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NFL will leverage mobile, wearables to enhance content

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The National Football League sees tremendous potential in the use of mobile to deliver content to its data-hungry fans, but it still faces some hurdles as it seeks to optimize its efforts in that area. 

The league has set a deadline of the 2015 football season for all stadiums to be in compliance with new NFL standards for providing Wi-Fi connectivity for fans. Already some teams are using mobile marketing extensively at games for things such as text-to-win campaigns and seat upgrades, but the potential exists for a much richer experience with the advent of technologies such as wearables. 

“We collect massive amounts of statistics already,” said Michelle McKenna-Doyle, chief information officer of the NFL. “What if we could embed a chip in the shoulder pads of players, and add information about the route they ran on the last play?” 

Ms. McKenna-Doyle spoke at an event on wearable technologies at the Innovation Loft in New York on July 10, and also spoke to Mobile Marketer in an interview before the event. Funny Garbage Digital Studios, New York, hosted the Innovation Evening.

More content 
Data gathered through technology worn by players would not only be extraordinarily valuable for coaches and the athletes themselves, but could also eventually be a source of new content to provide to the sport’s legions of fans. 

“There has been a lot of interest from fans,” Ms. McKenna-Doyle said. “They want more and more data.” 

She also said wearables might have applications to enhance the experience for fans in attendance at the games.

“Imagine being at a game wearing Google Glass and being able to see the first-down line in yellow, like fans at home see on TV,” Ms. McKenna-Doyle said. 

She added that fans can expect to see some added mobile initiatives around mobile and wearables at Super Bowl XLIX and Super Bowl 50 (when the league will stop using Roman numerals) in 2015 and 2016, respectively. She declined to go into more detail. 

Among the challenges faced in implementing such advancements is the structure of the stadiums themselves. The steel-and-concrete facilities, filed with tens of thousands of people, are highly effective at blocking mobile transmissions and thwarting such wireless endeavors.

The league is working with partner provider Verizon to develop solutions that would improve connectivity and get the league past this hurdle. 

Before smartphones became ubiquitous, some stadiums had little incentive to make such investments. 

“You cannot build a highway until there is enough traffic, but now there is enough traffic,” said Ms. McKenna-Doyle. 

Another significant obstacle the league must overcome in providing more data to fans is obtaining permission from players and teams to share the data that is collected. While some players and teams are more than happy to share their stats, the league is bound by its collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union as to what specific data can be shared. 

That agreement is in effect for another 10 years, but Ms. McKenna-Doyle suggested that the questions on privacy restrictions could be revisited before its expiration, particularly as opportunities emerge around wearables for players. 

Player safety 
The NFL has also been working with the U.S. military on future wearable technologies that might enhance player health and safety. Concussions have been a major challenge for the league, and military research around the effects of impacts on soldiers could provide lessons.

“We are learning a lot from military uses of wearable technologies,” Ms. McKenna-Doyle said. 

In addition, wearable technologies might be used to monitor other metrics around players’ health and well-being, such as measuring acceleration and deceleration, heartbeat, amount of sleep, and other variables. 

Mobile technology is also coming to the sidelines beginning next season. The NFL has an agreement with Microsoft to supply Surface tablets to coaches so they can look at plays on the sidelines with players, rather than on physical photographs as they have been doing for years. The league still does not allow video viewing on the sidelines, however. 

Another use for wearables that the league sees coming sooner rather than later is for monitoring officials, who would wear devices that track whether or not they are in the right position to make calls on every play. 

Ms. McKenna-Doyle said all of this new information that will be flowing into the league’s databases has the potential to be transformed into content for fans. Increasingly, that content will be optimized for mobile. Already, the league is creating video clips for fans that are smaller for better viewing on mobile devices, she said. 

“Our goal is to be available on any device,” Ms. McKenna-Doyle said. “We want our fans to be able to get our content where they want it, when they want it, and in what form factor they want it in.” 

Kristin Ellington, chief operating officer of event sponsor Funny Garbage, said in introducing Ms. McKenna-Doyle that while health and fitness have driven the early growth of wearables, the fashion industry could drive the next stage of their evolution. 

“Up until now, it has been the techy, geeky people who have been involved,” she said. “But now the fashion people will be getting involved.” 

Final Take 

Mark Hamstra is content director at Mobile Marketer

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Related content: Content, NFL, Michelle McKenna-Doyle, wearables, Verizon, Microsoft, Surface, Super Bowl, Google Glass

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