nfl expands use of rfid by tagging all footballs

The NFL is extending its use of RFID technology by embedding RFID tags in all footballs used in every game this season. The data will enable the collection of real-time location, speed, and ball rotation data, enabling advanced statistics for broadcasters and viewers.

Zebra Technologies says that the analytics enhancements will allow fans to gain a deeper understanding of the game by accessing new visualizations, stats and fantasy recommendations never available before. Zebra collaborated with Wilson Sporting Goods, supplier of the official game ball of the NFL,  to determine the optimal size of the RFID tag and location to embed the tag within the ball to maintain maximum performance while adhering to the NFL’s specifications for game footballs.

The RFID tags will measure location and performance data, captured 25 times per second for every play in every game for the 2017 season. The ball data is collected at twice the rate of player tracking data as the ball travels at more than twice the speed of the players.

In addition to instrumenting and tracking footballs, Zebra will once again deploy its Sports Solution on NFL game days by embedding RFID tags in players’ shoulder pads to track movement, providing metrics such as player speed, distance traveled, acceleration and deceleration.

“We use the Zebra Sports practice system to track our players and monitor their participation and performance throughout the season, said New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton. “The information provided by Zebra has proven to be a vital asset to our staff in evaluating and training our entire squad. Adding tracking capabilities to the ball will take things to another level for us.”

As the “Official On-Field Player Tracking Provider” of the NFL, Zebra marks the fourth year of its partnership with the NFL this season. To enable data collection during NFL games, Zebra and Wilson attach RFID tags in player equipment to track their movements and provide enlightening and interesting information. As part of “Next Gen Stats”, data from the instrumented Wilson footballs has the potential to be leveraged on media platforms, such as and in-game telecasts, to enhance the fan experience.

Beyond media platform use, the NFL’s Competition Committee will evaluate the football data to determine how the NFL Clubs can best leverage the data in the future. Working with the NFL and Wilson, Zebra successfully tested the tagged football during all last year’s preseason and Thursday Night Football games.