Each of the footballs the NFL uses in the 2017 season will be equipped with chips as part of the never-ending quest to collect data.
The data will be generated by radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips manufactured by Zebra Technologies. The information collected by these chips will be used by broadcasters as part of the NFL’s Next-Gen statistics program. It will also be used by the NFL’s competition committee.
The chip was developed by Zebra and Wilson Sporting Goods. Their greatest challenge was to develop a chip that wouldn’t interfere with the shape or movement of the ball. The RFID chip that will be used weighs three grams and is built right into the football upon assembly.
The RFID chip will be used to collect data such as the speed and spin of the football, including whether or not the ball is moving in a spiral or end-over-end. The Next-Gen program will use information collected from the chips for player-tracking purposes.
Teams will also have access to information about their players, though many coaches are opposed to these advanced metrics.
The technology currently cannot be used to assist officials with touchdown calls or determining whether or not a ball has passed the first down marker. It also cannot document the exact location of a player’s feet or knees to determine where the ball is when a player is ruled down.
The NFL began experimenting with putting RFID chips in balls last season. They were used in kicking balls during the preseason and Thursday Night Football games. The NFL wanted to study how close the balls passed to the uprights on kicking attempts, giving the competition committee information when they wanted to determine whether or not the goalposts should be narrowed.