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Since the 2014 season, Zebra and the NFL have embedded RFID tags in players’ shoulder pads to track movement, and provide data on players’ speed, distance traveled, acceleration and deceleration, among other things.
Working with the NFL and Wilson, Zebra successfully tested tagged footballs during last year’s preseason and began using them during Thursday Night Football games. Together, they tested different RFID tags to determine the best size and location for the tags inside the ball, and to maintain maximum performance while adhering to the NFL’s specifications for game footballs.
“We have a rich history of innovation in the game of football and working closely with the NFL to advance and enhance the game for players and fans alike,” said Kevin Murphy, general manager of team sports at Wilson. “It’s been rewarding and exciting to collaborate with Zebra and the NFL on making RFID tagged footballs a reality, and we look forward to putting this technology on the field this season.”
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 because the ball travels at more than twice the speed of the players.
“The data gathered by Zebra over the past three seasons has become an invaluable asset to the NFL, and we’re excited to uncover new insights through the tagged Wilson footballs,” said Vishal Shah, the NFL's senior vice president of digital media.
As part of “Next Gen Stats,” data from the Wilson footballs with RFID tags can be used to enhance the fan experience online and during game telecasts. The NFL’s Competition Committee will also use the insights to determine how the league and its teams can best leverage the data in the future.