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Ultra-wideband Scores Contract Extension from NFL

The National Football League plans to expand its use of Zebra Technologies' MotionWorks active RFID-based data, as the system tracks player performance and generates game statistics based on the locations and movements of tagged players and balls during games and practice sessions.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 04, 2019

The National Football League (NFL) opened its 2019-2020 season with a new commitment to use ultra-wideband (UWB) RFID technology to gain insight into player performance during games and, in some cases, practice sessions. The RFID data is at the center of the NFL's On-Field Player-Tracking solution, which feeds performance statistics to the league's Next Gen Stats platform. Next Gen Stats provides fans with statistics regarding how players typically perform, including their fastest sacks, passing distance and average receiving separation.

During the coming season, the data will be expanded to more predictive statistics involving passes and pass completion probability, according to Matt Swensson, the NFL's VP of emerging products and technology. To accomplish this goal, the league extended its contract with Zebra Technologies, which will provide its MotionWorks Sport tracking system, using UWB tags, receivers and software, to calculate location and extrapolate statistics. By tracking the movements of tags in players' equipment, as well as in balls, the system can measure every player's speed, distance traveled, throw speed, orientation and proximity, along with acceleration and deceleration.

The system tracks the movements of tags in players' equipment, such as shoulder pads.
Since the system was taken live five years ago (see RFID Drafted to Track NFL Players' Every Move During Games and The NFL RFID-Tags Its Footballs), it has been gaining acceptance by coaches. The technology is increasingly part of the conversation in broadcast coverage of games and play recaps, according to John Pollard, Zebra's VP of business development. The original five-year contract ended with 2019's Super Bowl LIII.

The statistics have been used by networks such as ESPN and NBC, while CBS has also used such stats for post-season coverage. "Every year, we are seeing more metrics," Swensson states. The first few years of the contract, he adds, focused more on ensuring that the technology could provide highly accurate data, whereas now the focus is on what that information can provide.

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