Is Football Ready for Some Technology?

For those of you who are football (and fantasy football) fans, it’s been a long wait, but the season has finally kicked off.  Many of us at Alliance Tech will be watching the games with renewed interest, not only because we like football, but because of the evolution that technology is bringing to the game.

Football, and sports in general, provide fascinating applications for technology.  Back in 2013, NFL players and coaches began using Microsoft’s Surface tablets on the sidelines between possessions.   Meant to replace the traditional black-and-white printed papers, the tablets provided photos of recent plays that helped players and coaches discern exactly what happened during previous possessions.  About a year later, players started to wear shoulder pads inserted with RFID tags.  RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) refers to small electronic devices that consist of a small chip and an antenna. The chip typically is capable of carrying 2,000 bytes of data or less. In the world of event marketing, RFID is used to capture additional data about attendees by strategically placing unobtrusive RFID readers in a specific area, like a tradeshow booth. When you are able to identify time spent at various product stations, you will uncover additional revenue opportunities.  On the football field, RFID tags make it possible for the NFL to record real-time data related to acceleration, speed, routes, and total distances run.

These analytics can be useful for the teams and for the producers and announcers of the games.  But what about the fans? Whether or not you are playing fantasy football, those real-time game stats can be addicting, and there will inevitably be myriad apps to make it even more fun – and easy for us to use.

More recently, Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) technology has joined RFID on the field and in the stadium. Bluetooth Smart, and iBeacon™ all refer to BLE technology. It consumes only a fraction of the power of classic Bluetooth radios, expanding wireless to devices like watches, toys, gaming devices, and more. Plus, they could go as long as a year on one charge! (Click to read my blog about BLE - The Future of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Technology.)  Stores like Macys and Target use small Bluetooth transmitters to send content and offers to shoppers’ smartphones based on their specific locations and behaviors within a store. They can provide incentives to deliver exclusive discounts and deals when a customer walks through the front door.  For example, a Target customer might receive a deal for a big-screen TV while walking the aisles.

Teams are beginning to use BLE technology to provide directions to seats and concessions based off the user’s current location in the stadium. It could provide directions to the shortest lines, both when entering the stadium and while attempting to purchase some nachos and beer (or maybe before standing in a restroom line!). Marketing opportunities are limitless. BLE could be used to tie into rewards programs that include discounts on items sold within the stadium. BLE data could be used to promote sales of a player’s gear immediately after he makes a big play.

When you watched that Superbowl back in February, did you know that the NFL was already uniting technology with the Internet of Things (IoT) – and the “things” were the players?  According to a terrific New York Times article published on August 23, “In a Data-Driven N.F.L., the Pings May Soon Outstrip the X’s and O’s,” thumb-size beacons have been embedded into those players’ shoulder pads, providing real-time data to the press and broadcasters.  Beacon technology has pinged on to the football field.


Your favorite team might not be utilizing all of that technology to improve what’s happening on the field just yet. There are legalities involved.  And like the rest of us, the teams need to find real meaning in all of that “big data” available to them.  But I have no doubt that we will see more technology on the field, in the stadiums, and on your mobile devices this football season.

Of course, football games are actually very large events, so it makes sense that many event marketers are also incorporating RFID technology to obtain similar data, analytics and additional ROI for their own events.  Are you?  Reply to this blog and share your story.