NFL Zebra

Okay, so you think you’re a real NFL football fan; here’s a pop quiz. What do these 15 cities have in common: Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver, Green Bay, Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, New England, Oakland, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Washington? If you’re really good, you’ll know that these are the 15 sites chosen for the Thursday Night Football games this season. And these cities have something else in common; these are the first stadiums that the NFL will equip with a player tracking system so that it can provide real-time statistics for every player on the field.

The league has announced that it will install a system from Zebra Technologies that can report each player’s position, speed, and cumulative distance covered. (Just how far do those linemen run during the course of a game?) We got to see similar live statistics during the World Cup Soccer coverage earlier this year (the “other” football), so it makes sense that the NFL is keeping pace. Zebra’s system relies on radio frequence identification (RFID) transmitters that will be placed on the shoulder pads of every player. Game coverage will be able to provide new insights into what’s happening on the field, such as information about a given player’s acceleration, or the separation distance between a receiver and a defensive back.

This technology has implications that go far beyond providing fans with a richer experience. It will help teams evaluation individuals in terms of conditioning and performance, and can impact scouting and prospect evaluation. The coach with a stopwatch in hand may soon join leather helmets as relics of football’s past.