The NFL has been on a tear when it comes to investing in technology. You can trace the league’s interest in IT back to 2012, when the NFL hired its first CIO, Michelle McKenna-Doyle.
In a guest column for BizTech, McKenna-Doyle explained how, as CIO, she helps shape how the league views and adopts technology.
“I am responsible for integrating and delivering our sideline of the future, partnering with teams to deliver the best in-stadium experiences and perfecting our instant-replay system, among other projects,” she said.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke about his satisfaction with the instant-replay system and other technologies the league rolled out this year in an interview with Bleacher Report at the end of 2014.
“We like the way we're integrating technology into the game. We saw it with instant replay this year, and we saw it with tablets on the sidelines, and I think that will continue to accelerate and bring technology into the game and innovate further,” Goodell said.
The NFL is challenged with integrating technology on two fronts. On the one hand, the league must learn how to use technology to improve player performance and the game. This includes incorporating wearable tech and data analytics to improve player assessments and coaching.
On the other hand, the NFL must grapple with the fact that technology is changing where and how fans are watching the games and consuming content from the league. For the in-stadium fans, that means supplying them with ample Wi-Fi connectivity, as the Kansas City Chiefs and the Arizona Cardinals have done. And for the at-home viewer, that means ensuring that games can be viewed on mobile devices.
“More and more people are watching, whether it's on television or on alternative devices and platforms. And we're delivering on that experience,” said Goodell.
While Goodell is optimistic about future tech integrations in professional football, he didn’t specify where the league was headed next. There are numerous possibilities, and it’s probably fair to say that the Microsoft Surface tablet program that was rolled out for coaches on the sideline will continue to evolve in the next NFL season.
Wearable technology, which is a hot commodity in the consumer space, has a natural application for player-performance tracking in the NFL. Some teams, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, are already experimenting with advanced helmet technology, and McKenna-Doyle confirmed last year that the league is exploring how wearables can improve player safety overall.
“The health and safety of our players [is] the utmost priority for us, and we do believe that wearables can continue to help us monitor, measure, and help players know when it’s safe to return to the game,” she said, according to a Business Insider article.
It may be a while before any official wearable tech is rolled out across the league, but some kind of wearable-tech integration seems imminent.
Columnist Bob Wallace recently wrote an NFL tech wish list on Patriots.com, and among his dream scenarios was the idea of rolling out connected cars that could act as Wi-Fi hotspots for tailgating fans.
“GM is driving availability of models with advanced wireless network connectivity that enable fans to follow the NFL when tailgating…” Wallace said. “Here's to hoping other makers will follow suit as the idea of a Wi-Fi hotspot on wheels is appealing.”