Put me in, Coach: Cutting edge tech makes its way into Football
Down here in Orlando, the daily afternoon rain is becoming less frequent and the heat is starting to let up ever so slightly. This is the sign that it is everyone’s favorite season – Football Season. Americans everywhere have returned to exercising what our founding fathers fought for – our right to make some nachos, park our butts on a couch and spend ten hours watching some football. Teams spent the offseason working on schemes, roster construction, and strategy, and one place they have looked to for help in gaining a competitive advantage is emerging technologies. While tech like virtual reality has had adoption in businesses and homes, football teams are now leveraging their capabilities to help their team make the playoffs. Hopefully, you’ll see your team on the cutting edge of technology and still playing in January.
Extended Reality (XR)
STRIVR is the biggest XR player within the football industry, with founders including former Stanford kicker Derek Belch and quarterback Trent Edwards, who played in the NFL and briefly gave the Bills Mafia hope. The company uses 360-degree video that puts players, mainly quarterbacks, through mental reps of previously recorded plays. Removing the physical aspect of practice enables injured players to get quality practice reps while also decreasing the physical wear-and-tear on active players. The immersive nature of VR gives a lot more interactivity and a realism that game film alone just doesn’t provide. With customers including defending champions Clemson and New England, it is safe to say other teams regret passing (not just the Falcons during the Super Bowl) on the technology.
Another company recently emerging on the scene is Mixed River. Pre-Game-Prep leverage the Microsoft HoloLens to bring playbooks too life by using them to create 3D animated football players that can execute plays. Coaches can create plays, customize players and project life-sized walkthroughs to make it easier for players to understand gameplans and concepts. Mixed River sees their solution as a walkthrough potentially whole teams can walk through together in a non-contact environment, preventing injuries but unfortunately hurting anti-concussion water sales. With the Ravens as a new customer, it was hoped that Mixed River could help finally bring together a divided nation and turn the debate of “is Joe Flacco elite?” into a yes. Unfortunately for Joe, looks like Mixed River can only help the passing game so much.
Catapult Sports is one of the leading suppliers of wearable tracking technology for sports. Their solutions are based on a GPS system that monitors movement and intensity of athletes, which coaches can use when making decisions on game rotations and practice schedules. Catapult’s PlayerLoad tool develops normative data for each position on a team, helping decision makers more objectively measure players instead of only relying on the eye test and their gut. With over half of the NFL, including the 2016 Super Bowl champions the Denver Broncos, using this technology, as well as defending National Champions the Clemson Tigers and other top NCAA teams, it’s become clear that coaches and players are able to turn the data they receive into a genuine competitive advantage. Their success isn’t just limited to real football either, with championship-winning soccer teams Leicester City, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid using their system along with NBA champions the Golden State Warriors. No word yet on what US Men’s Soccer team is using.
A few years ago, the NFL partnered with Zebra Technologies to have RFID tags placed into players’ shoulder pads to provide real-time statistics. Now teams, but more importantly fans, can see speed, acceleration, total distance and distance between players during the game. This allows us all to know, with scientific certainty, that former Olympic track & field star and NFL wide receiver Marquise Goodwin is, to use the technical term, really fast. Personally, I’m glad we’ve settled that, though I’m still waiting on the next-gen stats to see if Aaron Rodgers is any good at throwing a football (get well soon).
When you’re in a highly-competitive $14B industry, every competitive advantage you can get is crucial. Some teams rely on exploiting the rule book and PSI regulations, while other teams look to technology to improve practice and access critical information. If you’re debating whether emerging technology can be a game-changer for your company, do a quick Ctrl+F and type in “champ” to see the results these early adopters have had.
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