Zebra Technologies helps NFL house advanced tech inside footballs

Posted at 10:15 PM, Sep 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 12:01:34-04

NORFOLK, Va. - If a football could talk, imagine all the information it would be able to tell us about a single play.

While a football you'd pick up at the store is unable to communicate, the National Football League's footballs contain more than meets the eye.

Inside of all official game balls are tags, a small piece of advanced technology, developed by Zebra Technologies. They weigh just four grams and collect real-time location, speed and rotation data for the footballs.

Zebra works in collaboration with Wilson Sporting Goods, the supplier of the NFL's official game balls, to install the technology. Zebra had to find a way to install it that wouldn't change the feel of the ball or way it moves, something that took plenty of trial and error.

"The tip of the ball, underneath the threads, sometimes we used two tags inside the football and ultimately we came up with the configuration that when it’s melded just underneath the [NFL] shield, that the tag cannot be noticed and the players themselves can’t tell the difference when they pick up the football," Vice President of Business Development, Zebra Sports John Pollard said.

The data collected throughout a game is what makes the advance stats we find at Next Gen Stats possible.

It isn't just the footballs that contain tags, but players' shoulder pads as well. Just as toughness is expected from each player on the field, the same goes for the tags, but but between the players' sweat and constant contact, are the tags really tough enough to last an entire season?

"We have not had a tag fail due to contact at any point," Pollard said. "There’s a battery inside of the tags themselves so that they’re engineered to last the entire season."

Zebra enters the 7th season of its partnership role with the NFL when 2020's games kick off next week, providing us with another season of learning from football gear that has plenty to tell us.