RFID Talk Blog

NFL can eliminate “Deflate-Gate” by embedding RFID in footballs

The NFL embraced RFID technology this season to produce a wide range of player data used by broadcast teams. The RFID tags worn on the shoulder pads of each player generated new stats on player acceleration, speed and distance traveled. The technology platform was developed by Zebra.

With all the pre-Super Bowl talk this week about “Deflate-Gate” after the New England Patriots used partially deflated balls during Sunday’s AFC championship game victory, isn’t it time to start tagging footballs too?

Footballs like these produced by Big Game USA carry NFC tags and are in use at Texas A&M, Navy, Nebraska and Mississippi State.

If the NFL wants to create a level playing field when it comes to accurate and uniform ball inflation, a simple RFID chip inside each ball would do the trick. Referees could simply scan the balls before and during a game to certify that they meet NFL standards.

Tagging technology for footballs already exists. Dallas-based manufacturer Big Game USA is embedding NFC chips into footballs used by Texas A&M, Nebraska, Navy and Mississippi State. Although the main goal of the smart chip is to improve authentication for sports collectibles, the technology clearly has on-field applications as well, including the potential to verify football specs.

“There are all sorts of interesting things that could be done live during a game,” says Haroon Alvi, the CEO at PROVA Group, which supplies the NFC technology to Big Game USA.

PROVA Group, a start-up founded by former NFL great Emmitt Smith, uses NFC tags to track the authenticity of footballs and other items. Smith founded the company after discovering many of the merchandise branded under his name was not authentic. The company’s solution relies embedded NFC tag technology from Smartrac.

Alvi says that the 18-month-old startup is putting smart tags inside footballs to track their use at various games. The company is also studying how to optimize its solution for a better experience on the field.

“There are actually two problems we are solving,” says Alvi. “On the factory side, Big Game is interested in this for quality control. They are recording information about when the ball was made, who the ball was made for, and maybe information about materials used in the ball. Each college team might tweak the ball to meet their specific needs as long as it stays within NCAA regulations. So we’re able to track all that at the factory level.

As for developing new on-the-field use cases, Alvi says “we’re keeping that information close to the chest right now.”

Click here to learn how the NFL is using RFID to bolster fan engagement.

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