Five Years Ago, a Nickel-Sized RFID Sensor Changed the NFL Forever

An inside look at how Zebra is partnering with America’s beloved professional football league to enhance the player, coach and fan experience through technology at the edge (and on the field)

RFID Technology provides data intelligence within the NFL
by John Pollard
March 20, 2019

Half a decade ago, the NFL had a goal: to enhance the fan experience in the stadium and at home through technology. Zebra has been working closely with the NFL to turn that goal into a reality ever since. Watch this:

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Even if you're not an avid (American) football fan, you have to admit that it’s pretty cool a chip the size of a nickel can give armchair quarterbacks, scouts, coaches and commentators alike a detailed, empirical breakdown of player performance and gameplay situations. That same Zebra-patented RFID tag technology that's used to track inventory across global supply chains can keep the facts in check about each player's speed, distance traveled, proximity from other players, acceleration and deceleration.

Indeed, the NFL experience has changed for the League, clubs, fans and broadcasters over the last five years thanks to the real-time data generated, analyzed and distributed by Zebra for every game during the NFL season. No, NFL fans aren’t the only ones with an insatiable appetite for specialized player statistics, and they aren’t the only benefactors of the NFL’s Next Gen Stats® initiative. With the tracking data generated by Zebra RFID tags embedded inside footballs and player uniforms:

- Scouts can reference objective empirical data to help support player evaluations.

- Strength and performance staffs can adjust training regimens for both their entire squad as well as individual players.

- Coaching staffs can utilize the unique data to help evaluate game play and plan strategies.

- Media can reference unique information – via commentary and integration with broadcast graphics - which can bring fans closer to the details of the game thus helping them appreciate the performance and athleticism of the NFL’s players.

Today, more than ever before, teams, fans and media alike have developed an appetite for increased amounts and enhanced information about the game of football. Thanks to the RFID-generated Next Gen Stats, audiences of all types have the opportunity to appreciate and measure player performance and assess game play with a new set of detailed data that highlights the true capabilities of the players in the NFL. From the professional scout or coach, to the broadcaster with years of experience to even the most novice fan, we now all have an opportunity – via Next Gen Stats – to have unique, next-level conversations about the game of football and our favorite NFL teams and players. Because whether we are developing a game plan, evaluating a player, researching a team or setting a fantasy football lineup we are all looking for ways to improve our performance and capture an edge.  

Did you know?

Zebra was the first company to implement RFID player tracking technology to deliver unique and important player performance during the Reese’s Senior Bowl® game as well as the practices leading up to the game. For the past two Senior Bowl games, NFL coaches, scouts and general managers have received player tracking and performance data to assist them in their evaluation and scouting of some of the top college players as they prepare for the NFL Draft. About one-third of NFL players have played in the Senior Bowl, football’s premier senior showcase that annually features the country’s best top senior collegiate players and NFL draft prospects. 

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John Pollard
John Pollard is the Vice President of Business Development for Zebra Sports and recognized as a visionary and thought-leader in sports statistics, analysis and technology.