NFL Media has been tracking detailed, specific player movement. in earnest this season. Handfuls of players wearing small chips inside their shoulder pads during Thursday night NFL Network games, according to league sources, are part of an initiative the league believes could one day change the way consumers receive information, updates and statistics on their phones, computers and video gaming devices.
The NFL has been trying various devices to gather data for a few years now, league sources said, but the project has expanded this season and the league believes within a few years, if done properly, fans might be able to see images and recreations of games in real time, have statistical downloads available for Madden consoles based off the data just accumulated from completed games, and consumers could run recreations and simulations on their own, based on the motion-capture data.
The monitors are able to track how fast players are running, how much they accelerate, the angles with which they cut, how far they jump, and also capture the movements that made up a receiving route, or the directions a running back went in carrying a ball. The goal is to find the right platform in which to transfer this data, with the league purposefully taking its time in the developmental stages before bringing it to market.
Eventually, however, the goal is, to see this data quickly assimilated into various products. For instance, instead of just seeing a real-time update of a 10 yard pass from, say, Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith, which would show up as a sentence on a website like NFL.com, or CBSSports.com (Flacco to Smith, 10-yard gain), instead users would actually see the route develop in a representation on the web, be able to determine if he broke off his route, or how he got to the ball. Fans would be able to see how much ground Smith covered on how fast of a time, and have it all within an instance in an active stats platform.
Rather than just see how many yards Darren Sproles picked up on a kickoff return, instead, the potential would be there to see how fast he ran, between which yard-lines he accelerated the most, the degree of the angle he used to spin around, etc. Rather than just see that Calvin Johnson caught a 20-yard pass in the end zone, this technology would show where he went up to get the ball, and how high his vertical leap was.
This data could also potentially be available to the league's broadcast partners to augment the viewing experience at home -- and could also transform some of the way in which fans follow their fantasy football teams or perhaps even open up new avenues of fantasy statistics. And, also, on Monday, downloads could be available for games like Madden with real-time updates for speed, jumping ability, agility, based on how a player is actually performing that week.
The league has not used such technology to measure collisions, G-forces or concussion-related data, as this is an NFL Media project at this point, though down the line there could be potential for the technology to have a health and safety component as well.
In the past the league flirted with the idea of using expanded deployment of cameras to provide more of a 360-degree look at the game and enhance the ability to gather stats and data, but the collision-nature of the sport, with so many big bodies converging at the line of scrimmage on plays, made it difficult to ascertain in that manner, while that approach works for soccer, for instance. Then NFL has also worked hard to make the devices themselves as unobtrusive as possible, and not cumbersome for the players in any way.
By and large player feedback has been positive, sources said, though some have been unsure about the project and felt it was odd, ripping off the devices or refusing to wear them. Furthermore, in Article 51, Section 13 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (On-Field Microphones and Sensors), Article C sets forth the right for the league to conduct such gathering under the following terms:
“The NFL may require all NFL players to wear during games and practices equipment that contains sensors or other nonobtrusive tracking devices for purposes of collecting information regarding the performance of NFL games, including players' performances and movements, as well as medical and other player safety-related data. Sensors shall not be placed on helmets without the NFLPA's consent. Before using sensors for health or medical purposes, the NFL shall obtain the NFLPA's consent.”
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