How the NFL is Using IoT - Football and the Internet of Things

04-09-2019 | By Moe Long

Autumn, for many sports fanatics, signifies the return of American football to collegiate and professional arenas. In these arenas, athletes duke it out. Since the inception of televised athletics, sports adopted the technology. While it may seem unusual, the National Football League (NFL) adopted the Internet of Things (IoT). Learn how the NFL is using IoT, and about the fusion of football and the Internet of Things!

More than Wide Receivers - How the NFL is Using the Internet of Things

Sports truly have revolutionized technology, from the likes of Sportvision which allows for tracking hockey pucks and showing football positioning, to football matches and basketball games broadcast in virtual reality (VR). But IoT continues to permeate professional sports such as baseball, basketball, and football. Major League Baseball (MLB) uses its StatCast by utilizing cameras and radar equipment to capture valuable data. Likewise, the National Basketball Association (NBA) teams such as the Golden State Warriors employ cameras to track virtually every aspect of games, from players to shots. Then, this data is translated into strengths and vulnerabilities through what’s called Estimated Possession Value, or EVP. The general trend is that teams are capturing data which can be used for analysis.

In the NFL, there’s a ton of game-day data tracking. You’ll find this both on and off the field. An obvious example is tagging footballs with a tiny sensor embedded under the laces of a ball. It’s capable of recording metrics such as distance, velocity, and acceleration, then transmitting that to a computer in under a second. In 2014, the NFL partnered with Zebra Technologies, an industrial IoT company dabbling in everything from retail and warehouse tracking to healthcare and transportation tracking.

Essentially, NFL IoT data capture works such that players wear gear with an embedded RFID tag. Likewise, RFID tags appear on-field in pylons, the ball, and even the clothing of refs. Captured data is sent to servers, then provided for broadcasters to display on TV or in the stadium jumbotron. Mostly, metrics such as speed, distance, and player participation are tracked. It’s a means of recording real-time data on every player and for each play. 

By adopting the Internet of Things, the NFL, therefore, gains valuable statistics which can be analyzed by the league as a whole, individual teams, and fans. Next-Gen Stats features a veritable treasure trove of information, from fastest ball carriers to longest plays and fastest sacks. In addition to more basic stats such as speed, the NFL uses IoT to monitor quarterback aggressiveness, or capability to throw under pressure, completion probability, QB time to throw, and receiver separation among others. For the 2019 NFL season, Zebra placed just short of 3,000 tags, a staggering number which includes almost 2,000 players. Officials have been tagged as well, and 20,000 footballs will be tagged for real-time data aggregation.

Several teams, including my favourite squad, the Philadelphia Eagles, opted into the MotionWorks sports tracking system to record data on distance travelled, player speed, acceleration and deceleration, proximity, and orientation. Then, that’s transformed into actionable data.

Unnecessary Roughness

A major concern about football specifically which news stories and even the Will Smith blockbuster “Concussion” probe pertains to head injuries. X2 Biosystems and BioStamp offer wearable patches for head impact monitoring. There’s also Linx IAS, an impact assessment system for tracking brain injuries. Similarly, Q-Collar serves as a sort of airbag intended to reduce the ramifications of a head injury.

Even smart mouthguards have emerged which can, miraculously, monitor head injuries. The mouthguard from Prevent Biometrics touts a circuit board upon which are housed accelerometers, light and proximity sensors, Bluetooth, wireless charging mechanisms and LED lights for alerts. The mouthguard monitors forceful impacts and uses an algorithm to determine various parameters such as direction and force. Then, data is transmitted to a mobile device. Clearly, Internet of Things integration into the NFL isn’t merely about research for fantasy football, or to win the next match. It’s about keeping players in top condition, which includes not only in-game performance, but safety as well.

Data on Fans Too

Yet, it’s not just players being tracked. Fans remain an essential element of the gameday experience. Through the likes of point of sale systems (PoSes), electronic ticketing scanners, and even in-stadium apps, franchises and the NFL gain insight into the fan dynamic. In 2014, VenueNext partnered with the San Francisco 49ers for a stadium-wide app. VenueNext provides a solution for ordering concessions from the comfort of your seat, fusing the couch and stadium viewing experiences. Moreover, VenueNext includes in-app replays and boasts the functionality to integrate with PoS and e-ticket scanners. It’s a neat concept which carries tons of potential. Fan data proves crucial since it may be used to optimize concession stand placement, monitor attendance, and further hone stadium processes such as ticketing.

If you’ve ever attended a professional, or even collegiate, sporting event, you’ll know that while the match itself is enjoyable, escaping from the parking garage may be hellacious. Jockeying for an exit is not only annoying, but it’s also dangerous. Vidsys partnered with the NFL in 2017 for the Super Bowl to monitor traffic and collaborate with emergency officials. Perhaps traffic and incident monitoring data can lead to improved parking around sports arenas.

Reaching the Endzone: How the NFL Uses IoT

The NFL isn’t alone in using IoT. Rather, many professional and university sports programs have adopted the Internet of Things to glean a better picture of players, teams, and even the fan experience. But the NFL, in particular, continues to excel at integrating IoT into its gamedays. In August 2019, Zebra solidified its NFL partnership for RFID player tracking with a contract through 2021. As such, it’s clear that IoT in sports isn’t getting sidelined anytime soon. Rather, it’s getting bumped up to first string with an increasing number of leagues, teams, and players as monitoring everything from the speed of a football to player habits, and even whether more fans are ordering nachos or hot dogs.


By Moe Long

Moe Long is an editor, writer, and tech buff with a particular appreciation for Linux, Raspberry Pis, and retro gaming. When he's not hammering away at his keyboard, he enjoys running, reading, watching cinema, and listening to vinyl. You can read his writings on at Tech Up Your Life and check out his thoughts on all things tech.