RFID Technology provides data intelligence within the NFL
By John Pollard | March 20, 2019

Five Years Ago, a Nickel-Sized RFID Sensor Changed the NFL Forever

An inside look at how Zebra is partnering with America’s beloved professional football league to enhance the player, coach and fan experience through technology at the edge (and on the field)

Half a decade ago, the NFL had a goal: to enhance the fan experience in the stadium and at home through technology. Zebra has been working closely with the NFL to turn that goal into a reality ever since. Watch this:

Even if you're not an avid (American) football fan, you have to admit that it’s pretty cool a chip the size of a nickel can give armchair quarterbacks, scouts, coaches and commentators alike a detailed, empirical breakdown of player performance and gameplay situations. That same Zebra-patented RFID tag technology that's used to track inventory across global supply chains can keep the facts in check about each player's speed, distance traveled, proximity from other players, acceleration and deceleration.

Indeed, the NFL experience has changed for the League, clubs, fans and broadcasters over the last five years thanks to the real-time data generated, analyzed and distributed by Zebra for every game during the NFL season. No, NFL fans aren’t the only ones with an insatiable appetite for specialized player statistics, and they aren’t the only benefactors of the NFL’s Next Gen Stats® initiative. With the tracking data generated by Zebra RFID tags embedded inside footballs and player uniforms:

- Scouts can reference objective empirical data to help support player evaluations.

- Strength and performance staffs can adjust training regimens for both their entire squad as well as individual players.

- Coaching staffs can utilize the unique data to help evaluate game play and plan strategies.

- Media can reference unique information – via commentary and integration with broadcast graphics - which can bring fans closer to the details of the game thus helping them appreciate the performance and athleticism of the NFL’s players.

Today, more than ever before, teams, fans and media alike have developed an appetite for increased amounts and enhanced information about the game of football. Thanks to the RFID-generated Next Gen Stats, audiences of all types have the opportunity to appreciate and measure player performance and assess game play with a new set of detailed data that highlights the true capabilities of the players in the NFL. From the professional scout or coach, to the broadcaster with years of experience to even the most novice fan, we now all have an opportunity – via Next Gen Stats – to have unique, next-level conversations about the game of football and our favorite NFL teams and players. Because whether we are developing a game plan, evaluating a player, researching a team or setting a fantasy football lineup we are all looking for ways to improve our performance and capture an edge.  

Did you know?

Zebra was the first company to implement RFID player tracking technology to deliver unique and important player performance during the Reese’s Senior Bowl® game as well as the practices leading up to the game. For the past two Senior Bowl games, NFL coaches, scouts and general managers have received player tracking and performance data to assist them in their evaluation and scouting of some of the top college players as they prepare for the NFL Draft. About one-third of NFL players have played in the Senior Bowl, football’s premier senior showcase that annually features the country’s best top senior collegiate players and NFL draft prospects. 

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John Pollard
John Pollard

John Pollard has held various product marketing/management and business development roles, and provided consulting services in the consumer goods, technology, and sports industries working with some of the most identifiable corporations and influential brands in the world including Ray-Ban, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Oracle Corporation, Microsoft, the NBA, and the NFL.

While at Microsoft, John identified an opportunity to combine his strengths as a marketing executive and interest in technology product innovation with his passion for sports, particularly the game of football. John invented the ICE Player and Team Evaluation platform that was first used by the 2010 Super Bowl Champions New Orleans Saints. Global sports information and technology leader STATS LLC. later acquired the ICE solution, along with the acquisition John was brought in to start and lead a new business unit within STATS called the Sports Solutions Group – a unit tasked with combining innovative technologies, unique information services, subject matter expertise, and new content sources to deliver enhanced value to team and media clients as well as fans and brand sponsors.

During this time, John has become recognized as a visionary and thought-leader in sports statistics, analysis and technology. He is a frequent guest commentator on sport radio shows including SiriusXM’s NFL Channel, and television broadcasts including Bloomberg television’s Fast Money. He is regularly sought for commentary and opinions regarding new sport content concepts, sports information and technology strategies in various industry publications from the New York Times, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN. Currently John’s work in sports analytics is being highlighted in an upcoming book about the evolution and use of analytics and technology in sports.

As an industry consultant, John continued to enjoy working closely with team and media clients, including NFL and NCAA coaching staffs and personnel departments, and on-air talent helping them derive insights and knowledge from their various information sources and analytical studies to aid in game planning and strategy, self-scouting, player evaluation, and roster valuation.

Most recently John joined Zebra Sports, a division of Zebra Technologies, the company that is the “Official On-Field Player-Tracking Provider for the NFL”. At Zebra, he serves as Vice President of Business Development for Zebra Sports, leading the company’s team engagement efforts with the NFL, NCAA, as well as other sports around the globe. In addition to his management responsibilities John continues to work directly with league and team personnel including coaching, personnel, and analytics staffs around the NFL and college football helping organizations use statistical, analytical, and player-tracking/performance data and technologies to work more efficiently and support informed decision-making.

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