Canadian Manufacturing

NFL pumps up its data tracking with RFID chips in game balls

The RFID tags are similar to the technology used in logistics and manufacturing operations around the world to wirelessly track and communicate numerous data points throughout the supply chain

September 8, 2017  by Canadian Staff, with files from the Associated Press

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill.—As the 2017 NFL season kicks-off, one of the biggest changes in the league will be something fans won’t be able to see.

The NFL will track the speed, location and even the rotation speed of the league’s footballs this season with new technology being used inside the cowhide itself.

For fans, that will mean even more statistics. But for coaches, the results could be groundbreaking.

“We use the Zebra Sports practice system to track our players and monitor their participation and performance throughout the season,” says Sean Payton, Head Coach of the New Orleans Saints. “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.”


Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags will be in footballs used in every NFL game this season after being tested last season during the preseason and in Thursday night games.

Vishal Shah, the NFL’s senior vice-president of digital media, says the league is excited to learn new information tracking the footballs in partnership with Zebra Technologies Corp.

The tags are similar to the technology used in logistics and manufacturing operations around the world to wirelessly communicate location data and speed. Each player wore an RFID chip in his shoulder pads during games in 2015.

Zebra said in a release the technology will allow fans to gain a deeper understanding of the game by accessing new visualizations, stats and fantasy recommendations never before available.

In collaboration with Wilson Sporting Goods, the league’s official ball supplier, Zebra will engineer and deploy RFID tagged footballs for every game during the 2017 NFL season to collect real-time location, speed, and rotation data for the footballs.

As the “Official On-Field Player Tracking Provider” of the NFL, the company has quietly marked the fourth year of its partnership with the NFL.

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

Some of the key facts about RFID footballs:

  • The data from this season’s analytics will be used by broadcasters as well as other media partners to enhance the fan experience.
  • Zebra and Wilson determined and validated 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 capture data 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.
  • The Zebra Sports Solution leverages the same tracking and location solutions technology that Zebra implements globally for enterprises of all sizes in healthcare, retail, manufacturing and transportation & logistics to give visibility to an organization’s assets, people and transactions.

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