USFL Tests Football Technology. The NFL Might Admit it.


The new United States Football League, which started last weekend, is betting fans will want more professional football before the NFL season kicks off. To win this bet, the league is experimenting with technology to keep games moving fast, make refereeing as accurate as possible, improve player performance and safety monitoring, and improve TV coverage for fans (Fox is an investor in the league).

USFL executives and makers of this technology hope the NFL will gain attention and perhaps even adopt it. The big brother league is generally tight-lipped about business partnerships and future technology plans and does not confirm any formal affiliation with the starter league.

But Natara Holloway, the NFL’s vice president of commercial operations and strategy, said the league will be keeping an eye on the USFL’s development. “We trust any organization that promotes the game of football,” she said. “We will learn from them and observe how they play the game. Part of our innovation strategy is to think that not all answers come from the NFL.”

Take a look at some of the innovations the USFL is using.

After an official has spotted the ball, two Birmingham, Ala., eight optical cameras from Bolt6 around the stadium and an optical camera in Canton, Ohio, which will host this year’s games, measure the ball’s placement. If spot is involved, a referee may request that Bolt6 be used to search. The company said its system can do this within millimeters using light sensing and distance (lidar) technology.

Bolt6’s ball-finding information is instantly broadcast on TV and can be animated for the stadium crowd just like in-game. Tennis matches when Hawk-Eye Live It is used to determine whether a judge has made a correct call. And yes, some of Bolt6’s employees used to work for Hawk-Eye.

Motion tracking is old hat in the NFL: Radio frequency identification (RFID) chips have been worn by players since 2014, embedded in soccer balls since 2017, and Help teams maintain social distancing during the pandemic. But these sensors, provided by Zebra Technologies, only record players’ movements in two dimensions: forward and backward, and side-to-side.

For USFL games, 3D sensors on players and officials and inside the balls measure verticality. Davyeon Ross, president of ShotTracker, which developed the sensors used by the USFL but primarily works in basketball and counts Magic Johnson as an investor, said the sensors can transmit data almost instantly, “with a delay of less than a second”, for display on TV broadcasts.

Holloway said that of all beginner league technology, the 3D display of player and ball movement is the most exciting development. “I think this will be a game changer for us,” he said, adding that being able to review data on players’ stances – whether they’re high or low in a particular game – could have an impact on safety, training, and more. is performing. “You will be able to change the way people act in the game.”

The USFL separates its broadcasts from broadcasts in college football and the NFL by microphoneing 16 players (eight on each side) for TV audio in each game and connecting a camera to one player from each team and some coaches and officials. Michael Davies, senior vice president of field and technical operations at Fox, which shares broadcasts with NBC and streaming service Peacock, said it was an effort to give viewers an “inside view” of the game.

But the producers look at the games over and over and raise the stakes from different angles. During the league’s first weekend, a first-person drone created for the USFL by Beverly Hills Aerals provided footage of the game. At one point in the season, the league will test a glowing ball that is only visible to TV viewers as it crosses the goal line. By Week 3, the league has planned to display weather and wind data collected via microclimate sensors on the goalposts from WeatherStem company on television and in the stadium, and display a vertical laser from each goalpost to help determine if goals on the field have been scored. it was good on them or not.

Fox pioneered offering a yellow debut line to TV viewers in 1998, but on the field, the old-school ritual of measuring debuts with two poles and a metal chain still persists, despite Troy Vincent, the NFL’s vice president of operations. he said in february Going “chainless” was a league goal.

To that end, executives from the USFL and Fox have confirmed that they are in talks. They will apply a first-down laser on all their televised games next season. Unlike the NFL’s yellow mark, the USFL’s lime green version will also appear on the field. Synchronized with a chip inside the ball, the First Down Laser Line uses a combination of sensors, cameras, and receivers placed around a stadium and under the pitch to measure ball detection within sixteenths of an inch, according to inventor Alan Amron. He said his system could automate the first-hit decision or have an official make a call by asking a watch-like device about the landing, distance, ball and player’s position.

The laser line effort is a more than a decade-long project that Amron and broadcaster Pat Summerall, who died in 2013, presented to NFL executives. After all, no idea is new.



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