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First down: Technology and the Super Bowl

Published on Feb 5, 2016 at 8:20 pm in Tech Trends, Tennessean Articles.

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]635901970852754717-Levi-sStadiumIn 1967, two football teams competed in the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The event included 30 minutes of pre-game programming and one marching band at halftime, and it was broadcast on two stations. It was the first Super Bowl ever, and it was a long way from the game that millions of Americans will watch this Sunday.

This year, the NFL will present the 50th Super Bowl from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. Uniforms and rules have changed since 1967, but the biggest difference on this golden anniversary will be the technology. From fan interaction to the halftime entertainment to the plays on the field, technology is making a difference in American football.


The fanfare

The NFL struggled to draw fans to the first Super Bowl, let alone encourage interaction before the big day. Now, the hype extends over an entire week with a Fan Energy Zone in San Francisco that opened on Jan. 30. The space features a Fan Dome with interactive virtual reality games, a Fan Wall where social media, live video and leader boards are on display and a Fan Stage for celebrity appearances.

In addition to the pre-game build up, 110 million viewers will tune in on game day. Those who can afford the costly tickets — which average more than $5,000 apiece — are sure to document the experience from their mobile devices within the newly built stadium. As a neighbor to Silicon Valley, it’s no surprise that Santa Clara prioritized technology when constructing Levi’s Stadium. It holds over 400 miles of fiber and copper cable, has 1,200 Wi-Fi access points and boasts 10 times more bandwidth than the NFL mandates. Fans will use the accessibility to live-tweet the game, post photos to social media and participate with applications like Road to 50 and NFL fan mobile pass.

From fan interaction to the halftime entertainment to the plays on the field, technology is making a difference in American football.

Showtime at halftime

One big reason for increased fan interaction is a result of the evolution of the game itself. Super Bowl Sunday isn’t just a football match — it’s a competition for the best commercial and a halftime performance that creates as much buzz as the final score. In recent years, notorious wardrobe malfunctions and suspicious power outages have made headlines before the game was even over.

If Coldplay follows the trend this year, we can expect to see optical illusions created with video mapping and 3-D projections along with aerial flyovers and pyrotechnics. Last year, fans became part of the lighting spectacle when Pixmob distributed LED hats that transmitted pixels across the stadium, lighting up the audience. The performance and theatrics draw in spectators who might otherwise be uninterested in football.

Technology at play

On the field this year, both the NFL and the CBS networks are ramping up technology. New NFL Next Gen Stats will track the speed and distance run by each player. Tags placed in shoulder pads will communicate with sensors all over the field to re-create movements down to the inch, so broadcasters can compare and analyze the metrics in real time.

Only 11 cameras captured the play of the first Super Bowl, compared with 70 this year. Thirty-six of those are placed overhead to offer a 360-degree perspective of the field. They can freeze plays and allow referees to review calls, while cameras on the field can show movements in the pocket from a quarterback’s point of view. For fans at home, CBS will debut new on-air graphics to clarify players’ movements and analyze positioning.

Super Bowl 50 is breaking ground and tradition across all fronts. From dropping the roman numerals to the charitable host committee’s declaration that this is “the most giving” Super Bowl in history, this year’s game is about more than football.

This post also appeared in The Tennessean, where Concept Technology has a bi-weekly feature in the Business section.

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