When you're watching a football game, you're probably wrapped up in the score and excitement of the match. You're not thinking about the massive amount of technology and tracking taking place in real-time, invisibly refining the playbook.
But it's happening, and the company to thank for these innovations is Zebra Technologies (ZBRA) - Get Zebra Technologies (ZBRA) Report, which is entering its seventh season as the player tracking technology partner used by the NFL.
Zebra Technologies captures high-speed player data and translates that data into usable statistics. Using radio frequency identification (RFID) chips placed on players and in footballs, Zebra is able to map information such as location, movement, formation, speed, distance, acceleration, and more.
Teams and coaches then use this information to improve their game. Having the technology embedded at all times, from practices to matches, lets automation do the work rather than manually counting metrics such as passes, throws, and tackles.
Sports Illustrated's Packers Maven Bill Huber explains how this technology is helping the Packers.
"The Packers are one of about 10 or 12 teams that use Zebra at their practices. So it's not just a game study. You go to the next-gen stats sites on NFL.com, it's not just that, but Zebra is doing it at practices as well. So it's little things, how quickly can a quarterback close the ball on a receiver? If the linebacker takes a false step forward, how long's it taken to retrieve? It's a lot of little things like that; a lot of possible coaching points," said Huber.
Still, the technology has its limitations, and won't likely be replacing referees anytime soon.
"The stuff is really amazing, but it's accurate within six inches. When it comes to spotting a football, six inches is not going to do. At this point, the official Zebras are still the best way to go. I think maybe in time maybe technology will catch up. But for now, like it or not, people, the referees will be making those calls."
Zebra Technologies is up 49% in the past year.