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RFID Helped the Eagles Win the Super Bowl

The team is giving credit to its use of data provided by an active, ultra-wideband RFID system installed at all NFL stadiums.
By Mark Roberti
Feb 20, 2018

I've been writing about business for 30 years and watching sports for more than 40, and I can tell you how things work. Every owner, manager and player or employee pays lip service to innovation, but there are precious few who truly are innovative. At first, they are laughed at, but then, once they achieve success, everyone else follows their lead.

Philadelphia Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie seems to be one of those innovators. Lurie grew up in his family's successful business, but founded his own entertainment company which produced a string of hit movies and TV shows, including the Academy Award-winning documentary Inside Job in 2010.

Lurie bought the Philadelphia Eagles football team in 1994 for $195 million. The team had never won a Super Bowl at that point. He was among the first owners to enthusiastically embrace the idea of installing an active, ultra-wideband (UWB) RFID system in each stadium to gather new data related to the physical movements of players on the field.

An Eagles fan website quotes Lurie as saying in 2016: "In May, we're going to be bombarded finally with the data from RFID. That's going to revolutionize the sport in the long run. You're going to have live biometric measurements of players in the stadium, on the field. How you deal with all the statistics now that are available through scouting is extraordinary when you break it down. How you integrate sports science with peak performance."

The article says the Eagles are giving RFID some credit for their upset victory over the New England Patriots, adding: "The belief is the Eagles used this technology to determine how to better rotate their running backs and defensive ends during in-game situations by monitoring fatigue."

The UWB system was provided by Zebra Technologies (see RFID Drafted to Track NFL Players' Every Move During Games). It includes RFID tags embedded in each of a player's shoulder pads, as well as in referees' back pockets and on the tops of the chains used to mark yardage. Receivers are affixed to infrastructure at the stadiums, typically between the lower and upper tiers of seats. Zebra's MotionWorks sports solution can identify the locations of players and equipment within 6 inches.

The system determines how fast a player has run, how long he has been on the field and the distance between players. Now, skeptics might say that it's easy to determine when to rotate players in and out—just have someone keep track of how many plays each has been involved in, and take them out after each has been in, say, five straight plays. But it's not just how many plays. How far did a player run during those plays? How much energy did he exert by, say, running at top speed? Having this data allows you to optimize the use of players, and not just take them out too early to ensure they remain well rested.

Businesses can learn from the Eagles. Embracing the data RFID provides can enable companies to do things they never have been able to do before. Retailers can optimize their product mix, store layout, staffing and deliveries. Manufacturers can optimize their supply chains. And logistics firms can enhance warehousing, cross-docking and other operations.

The innovators that embrace this strategic change will not be awarded with a Super Bowl trophy or a big parade. But executives will be rewarded with performance bonuses and shareholders will enjoy healthier profits—and when they prove that beyond a reasonable doubt, the skeptics will embrace RFID, too.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog or the Editor's Note archive.

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