Sports teams, investors, and fans take their sports very seriously. They would do anything to up their game. Big data in the sports industry has been gaining momentum since at least 2007, and now tracking has become the norm. That why the NBA installed player tracking systems in all of its 29 arenas in 2013. The real question is, what’s next for all that data?
NFL players aren’t allowed play games with GPS trackers, but that hasn’t stopped coaches from using them during practices. However, GPS, as anyone with a smartphone knows, is not always incredibly accurate. That’s why the NFL is upgrading the system, and testing out an RFID system from Zebra Technologies. Two quarter-sized radio-frequency identification chips will be equipped in players’ shoulder pads, will wirelessly sending location data and tracking speed using accelerometers.
The pilot program went so well that they decided to roll it out to all of their 32 teams. This allows analysts to see the complete X-Y-Z coordinates of every player with unprecedented detail. The tags blink 25 times per second and deliver data in 120 milliseconds. By tracking speed and the distance between players, coaches can find a new wealth of information to use the space better. From new formations, to imagining new routes or understanding each player’s particular style, the true power of these tags will lie in the ability to turn numbers into something meaningful. Solution principle from one data firm, Slalom Consulting, took on that task, and streamlined sports data into clear decision-making visuals. Just by choosing which team you are “coaching,” viewers can gain clear insight into how the team performs and where the excel.
Despite the prevalence of such technology and the large data sets available to the NFL, that doesn’t mean sports teams are quite ready for big data. Former Toronto Raptors president, Bryan Colangelo, says teams need data analytics specialists like never before. “There are mountains of opportunity in analytics now. If you’re not spending $250K and having two or three people dedicated to it full time, you’re probably too light on it.” Big data has been recognized for making 2015 the year of the three-point shot in the NBA. It’s expected to prove an irreplaceable tool for soccer coaches, as players tend to spend most of their time off the ball. It’s big data that can give professional sports the chance to go even bigger.
Tracking players could also lead to a second, desperately overdue update for some sports: better injury prevention. Common trackers could make players, and coaches, more aware of hydration level and players’ overall physical state. Much more importantly for the NFL, it could track hits to the head. The public first became aware of the real dangers of concussions in professional sports some years ago, but that hasn’t made many changes. In fact, the 2015 season saw a 58% rise in diagnosed concussions.