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Senior Bowl Runs With UWB RFID in Ball to Monitor Players' Performance

The system, from Zebra Technologies, used RFID tags on uniforms and in balls to capture data about the performance of each player, enabling fans and coaches to better understand what is happening on the field.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 16, 2018

The post-season college football Senior Bowl is using radio frequency identification technology during practices, in order to understand player participation, exertion and movement as well as how practices and team strategies might be improved. The solution, provided this season by Zebra Technologies, includes active ultra-wideband (UWB) tags and readers, managed by Zebra software, to approximate the location, speed and direction of each player and the ball during both the game and practices. The collected data is then provided to fans via social media, and can also be accessed by the coaching staff and players.

The Senior Bowl, an annual all-star football game for graduating college athletes, is played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, in Mobile, Ala. It includes about 100 players, whom the National Football League (NFL) invites as the best draft prospects of the year. The players are divided into two teams—north and south—and are coached by the coaching staffs of two NFL teams.

Senior Bowl's Phil Savage
The organization is proactive when it comes to technology that could enhance the experience for coaches, players or fans, says Phil Savage, the Senior Bowl's executive director. "We feel technology is the wave of the future," he states, "so we consider ourselves an experimental testing ground."

Several NFL and college teams are already using Zebra's RFID technology to track players' performance (see The NFL RFID-Tags Its Footballs, The NFL's Next-Generation Statistics and What You Can Learn From the NFL). All NFL teams receive and have access to their own game-day tracking data via Zebra's relationship with the league as the Official Player Tracking Technology of the NFL. About one third of the league's teams use Zebra's Practice Solution at their local practice facilities. The Zebra Practice System is similar in design to the system deployed at all NFL stadiums. The Senior Bowl practices were held at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the same place where the game later took place (on Jan. 27), and the RFID infrastructure to capture tag reads was thus able to collect data regarding both the practices and the game.

Players wore Zebra's UWB RFID tags—embedded between layers of plastic in their shoulder pads—each time they practiced together, explains John Pollard, the VP of business development at the company's Zebra Sports division. With tags built into footballs, the system can track such information as the rotation rate, height and velocity of the ball as it is kicked or thrown. That data was then paired with a particular kicker or quarterback.

To capture all the data, 22 Zebra UWB receivers were installed throughout the stadium. During practices and the game itself, the UWB tag of each player or football transmitted a signal multiple times per second in the 6.35 GHz and 6.75 GHz frequency bands. Zebra receivers read those signals from a distance of up to 325 feet.

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