USFL tests Football Tech. The NFL could adopt it.

The new United States Football League, which debuted last weekend, is betting fans want more professional football in the lull before th...


The new United States Football League, which debuted last weekend, is betting fans want more professional football in the lull before the NFL season kicks off. To win this bet, the league is experimenting with technology to move games forward quickly, make officiating as accurate as possible, improve player performance and safety monitoring, and improve TV broadcasting for fans (Fox is an investor in the league).

USFL leaders and the makers of this technology hope the NFL will also take notice and perhaps adopt it. The big brother league is generally tight-lipped about its business partnerships and future tech plans, and would not confirm any formal relationship with the upstart league.

But Natara Holloway, vice president of business operations and strategy for the NFL, said the league would have an eye on the development of the USFL. “We rely on any entity that promotes football,” she said. “We’re going to learn from them and watch how they play the game. Part of our innovation strategy is to think that not all the answers come from the NFL.”

Here is a look at some of the innovations employed by the USFL.

After an official spots the ball, eight Bolt6 optical cameras around the two stadiums in Birmingham, Alabama, and Canton, Ohio, which will host this year’s games, measure its placement. If the spot is in question, a referee may request that Bolt6 be used to make the call. The company said its system can do this in millimeters using light detection and ranging (lidar) technology.

Bolt6’s ball cue information is instantly available for TV broadcast and can be animated for the stadium crowd, just like in tennis matches when Hawk-Eye Live is used to determine if a judge made a correct call. And yes, some Bolt6 staff worked 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 footballs since 2017, and used to helping teams maintain social distancing during the pandemic. But these sensors, provided by Zebra Technologies, register players’ movements in only two dimensions: forwards and backwards, and side to side.

For USFL games, 3D sensors on players and officials and inside game balls measure verticality. The sensors can transmit data for display on TV broadcasts almost instantaneously, with “sub-second latency,” said Davyeon Ross, president of ShotTracker, which developed the sensors the USFL uses but works primarily in basketball and has Magic Johnson as an investor.

Of all the technologies in the upstart league, Holloway said the 3D view of player and ball movement is the most exciting development. “I think it’s going to be a game-changer for us,” she said, adding that being able to look at data on player positions – whether high or low on a particular game – could have an impact. effect on safety, training and performance. “You’re going to be able to change the way people actually move around in the game.”

The USFL distinguishes its broadcasts from those of college football and the NFL by picking up 16 players (eight from each side) for TV audio each game, and attaching a camera to a player on either side. team and select coaches and officials, in an effort to give the public an “inside view” of the game, said Michael Davies, senior vice president of field and technical operations for Fox, who shares broadcasts with NBC and its streaming service, Peacock.

But the producers look at the games iteratively, raising the stakes from different angles. During the league’s first weekend, a first-person view drone, created for the USFL by Beverly Hills Aerials, provided game footage. At some point during the season, the league will test a ball that glows, visible only to viewers, as it crosses the goal line. By Week 3, the league planned to introduce television and in-stadium broadcast of weather and wind data from the company WeatherStem collected via microclimate sensors above the goal posts and a vertical laser of each goal post to help determine if field goals were kicked. on them were good or not.

Fox was the first to introduce a yellow first line to viewers in 1998, but on the pitch, the old-school ritual of measuring first downs with two poles and a metal chain persists despite the executive vice president of operations of the NFL, Troy Vincent, to have said in February that becoming “chain-free” was a league goal.

To that end, USFL and Fox executives have confirmed that they are in talks to implement a laser first in all of their televised games next season. Unlike the yellow NFL marker, the lime green version of the USFL will also be visible on the field. Synchronized with a chip in the ball, the First Down laser line uses a combination of sensors, cameras and receivers positioned around a stadium and under the pitch to measure ball cue to less than one-sixteenth of an inch, according to inventor Alan Amron, who added that his system can either automate the first down decision or allow an official to make the call by querying a watch-like device about play, distance, ball and time. player location.

The laser line effort is a more than decade-old project that Amron and broadcaster Pat Summerall, who died in 2013, pitched to NFL executives. No idea is new, after all.

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Newsrust - US Top News: USFL tests Football Tech. The NFL could adopt it.
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