From the stadium to the in-home experience, the 2017 football season will see exponential technologies enhance the game of football as never before. Virtual reality, drones, wearables, and beacons are providing coaches, players, stadium owners, and fans with a rush of new ways to improve how the game is played and enjoyed.
Here are the top five technologies I see blitzing the gridiron this fall.
1. Machine Learning & Wearables: Optimizing Player Performance
Blindsiding most fans, many coaches already have had their players wearing the same sports trackers under their uniforms that casual runners wear. By feeding that data into machine learning algorithms, coaches can compare players’ acceleration, speed, and agility to know who is playing at peak performance and who needs to be benched—whether they’re already doing this now is speculation, but the opportunity is clear and available. In coming seasons, franchises could even play money ball with this data in contract negotiations with free agents.
2. Mixed Reality Practice: Preventing Injuries
Every time a player takes to the field, he risks injury—even during practice skirmishes. The Baltimore Ravens are reducing these incidents by having receivers run plays against holograms on the field. Equipped with mixed reality helmets, the player has the same on-field experience running against the defense, but he can’t actually collide into something that isn’t really there.
3. Helmet Cameras: Next-Level Training Opportunities
While still relegated to practice, more than 30 college and NFL teams are experimenting with quarterback helmet cameras. Providing the unique POV of the quarterback (with the added 360-degree view of what they may not have seen), these mini-cameras will take training films to the next level. With some cameras weighing under an ounce, several hardware makers are talking with the NFL to see if, in future seasons, helmet cams could provide fans a true on-field experience. Until then, the 360-replay technology that debuted at the last Super Bowl (which quickly processes the combined views of 38 cameras into one) will have to suffice.
4. Drones and Biometrics: Improving Fan Safety at the Stadium
Off the field, technology is improving the safety and security of stadium attendees. From facial recognition software at the turnstile, to multi-sensor anti-drone detection and tracking systems, a combination of radar, acoustic, and RF sensors are making sure that the only interference fans need concern themselves at the game is from the opposing team.
5. Augmented Reality: Adding Value to the In-Stadium Experience
While augmented reality maybe the most nascent of these game-changing technologies, it’s the one that makes me want to call an audible. While the televised game has greatly improved over the past half-century, the in-venue experience hasn’t. As low-cost AR glasses rollout, stadium attendees will be able to view customized live graphics, keep track of their fantasy team, order in-seat food, and even watch the game from any seat in the stadium. With 57 million rabid fans playing fantasy football and millions more fans enjoying the sport from the sidelines, tech companies hope to leverage that passion to get their new innovative digital technologies into the end zone.
This post first appeared in Fortune on August 1, 2017