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The Score - Anthony Schoettle

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Sports Business

New sensors in NFL footballs won't be used to prevent another DeflateGate

August 31, 2016
KEYWORDS Sports Business

The NFL is taking new steps to see what’s going on with its footballs.

No, this isn’t about DeflateGate—not yet anyway.

Like most things with the NFL, this is about making money.

This preseason, the NFL is testing footballs with implanted sensors. The sensors, made by Lincolnshire, Illinois-based Zebra Technologies, are about the size of a quarter and are placed under the pigskin where the laces come together. 

The lightweight sensors (radio frequency identification—RFID—tags) can measure the velocity of the ball, acceleration and distance traveled, among other things, and relay all the information back to a computer monitored by Zebra officials in San Jose, California—all in less than a second.

One thing the sensor won’t monitor is the air pressure in the footballs. Two seasons ago, the Indianapolis Colts accused the New England Patriots of using under-inflated footballs during the playoffs. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will serve a four-game suspension related to his role in the controversy at the start of this season. 

So how will all the data—which is the property of the NFL—be used?

It will be sold to the league’s broadcast partners, of course. Zebra can unpack and repackage the data for broadcasters like ESPN and Fox at lightning speed, according to league officials. Teams also will get the data—24 hours after the game is over.

The NFL knows a thing or two about data collection. The league already collects player data from chips in shoulder pads, and teams often collect that same data during practice. Teams and league officials for several years have tracked fan movement and purchases within its stadiums.

League officials say all the data collected from the shoulder pads and footballs is great in helping teams train and prepare for games better. It can also help them monitor the fatigue level of players. 

Of course the sensors in the footballs also would appear to be a great way to root out cheaters as well. At this point, though, I’m sure the NFL would rather not have its broadcast partners doing any more stories on air pressure in footballs.

NFL officials are still undecided on whether the chip will be used in the regular season.

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