How high-tech chips are revolutionizing the NFL | Fox News

Shoulder pads with the RFID chips highlighted( Zebra Technology ).

Football fans and casual viewers watching the Super Bowl at home or on mobile will notice the referees arent the only zebras having an effect on the big game. Zebra Technologies brings to life so-called Next Gen Stats that are becoming an essential part of game broadcasts, analysis and some teams preparations.

The technology, for example, lets broadcasters show graphically on-screen just how fast Denvers Emmanuel Sanders ran a go rout, or how far Carolinas Ted Ginn traveled on a kick return. In this stat-obsessed Moneyball era, Zebra use RFID( Radio Frequency-Identification) tracking technology that was originally developed for manufacturing to track the gridiron action and instantly surface the data.

It takes about 120 milliseconds from a movement on the field to be registered into a computer and under half a second to broadcast, Jill Stelfox, general manager of place answers for Zebra told, adding, When we talk about real hour, its legitimately real time.

How it runs

Zebra embeds RFID chips about the size of a nickel in every players shoulder pads that work with a series of 20 ultra-wideband receivers around the stadium. The game footage and real-time data feed from every game are fed live to Zebras Command Center in San Jose, Calif. where they are closely monitored.

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And in a game of inches, Zebra claims to be accurate within half a foot.

The broadcast networks can display velocity, distance covered, and changes of direction on the field, changing the route fans watch the game and squad officers track players.

From a broadcast perspective, some of the cool things we assure are player participation before the snap; its pretty helpful to know if your player is in the game. Things like speed and distance, shutting distance, said Stelfox. The other fun thing is what Microsoft did on Xbox, they pushed through full play information for a dozen plays a game. You could watch on Xbox One and get all the Xs and Os.

And of course, Next Gen Stats have a role in fantasy football viewed on Xbox One. Live updates, custom notifications, and highlight clips are available for your fantasy squad.

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Zebra had to defeat several other contenders under game day conditions in the 2013 season. The company had to prove its system worked outdoors( in San Franciscos old Candlestick Park) and indoors( Detroits Ford Field ). After scoring the contract, it was able to install the system in 18 stadia for the 2014 season.

Stelfox said, Literally every minute of football was captured this year; the second season in Zebras five-year deal with the NFL with the setup live in every NFL stadium, plus the three games played in Londons Wembley Stadium and last weeks Pro Bowl in Honolulu.

So it leaves stat geeks and no doubt coach-and-fours and player personnel personnel champing at the bit for further study.

It surely has the potential to provide new insights into player evaluationwhat are the critical performance features that differentiate one player from another? said Professor Stephen Graves from MITs Sloan School of Management, who helped launching the schools annual athletics analytics meeting.

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Zebra is also working with a number of pro football teams at their practises: the Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints, and San Francisco 49 ers.

Several NFL teams declined comment or did not return phone and email requests for this article to discuss the use of next gen stats.

Zebras Stelfox use a football analogy to note its very early in the next gen stats game, This whole industry is in the first quarter of whats possible and what can happen, she said. In general the requests are fairly standard and somewhat basic.

Stelfox noted that the Saints track how many reps favorite starting quarterback Drew Brees is get in practice versus the backup and also monitoring how far players run in practice. Teams use the conditioning aspect to monitor speed and distance to avoid hamstring pulls and other soft tissue injuries, especially given short turnaround times when teams play on Sunday and then again on Thursday night.

Next Gen Cachet

Zebra is the official on-field player-tracking provider of the NFL. Yes, thats a thing and the cachet of the league can be good for business off the field.

MITs Graves, an expert in fabricating systems and render chains, said, This( partnership) permits Zebra to display their technology and seed ones imagination as to how it might be used elsewhere.

The tech firms Stelfox says: We utterly love our partnership with the NFL, we value it a lot. Its tough to say its led to deals directly but its led us to a lot more dialogues about visibility and whats possible than weve ever had before.

In fact, she adds that Boeing insured Zebras work with the NFL and expanded their existing relationship. The aerospace giant utilized a version of Next Gen Stats that tracks workers and incapacitates equipment in dangerous situations if security protocol isnt followed; some machines wont work if harness are not securely strapped.

Stats Dont Lie

Zebra worked with a handful of college football teams last season and also the NCAA playoffs. In( the NCAA Championship Game ), we tracked all the same data( as the NFL ), but that game had a willpower component to it that was unbelievable, Stelfox notes. You could see it in the data. Ordinarily marriage say these guys should be tired in the fourth quarter, but they didnt play like it I suspect next year well be inundated with customized requests.

Thats data that modern scouts would love to dive into.

I would guess that NFL teams would get the most value once college squads use it to measure their players, said MITs Graves.

As Zebra builds out its NFL business, Stelfox said the company is looking to expand to other sports. We are looking forward to working with other sports: football, basketball, and hockey are all places wed love to go, she explained.

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