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Volume 23 No. 9
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Zebra close to extending NFL data deal

Player tracking firm Zebra Technologies and the NFL are close to extending their deal, which is due to expire early next month.

Zebra is the data supplier behind Next Generation Stats, which measures players’ speeds and closing distances, for example.

“The 2018 regular season was the last year of a five-year original deal that was struck with the league,” said John Pollard, vice president of Zebra Sports. “We are really looking forward to extending that relationship with the NFL. We came to some level of agreement in the early fall, late summer 2018, and we are in the process of working through the final details. So, both of us — Zebra, and the NFL — will endeavor to continue our relationship.”

The NFL declined to comment other than to confirm the Zebra deal expires at the end of the league year in early March.

Zebra’s tracking chips are in every player’s shoulder pads and generate statistics that can measure closing speeds and the quickness of a pass rusher. This past season, all 32 teams for the first time received the data for all clubs. Teams are still not receiving data from the ball, which also has a chip. This would allow teams to track ball rotation speeds, distance traveled, and where the ball is when a receiver makes his cut.

“The ball data has been collected for two full seasons,” Pollard said. “The league is still evaluating the efficacy of that data and then determining how to share, or if to share, with clubs. If you have the ball data released, we can do more analysis, it opens up a new level of analytics.”

This past season, Amazon Web Services sponsored the Next Generation Stats, so when shown on TV, they are referred to as “Next Gen Stats powered by AWS.” AWS also uses its mathematical capabilities and cloud services to derive more insights, Pollard said.

Zebra also plans to expand into college football, Pollard said. The annual Senior Bowl last month used Zebra chips for the first time, he added.