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5 Tech Trends that Helped the NFL Tackle the ’20-’21 Season

Ryan Hall Manager, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 10 Feb 2021

With the ’20-’21 season taking place amid COVID-19, the National Football League and its teams were forced to reevaluate and adjust all aspects of their day-to-day operations to ensure a safe and successful season.  This includes implementing new technology – whether you’re a player on the field, a coach on the sideline, or fan in the stands. 

As the most unique NFL season comes to an end, let’s look back at the latest innovations that help teams and their fans safely enjoy the game, and accelerate digital transformation for many years to come.

Handheld Electronic Whistle – a New Approach to Coaching

While coaches don’t partake in as much physical contact as players, it is still equally important that they are equipped with the latest technology to safely instruct with ease.  Handheld Electronic Whistles replace the traditional breath-powered model and is said to be one of the most significant equipment changes this year.  While the Electronic Whistle created by Fox40 was not originally designed for sports teams, since the outbreak coaches are utilizing the devices during practice as a safety precaution to minimize the spread of the virus.  The handheld whistle is larger in size compared to the traditional whistle yet designed to still fit it in the palm of a hand.  Staff can activate the whistle through the touch of the thumb button, which offers a hygienic solution for multiple operators, allowing the user to give verbal, clear, and loud commands.  Currently, Fox40 is working on a new and improved model that is water-resistant and operates on batteries, so teams can leverage the device for extended periods of time in all weather conditions.

‘New Normal’ IoT Devices – Contract Tracing and Keeping Teams Safe

In the unfortunate event that a player tests positive for COVID-19, it is regulation that the League provides contact tracing information to eliminate further spread.  To monitor social distancing while keeping tabs on player whereabouts, SafeZone tags by Kinexon are part of the new protocol for all members of the NFL team environment.  Kinexon, a German-based company, works alongside sports teams on performance tracking but quickly adapted their approach once the pandemic took over.  Instead of tracking people and other assets, SafeZone is used to retrieve information on the location and distance between teammates.  The ultra-lightweight wearable tech not only warns users if they are too close in proximity to one another, but also provides useful information on the duration of each contact, enabling quick access to trace and evaluate possible chains of infection.  As a part of the new policies outlined by the League – players, coaches, and staff wear the tags during team activities, practice, and travel. 

Familiar technology, like facial recognition, is also doing its part to keep up with ‘new normal’ protocols on game day.  With the capability to match a human face from a digital image against a database of faces, facial recognition has become a popular technology for keeping assets secure.  Now, facial recognition is being used by teams to prevent spreading germs.  The Houston Texas installed facial recognition systems that automatically open doors for “Tier1” and “Tier2 members” (players, coaches, and support staff).  Essentially, by recognizing key players and staff, individuals can access the stadium without having to worry about touching doorknobs or other entryway touchpoints.

Contactless Payments – Once a Commodity, Now a Necessity

Much like facial recognition, mobile ticketing is not new to the world of digital innovations but has become imperative for stadiums moving forward.  The pandemic has accelerated technology investments for teams, their stadiums, and their fans.  But with many teams understandably choosing not to host guest in-stadium this season, a number of fanbases haven’t experienced these technology investments firsthand.  Luckily, twelve NFL stadiums were able to host fans in-stadium this year. At the Jacksonville Jaguars’ season opener, 14,100 fans got a first look into what the ‘new normal’ of game day entails.  “With TIAA Bank Field at 25% capacity, fans were not only socially distanced and required to wear masks as they moved around, but they also encountered another by-product of the pandemic – a 100% contactless and paperless payment and ticketing sporting event.”  Jason Thomas, the CEO of cashless payment company Tappit, notes that organizations who once considered moving to cashless are now making the shift.  The Jaguar’s worked alongside Tappit to create ‘Jags Pay’ – a mobile payment system allowing fans to make purchases through their mobile devices.

Other mobile platforms like Satisfi, also provide fans with relevant game day information such as parking information and guest services.  While the application was once a nice amenity to have on your mobile device, it has become a necessary tool to enter the game and purchase items once in the stadium. 

3G Wireless Cameras and Replay System – A Clear View for Spectators Everywhere

As for the fans watching from the comfort and safety of their own homes, they can experience game day in a new, yet still exciting way.  Playoff coverage featured 3G wireless cameras known as PylonCam’s that covered the entire end zone allowing for more ground-level angles and ensuring spectators don’t miss a moment.  EVS Replay System was also leveraged as an “extra motion” replay system.  Using artificial intelligence, the replay system creates additional frames in a 60-fps replay and enables 180 frames per second, so plays can be played back in super-slow-motion.   Both the cameras and the replay system are typically not used until a Super Bowl, but with most fans at home Fox Sports was able to leverage the equipment early on this season.

Sports Gambling – Fun for All Fans

Just like the cameras and replay system, sports teams were extra creative this year in how to best engage fans watching from their living rooms.  Legal Sports betting has allowed the sports industry to continue generating revenue that might have been lost with smaller in-stadium capacity.  In response applications like Adrenaline, a sports betting technology service provider and creators of Football Genius has improved their betting platform to allow for play-by-play betting in the United States.  The original Football Genius was only used by coaches to give information on opponents based on data including game situation, player personnel, and tendencies of other coaches.  Now Football Genius offers in-play betting, allowing fans to not only make bets during a game, but on each play.  Super Bowl LV will mark the first time in history that fans can bet and weigh in on what they think will happen during every snap. 

The pandemic has not only promoted technology advancements, but now the sports and entertainment industry must rise to the challenge and design a game day around the ‘new normal’.  While it is still uncertain when NFL stadiums will be able to have a packed crowd again, the technology solutions leveraged this past season allowed for the beloved game of football to play on. 

To read more about the latest in Sports and Public Venues, and to explore how cloud-driven network solutions meet the industry’s ‘new normal’, check out the resources below:

This blog was co-written by Ashley Iannuzzi, Vertical Solutions Marketing Intern at Extreme Networks. 
To connect with Ashley, visit her LinkedIn page

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