NFL Renews Partnership With Zebra Technologies As Official Player Tracking Provider

Zebra continues to power Next Gen Stats as NFL’s Official On-Field Player Tracking Provider

The National Football League loves the Next-Gen Stats platform so much they renewed their contract with Zebra Technologies Corporation as the Official Player Tracking Provider through the 2021 season. The CBA expires in 2020 so it is interesting to note that the NFL did not go beyond a three-year extension meaning the NFLPA might want a bigger piece of stats they generate in some form or fashion as many issues are debated at the bargaining table such as player safety, the percentage of money players get versus the owner take, and other important league issues. The Sports Techie community blog has watched this season as MLB pushed stats to another level culminating with the recent All-Star game in Cleveland featuring an ESPN2 telecast produced entirely with STATcast generated data points and analytics that a lot of old school baseball fans don’t really care for but I sure do. The same kind of trend is happening in the NFL as more and more Next-Gen Stats are shared via television, on stadium video boards and through fantasy football apps that all started five-years ago with Zebra Technologies player and ball tracking systems. Teams have fundamentally changed the way they coach, gameplan and train, scout and draft, based on Next Gen Stats and the Zebra partnership. Players are using Next Gen Stats data to negotiate better contracts. Fans get performance insights tracked by Zebra’s RFID tags attached to equipment and the ball. Zebra paved the way for Next Gen Stats and will continue to do so for the near future.

ZEBRA Sports Tech

Real-time capture of location data is at the heart of Zebra’s technologies touted as a performance edge. RFID chips transmit the data to receivers ringing the outside of the stadium. Captured data is feed to servers, then goes back to data centers where the system passes the analytical data on to be formatted in a usable format by teams, broadcasters and others.

I spoke with John Pollard, Vice President of Zebra Sports Business Development at Zebra Technologies back in 2011 when he created the I.C.E. Personnel Room Solution in 2009 used by the New Orleans Saints. We chatted once again in 2013 when I contributed to IQ by Intel about Unlocking Fantasy Football Intelligence when he was the GM of the Sports Solution Group at STATS LLC. The Saints are current super users of Next Gen Stats and IoT.

“The statistics help me prepare a plan properly, the game is the test, its most often won in the the preparation leading up to,” said New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton.

Payton talked about constantly looking for an edge, he says they pay attention to, “Data that gives us in-game statistics, data that gives us player recovery, data that tells us player energy or distance traveled, who’s on the field, how often, and then where they are at, we get that from video but we get it quicker just with the ability to track every player in the league.”

Zebra MotionWorks Sport is the proprietary tracking system that tracks and measures an athlete’s metrics including player speed, distance traveled, orientation and proximity, as well as acceleration and deceleration.

MotionWorks Sport solution is powered by Zebra’s Savanna data platform transforming information into insights to assist teams decide on often extremely crucial decisions.

Pollard said, “Based on our collaborative approach, this extension validates the value of our real-time locationing technology in football to give those on the front line a performance edge.”

Next Gen Stats data is in use by NFL organizations to help identify and support decisions. The playbook, player load management, practice planning, and injury rehab are all enhanced by this sports tech product.

“We are pleased to extend our relationship with Zebra to further develop and share cutting-edge insights into the game of football,” said Matt Swensson, Vice President of Emerging Products & Technology, National Football League. “We’re excited to build on our partnership, and collectively advance the League’s commitment to innovation. In the coming seasons, we plan to further develop the Next Gen Stats platform, allowing coaches, players, and fans to understand the game in ways never possible before.”

Comparing Next Gen Stats based on alignment since 2016, TD production data tells the Atlanta Falcons to line Julio Jones on the left side of offensive formations rather than the right.

The catch rate above expectations based on 100 minimum targets was clearly led by Saints wide receiver, Michael Thomas, who was also on my traditional fantasy football team along with Julio Jones for the 2018 season. As a result, Thomas received the highest contract in NFL history for a WR when he signed in July for $100 million over 5 years with $61 million guaranteed.

Other Next Gen Stats Uses

Team and player performances are the bread and butter of Next Gen Stats but there is so much more to it. Season-long trends, self-scouting, and comparing pre and post-injury stats are indeed eye-opening and do help educate fans but the trick is finding the right balance of distribution with sharing the rights stats.

I know many a fantasy football fanatic that can’t get enough stats to improve the decision making process.

Television broadcasts are providing more and more Next Gen Stats throughout a 3-hour game because they aim to educate fans but it is also because of so much deadtime with only 11 minutes of actual action.

Yes, the fan experience is improved on TV and in-stadium by Next Gen Stats but at what cost?

Data Overload

So much data is captured the NFL now faces an abundance of Next Gen Stats making it tricky to mine for the right kind of data fans, players and clubs want.

Baseball promotes launch angles, ball speed and so much information per pitch, swing or actual play it has entered into an over saturation point while they figure out what works and what is overkill.

The NFL is on the same boat. Too much data is being calculated making the key not to over expose Next Gen Stats so fans get turned off by all the different measurements and analysis.

Older generations of fans are overloaded while kids reach a saturation point with their game watching focus when too many stats are flashed before their tired eyeballs as they look up from their digital devices.

One guy that defines data is Tom Brady, the NFL’s quarterback GOAT who just received a two-year contract extension at the age of 42 because he is so efficient as the pass chart of last year’s Super Bowl LIII here in Atlanta indicates.

Sports Techie, Pollard commented on this news today saying, “We are very excited to continue our work with the NFL, and we are committed to ongoing innovation to provide the League, teams and fans with real-time tracking data and insights for years to come.”

Gartner, Inc. tagged Zebra as a Visionary in the Magic Quadrant for Indoor Location Services, Global for the second consecutive year.

Their solutions are also used to enhance the experience of shopping, track and improve management of inventory, while optimizing supply chain operations and care for patients.

The Saints won’t let pass interference keep them from making Super Bowl LIV this season because they are looking forward with the help of Zebra’s sports technology.

Payton says, “We are just getting started.”

Just like Next Gen Stats.

See you later sportstechie in Seattle, Atlanta and around the world!

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