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Automation & the NFL

Automation is driving change in and around the big game

With the NFL season around the corner, let's consider how automation is driving change in and around the game.
Technology has automated some NFL careers, complicated others, and even created new ones. Player data can now be automatically captured, analyzed, and reported, and game producers have had to adapt as camera and monitor systems have become more complex — the instant replay technologies contained therein are even helping doctors diagnosis injuries.

It’s almost time to put on your favorite team’s jersey and bust out the chips and guacamole for the kickoff of the NFL regular season.

You love the guys on the field, working hard and demonstrating incredible skills every week. But did you know that as you watch your favorite NFL team next week, an automation revolution is taking place at the same time?

It’s true. While we are a few decades away from the robotic future Cyberball 2072 promised us, automation is changing how broadcasters deliver the game to your television or smart device, how journalists cover the game, how team doctors make on field diagnoses and how players come back from major injuries.

Since the Green Bay Packers first hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy 50 years ago, so much has evolved in the game of football, from player equipment to the style of play itself. Yet many of the changes brought on by automation are happening behind-the-scenes.

TV has come a long way in NFL broadcasts, going from a few cameras to as many as 70 for Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara. Remote controlled cameras are everywhere, bringing you the action from above and at the ground level. A leading-edge software program is now able to “see” multiple camera angles in real-time to give broadcast producers instant access to player mapping and ball tracking.

These data points are all being collected and analyzed by statistics programs used by teams and the reporters that cover the game. With so much data coming in – first downs, yardage and the like – these automated systems are able to deliver the goods back to the viewing audience as quickly as they come in.

The data that fans are hungry to consume are also the raw materials for another revolution in journalism, as automated writing is just beginning to take hold in lower-tier sports and in newsrooms. Unfortunately, this could take away many responsibilities of the in-game reporter. Yet it could leave them more opportunities to find new and creative ways to interact with their audience over social media to get beyond the X’s and O’s.

While many bemoan every time a head coach throws a red challenge flag to spawn an instant replay, it’s still far better than tape delay system of the 1980’s. Now armed with on field Microsoft Surface tablets, referees are getting the job done more quickly and more accurately than ever (thanks to all those camera angles).

Viewers at home can be treated to multiple angles of a controversial play, but as the action is happening, sideline doctors are using replay to confirm and diagnose injuries in the immediate aftermath. Though the process of diagnosis is evolving, replay can play a part in whether a player is returned to the field or has to sit out. And if certain players suffer a major bodily injury, the doctors who treat them are equipped with robotic and computer-assisted tools to help with surgery and healing.

All of these new technologies require skilled workers to implement them. Check out this “Future of Sports” report to see how all sports will be affected in the coming decades and to see what skill sets need to be upgraded to meet demand.

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