According to a recent Bloomberg poll, football has officially replaced baseball as America’s favourite pastime.
It’s not just the country’s biggest sport either, it’s now ‘the biggest anything’, with the top 20 most-watched programmes in the United States all Super Bowl games.
If history is anything to go by, this year’s victory for the New England Patriot’s will be replaced by 2016’s ‘Golden Super Bowl’ as the most watched program ever in the US. This has been caused, in part, by the increasing sophistication of TV broadcasts, which have made match analysis more extensive, ultimately enhancing the whole viewing experience for fans.
The start of this year’s football season had all the hallmarks of those recently gone by; over the top firework displays and thousands of well-drilled cheerleaders robotically dancing at the drop of a hat. But before the players took to the field, a small RFID chip - about the size of a quarter - was attached to their shoulder pads. This is an entirely new project for the NFL, allowing analysts and coaches to measure the distance a player has travelled, their average speed, and also their exact position on the field at any given moment.
Football is a data rich sport, and that’s one of the main reasons why its fantasy leagues have been such a success. But the introduction of RFID tags should add another layer to the data that’s already at the disposal of fans, broadcasters and coaches. The NFL’s main ambition with the project is to improve instant replays, in what they call ‘Next Generation Replays’. This video gives you an idea of what they’re going to look like, but the bad news is that unless you own an Xbox One or a device updated with Windows 10, they’re going to be unavailable. Microsoft’s been a major sponsor of the NFL for some time, so it makes sense that they’d incorporate such restrictions.
Fans are also promised a better experience when they attend matches. Matt Swensson, Senior Director of Emerging Products and Technology at the NFL stated: ‘At the Pro Bowl last year, we had a display up that showed what players were on the field. By putting up what players were on the field in real time, it really gave fans more information.’
In a similar vein to the digital transformation partnerships recently announced by soccer teams Chelsea FC and Manchester United [https://channels.theinnovationenterprise.com/articles/why-more-football-clubs-are-paying-attention-to-digital-transformation], many fans will rarely, if ever, set foot in their team’s stadium, so concentrating on improving the experience of fans who buy tickets to watch live games tends to take a backseat to initiatives reaching those watching on TV and online. Therefore, expect most of the data attained from the RFID tags to be used to drive instant replays and TV broadcasts, more than say live boards at a match.
If RFID tags can engage fans even further, the 50th edition of the Super Bowl should smash all previous viewing ratings by some margin, while also enhancing the game’s international reputation.