yet, some fans believe that this plethora of information has the potential to change the game and traditions within the NFL. As with any technology, there are ups and downs to the development and implementation of Next Gen Stats. Many NFL aficionados may be skeptical to relying on this technology’s exact measurement of data rather than human judgement and evaluation.

Yet, rather than going through an intense film review, officials can gather data from Zebra’s RFID technology. Zebra is changing the game with precise data, and the NFL will no longer have to deal with unfair calls or poor judgement by focusing on rulings based off of factual data.

Player Improvement
Zebra is able to quantify data and make it more palatable for teams, players, and fans. How can one player’s performance be put into the context of another’s to create a comparison? With accurate, reliable breakdowns of players’ stats. Zebra’s data will also put a stop to disputes amongst fans by relying on hard data, holding players accountable and create solutions to their problems.

Enhancing Experiences, On and Off the Field
Zebra strives to assist both the NFL and other clients in varying industries achieve maximum efficiency and success. Sometimes, those clients happen to be a part of the NFL! The Lions, Rams, Cowboys, and Eagles are all current clients of Zebra, and with their game-changing data, we are excited to see what the future of the NFL will look like with future partnerships with Zebra. They have already been invited to the Senior Bowl to track players and practice: they are in high-demand and are already working on expanding to other bowl games as well.

Learn more about how Zebra Technologies is working with the NFL.