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NFL Season 2017/18: The 7 Most Important Innovations

American football is becoming more and more intelligent. The pace with which the NFL, their teams and players use the technique, is accelerated. This is also reflected in the NFL season 2017/18.

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“At the moment we are experiencing this explosion in digital health care,” said Russell Okung of the San Diego Chargers. “And they offer an important added value, especially for professional athletes.” If he is not on the offensive line, Okung is sitting in the Athlete Advisory Board of the One Team Collective, the technology accelerator of the NFL Player’s Association. The NFL also founded its own venture capital fund in 2013 with 32 Equity. Teams like the San Francisco 49ers regularly invest in technology companies.

While some NFL innovations have been public, many have been more behind the scenes. Teams and players are careful with passing on new insights. “If you go public, everyone will follow and the advantage disappears,” said Professor Luke Bornn, VP of Strategy for the NBA team the Sacramento Kings.

Here, we have listed seven major innovation themes that NFL teams are exploring for the 2017/18 season.

1. Movements

Since 2014, Zebra Technologies has been tracking the movement of NFL players during games. Zebra uses two small RFID tags in the shoulder pads of each player. Receivers are installed around the field which triangulate the position of the tags.

This results in the so-called “Next Gen Stats” of the NFL. They are based on location, speed and acceleration. Teams can access their own data, but not that of other teams.

Many NFL teams do not use the Zebra system, but instead rely on other devices. Catapult is based on GPS and accelerometers to determine location and movement. More than a dozen teams began using Catapult for the 2017/18 season. STATSports is based on the same principle and works with five teams.

2. Biomechanics

The determination of the total movement of a player’s center of gravity helps to assess the workload of his body. However, in order to better understand the stresses of limbs and joints – tensions and imbalances that can lead to injuries – it is necessary to measure the movement of an individual. There are several companies that use accelerometers placed in different places on the body of an athlete to measure biomechanics. Most of these companies do not work explicitly in football. Motus Global has developed a sleeve device called MotusQB to calculate the working load of a quarterback’s arm. Torqlabs uses four devices located on the top and bottom of a rotor to measure gait. Lumo Run uses a single device placed at the bottom of the spine to do the same by analyzing hip movement.

3. Force

The actual power a player can exert – such as an offensive lineman pushing against a defender on the scrimmage line, or a receiver pushing off the ground to jump into the air – depends both on biomechanics as well as raw strength. To increase this strength, players spend many hours in the weight room. But technology is also making progress. A system from Sparta Science can measure the force a player applies to a measuring plate in the ground while he is jumping. This system is used by several NFL teams. A wearable by PUSH uses accelerometers to track the speed of the repetitions and has been used to evaluate the ability of the NFL players to push a sled in training. The clothing of Athos can measure the activity of individual muscles by recording the electrical activity on the skin.

4. Regeneration

One of the greatest injury risk factors in sports is fatigue. Instead of increasing performance during the season, the teams generally focus on the best possible recuperation of the players. In April, the NFL Player’s Association signed a treaty with WHOOP. WHOOP focuses on wearable technologies. The company has designed a bracelet to monitor both the exercise load and the recovery effect of a player after he has rested or slept.

This agreement applies to the NFL Player’s Association and not the NFL, so it is not easy for teams to access the data. However, there are other systems to evaluate their recovery. PUSH operates a platform for the NFL that combines physiological tests with questions about how an athlete feels or is ready to train or play. Under Armor has shoes that include sensors which determine the fatigue level based on jump tests.

5. Blood

The simplest devices and methods generally track external metrics (such as movement, force, skin temperature, electrical conductivity), or the simplest internal biometrics (such as heart rate and heart rate variability). However, the most useful values come from invasive tests. Several NFL teams work with Quest Diagnostics. Their design for wellness programs includes laboratory work to measure the variety of chemicals and proteins in the blood of the players. InsideTracker offers personalized nutritional and lifestyle recommendations for athletes and consumers based on similar blood tests. Perennial athletes have even been testing the use of glucose monitoring devices continuously. Dexcom provides such a device, among other things. Dexcom has developed a device for diabetes patients. A needle is inserted into the skin to see how the body responds to different nutritional strategies.

6. Brain

What’s going on in your head is probably the most personal information a player has to offer. With regard to the subject of brainwave vibration, this is also the most controversial data. Several teams are already using the STRATCH virtual reality system, which allows players to navigate through the game in retrospect. Headsets, e.g. by Smith, measure the brainwaves of the players. With this approach, the players learn concentration and relaxation techniques. Improving focus, response speed, and decision-making ability may help win games. By measuring these values over a longer period of time, teams could also identify brain impairments. Between the start and end of the NFL season 2017/18 there are sure to be many interesting developments. It is hoped that the new high-tech helmet VICIS ZERO1 will prevent as many injuries as possible.

7. Data management

The above devices and technologies can produce a huge amount of data. The interpretation and operational reuse of these data are probably the biggest obstacle that holds back a greater technology revolution within the NFL. Few coaches and athletes have the analytical and scientific competency or the time to make it work. A number of companies are coming to fill this gap, including industry leaders Kinduct. In May, Zebra teamed up with Kinduct to manage data for its NFL and college football customers.

How much will the innovations shape 2017/18 NFL season?

There is no claim to completeness for the above innovations. In the course of season 2017/18, hopefully, numerous advances will be made. This is just a starting point.

“Every team is doing well, even the bad,” Steve Gera told Sports Illustrated. Gera was an analyst at the San Diego Chargers and head of innovation at the Cleveland Browns. Now he is Creative Officer at the Gains Group, an agency that connects athletes and trainers with technology companies.

Over the course of the season, it will becomes clear which is the technology of the winners and of the losers. Or is the topic not all it’s cracked up to be? The 2017/18 season should let us know!

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MLBAM, “The Biggest Media Company You’ve Never Heard Of”

Ever since the National Hockey League (NHL) began to play some of its matches “outdoors” in the major league’s best known stadiums, the two leagues have had a good relationship with each other.

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Baseball and ice hockey have been coming closer together for two years now. This is just one of the many examples of successful Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) projects. The company is considered to be one of the most exciting players in the sports business.

Launched in 2000 as the core of MLBAM, MLB.com was financed by 30 clubs under an agreement for $1 million  per year for four years – totaling $120 million. To the owners’ delight, the website began to generate excess revenue as early as 2003, so the teams were able to start making a return on investment after only investing about $70 million. The 30 clubs now receive annual dividends. In 2014, these are estimated to have been between $7 and $8 million per club.

Under the six-year contract with NHL, MLBAM has now acquired the distribution rights for all out-of-market games for a total of 600 million dollars. This includes the release via NHL GameCenter LIVE, NHL subscription services in the USA and various international markets. MLBAM also operates NHL.com, including all foreign language versions and all NHL Club websites.

MLBAM reaches undreamt-of heights

NHL and MLBAM will work together on new digital products and platforms for design and development. The clubs retain control over the content of all channels. The MLB Network offers the use of studios and production resources for the NHL Network for distribution in the USA and some international markets. In addition, the NHL now holds seven to ten percent of the MLBAM spin-off “BAM Tech.”

It’s groundbreaking to have two leagues doing a rights deal. (John Collins, NHL COO)

The road to becoming a “major player” within the media world was marked by several key moments:

  • Providers of back-end infrastructure to stream MLB games for millions of users
  • Provider of authentication services for ESPN
  • White label service for HBO Now and the WWE Network
  • Content purchasing, e. g. digital media rights of the PGA for online and mobile media

Crowned by the NHL deal, MLBAM has successively developed further to position itself as the “Next Big Thing” within the sports media industry. With the spin-off BAM Tech, the company aims to become the ESPN of the digital age and will be competing with companies such as Hulu, Netflix and Amazon in the future.

In August 2016, Disney announced the purchase of 33 percent of BAMtech’s shares. The value: $1 billion dollars. Disney CEO Bob Iger back then:”We think it’s a good investment. We love the business model. And we think that the ability to stream live sports with a scalable model is a necessary competitive advantage these days.” Disney actually picked investing in BAMtech over investing in Twitter.

A year ago, BAMTech agreed to pay at least $300 million for the exclusive streaming and monetization rights for League of Legends competitions.

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Study: Football Fans in China Love Club Sponsorship

About two thirds (65 percent) of Chinese football fans intend to buy products from an official sponsor of a football club. At least that’s what a new study says.

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The Red Card+ Report has asked more than 30,000 football fans in China about their motivation for following European leagues. One thing is clear: Chinese fans can be strongly influenced by team sponsoring and marketing measures.

More than half (58 percent) consider sponsors to be very influential in their partnerships with clubs. This shows the value these associations can have on fans in China. This creates great opportunities for the global sports business. Clubs such as FC Bayern have been working for years on the right positioning in China.

The report is the largest survey of Chinese sports fans to date. The sports marketing agency Mailman developed it together with the soccer news app Sike.

Sports sponsoring as a new concept in China

According to Tom Elsden, Senior Client Manager at Mailman, the marketing preferences of Chinese fans are a reflection of China’s changing culture.

In the West, we have been exposed to marketing and sponsors on a daily basis for 30 years. Here in China, sponsorship is a relatively new concept. It’s working for fans and we expect additional growth and investment. This is a great opportunity for football clubs and sponsors.”

The report also shows a number of cultural differences among football fans. 76 percent of Chinese fans prefer a favorite player over a favorite club. This is in contrast to Western culture, where geography or family traditions are often the reasons for choosing a club. Chinese fans are a little more relaxed about this and a large number (72 percent) even follow a second team besides their favorite.

“We know that China is an icon market, that the players really dictate which teams the fans follow. So far, there have been no figures on this. We would encourage clubs to put more of their star players online, develop their presence and then use it as a lever to spread the clubs throughout China,” said Elsden.

More than half (54 percent) of fans are willing to pay to watch games. The majority (92 percent) would prefer to see the games at home. This behavior is partly due to the time difference. On the one hand, many games do not start until after 10 p. m., and on the other hand many fans prefer to watch football alone on mobile devices.

Chinese fans prefer their club’s official social media channels over traditional news sites, with 71 percent receiving their messages from official Weibo and WeChat accounts, which they consider more trustworthy.

Red Card+ Report provides new insights

The Red Card+ Report is a supplement to the annual Red Card Report, which analyzes and determines the influence of European football teams on Chinese social media channels.

According to Andrew Collins, Mailman CEO, the report is the most comprehensive analysis of modern Chinese fans of European football.

“The analysis in this report provides more insight than ever into what really drives these fans. The survey provided some of the results we expected. Others have improved our understanding of the people driving the fast-growing football market in China.”

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Angry Birds On the Shirt Sleeves of FC Everton

The FC Everton has secured its first-ever sponsorship of a jersey sleeve for the first time in its history.

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The team from the British Premier League has reached a deal with the Finnish computer game company Rovio. Rovio became well known with the release of the game Angry Birds.

The contract is to run for several years. The logo of the Angry Birds was first seen at the game against Manchester United. As in the Bundesliga, Premier League clubs can generate new revenue thanks to jersey sleeve marketing. Many teams are already using this option.

To announce the collaboration, the partners released an animated short film in which Angry Bird Red signed with the “Blues.” FC Everton couldn’t resist this humorous turn. Many football clubs try to out-compete each other in the summer with funny social media posts to introduce new players.

Angry Birds push internationalization of the Blues

Alan McTavish, Head of Commercial Partnerships at FC Everton:”Rovio Entertainment recognize the global reach that Everton can deliver through its international fanbase and the global exposure of the Premier League. In return, working with Rovio and the Angry Birds brand gives Everton exposure in key international markets through their breadth of digital channels in gaming and animation, as well as a wide range of co-branded merchandise.

We look forward to working together to deliver some innovative and exciting worldwide activations in what I’m sure will be a long and successful partnership.”

Ville Heijari, Chief Marketing Officer of Games at Rovio Entertainment, commented:”We are delighted to bring Angry Birds into the top class of English football together with Everton. In Everton, we have found a partner who shares our values of putting fans first and creating a long-standing heritage for our community of players. This is Rovio’s first partnership in the world’s most popular sports league and a logical continuation of our global brand partnerships with Angry Birds.”

The game can boast 3.7 billion downloads. This makes it one of the most successful mobile game titles of all time. The cooperation with FC Everton runs under the hash tag #RedisaBlue.

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