How the NFL—not the NSA—is impacting data gathering well beyond the gridiron

Video shot and edited by Christopher Schodt. (video link)SANTA CLARA, Calif.—As guards were going so far as to check inside NFL fans’ wallets as part of routine security measures before a recent preseason game at Levi’s Stadium, a different form of surveillance was taking place on the inside of the San Francisco 49ers’ 1-year-old, $1.3 billion home here in Silicon Valley.

ars.AD.queue.push([“xrailTop”, {sz:”300×251″, kws:[“bottom”], collapse: true}]);We’re not talking about facial recognition devices, police body cams, or other security measures likely zeroing in on fans. Instead, employees from San Jose-based Zebra Technologies had recently finished scanning the NFL uniforms of the 49ers and of their opponents—the Dallas Cowboys. All of a sudden, an on-the-field de facto surveillance society was instantly created when Zebra techies activated nickel-sized Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) chips that were fastened inside players’ shoulder pads. Every movement of every player now could be monitored within an accuracy level of all but a few inches.

On its surface, this seems pretty innocuous. Cameras already track things like total player movement in sports, allowing teams to better recognize tendencies or gauge the physical toll on players. RFID chips, however, can provide more accurate, more granular information along these lines. The NFL’s new real-time player tracking data—including things such as player speed and team formations—undoubtedly promises to reformat the game in terms of fan participation, team practicing methods, and potentially game-time strategy.

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