A Better Game? Football’s Data-Driven Tech Ramps Up Insights, Strategy

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We’ve got a creaky star quarterback competing in what might be his last rodeo versus a future MVP who is 13 years younger, likes to score and loves to dance. We’ve got two of the league’s most punishing defenses. We’ve got rabbis in Carolina and Denver talking trash.

Is it really possible to make the most popular sport in America more interesting?

The answer is definitely, “Yes.” The reason is data.

Football is the country’s biggest sport, heading into its biggest weekend, and the expanding Internet of Things can help it grow further. New data-driven technology gives coaches, players and fans instant insight into what’s happening on the field, which can make the game more compelling, help refine in-game strategies and prevent injuries.

Here’s a look at some of football’s new tech:

Shoulder Pad Sensors

Few fans know that Zebra RFID (radio frequency identification) sensors are embedded in every NFL player’s shoulder pads. These sensors interact with 20 receivers placed around the stadium to transmit data on variables such as the speed a player runs and the route he takes. The data can then be analyzed and sent to team staff and TV commentators within two seconds. Zebra has also built algorithms that measure player performance and determine the efficacy of specific plays.

Next-Generation Networks

According to Extreme Networks, fans using its Wi-Fi networks at NFL stadiums consumed an average of 4 terabytes per game this year, compared to 1 terabyte just two seasons ago. The intense and increasing data demands means Extreme must provide stadiums with unprecedented levels of Wi-Fi network coverage and analytics capabilities. Their Purview analytics platform allows stadium IT organizations to identify the websites and applications generating the most data, optimize the network for those applications, and identify potential security risks. And better understanding how their networks are being used enables teams to improve the game-day experience for fans who want to share their experience on social media, stay connected with friends and family, or check out in-game stats.

Preventing Concussions

Growing public concern over head injuries looms over football’s future, but helmet-maker Riddell has created a helmet that could help preserve football for the next generation. The helmet has a sensor system that monitors hits based on location, duration, rotational acceleration and linear acceleration. If an impact or series of impacts exceeds thresholds set by the coaching staff, an alert with information about the player’s impact history is sent to the coach’s device. Coaches can then make immediate decisions about removing the player and also adjust instruction to reduce head collisions.

Smart Footballs

Wilson’s sensor- and Bluetooth-enabled smart football was created as a training tool that tells coaches what the eye can’t see in a forward pass – such the ball’s speed, precise distance, and spiral efficiency. Wilson is also testing a sensor-studded football that would make real-time data available to referees and officials for more accurate calls. The company is hoping that the ball will become an NFL standard as early as 2021.

Many of these innovations only work if the data they’re producing can be efficiently gathered at the source and analyzed in real time, so it can be acted on immediately. That takes an advanced network and cloud strategy and the kind of interconnection Equinix excels at providing through an Interconnection Oriented Architecture™ (IOA™).

An IOA frees IT from corporate silos and moves it where data is created and end users can quickly access it. That means all the information streaming off players’ uniforms and equipment can be gathered and evaluated at the network edge, for immediate results. The Equinix Interconnection Platform™ hosts all the tools to implement an IOA, including network and cloud density and a global footprint of 145 data centers, including seven in Silicon Valley right near the site of Super Bowl 50.

Learn more about an Interconnection Oriented Architecture. And enjoy the game!