7 New Technologies Take the Field This NFL Season

The NFL's latest tech innovations will improve the game experience for players, coaches, officials and fans. Here are seven technologies you'll see this football season.

NFL technology
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The NFL is about to kick off the 2014 season and this year teams are looking to score touchdowns not only on the football field, but with new technology for fans, players and coaches. The latest innovations are finally replacing some of the old, paper-based processes on the sidelines and improving the fan experience for season ticket holders as well as occasional fans. Here are seven technologies you'll see at NFL games this season.

[ How Technology is Transforming the NFL ]

Microsoft Surface Tablets: Replacing Paper-based Process
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Microsoft Surface Tablets: Replacing Paper-based Process

Making their debut at the preseason Hall of Fame game between the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants, players and coaches began using Microsoft Surface tablets as a supplement to their binders of on-the-field plays. Teams have always relied on runners to bring large sheets of paper showing the last few plays for coaches to review with players on the bench. Now coaches can use the Surface tablets, which are locked down with a special application, to zoom in and out or annotate photos with a stylus. Since this is the first year that teams are using the tablets, technology specialists will be down on the sidelines to help with any technical questions or issues.

In-Stadium Wi-Fi and Analytics: Applying Lessons Learned From Last Season
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In-Stadium Wi-Fi and Analytics: Applying Lessons Learned From Last Season

Last year the NFL brought in Extreme Networks as its official Wi-Fi analytics provider and tested in-stadium Wi-Fi at Super Bowl XLVIII. Now that the league has some testing under its belt, it's applying some lessons learned for the 2014 season. "We really learned that you can’t just roll out Wi-Fi without a really strong DAS and vice versa," says NFL CIO, Michelle McKenna-Doyle. She says analytics from the Wi-Fi network allow teams to identify and fix problems with the connectivity, such as microwaves at a hot dog stand that could disrupt the network, and add additional hot spots if necessary. "The only way to nip it in the bud is to have real-time analytics," she says.

Improved Mobile Apps: Customizable for each fan
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Improved Mobile Apps: Customizable for each fan

The NFL has rolled out the new version of the NFL Now mobile app with improved video functionality, including a customizable feed based on teams and players you follow. The New England Patriots are also updating features on its team app after last year's pilot. Gameday Live now has four in-seat ordering locations at Gillette Stadium and enhanced mapping. You can drop a pin on your seat or car location. Fred Kirsch, vice president of content and publisher at the Patriots says the mapping is more intuitive. "It will give you the best path to your seat or your car and [help you if you're] searching for amenities like where to buy merchandise or where the bathrooms are," he says.

Referee Communication System: Aiming for Fewer Controversial Calls
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Referee Communication System: Aiming for Fewer Controversial Calls

Some of the biggest complaints from NFL fans stem from officiating and controversial calls made on the field. In an effort to achieve more consistency, the NFL is providing referees with headsets hooked up to a communication system so they can talk to each other on the field. "Ensuring consistency is one of the hardest things to do," says McKenna-Doyle, citing challenges in spotting legal vs. illegal hits and adhering to the new rules introduced each season. The NFL benchmarked with the SEC college football conference, which used the communication system last year. "Their officials found that it helped the pace of the game because they can talk to each other and they don't have to huddle [up]," she says.

iBeacon: To Message Nearby Fans
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iBeacon: To Message Nearby Fans

In addition to the new features on their mobile app, the New England Patriots are experimenting with iBeacon technology this season. For example, if you are walking into Gillette Stadium, you could receive a push notification, even if your screen is locked, about downloading the app or a special deal in the Pro Shop. Kirsch says the team is using iBeacon as a way to get more people interested in the app but is waiting for iOS 8 to fully use the technology.

Noise Cancelling Headsets: For Improved On-field Communication
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Noise Cancelling Headsets: For Improved On-field Communication

One of the technologies used by every coach during games is a headset. The NFL switched from Motorola to Bose headsets this year because of Bose's noise cancelling feature. 'The coaches and players struggle to hear clearly even when connectivity is good," McKenna-Doyle says. Bose created a design specifically for the league and coaches can pick a 1-cup or 2-cup design, based on their preference. Next year, the NFL is planning to work more on the coach-to-player communication system -- the device that sits within the offensive and defensive captains' helmets.

Sensors: Tackling Need More Accurate Player Data
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Sensors: Tackling Need More Accurate Player Data

A handful of NFL teams are testing sensors, provided by Zebra Technologies, in players' shoulder pads again this year in order to get more accurate data using GPS, such as speed or which routes a player ran. The data will be used for broadcasters to provide more color during games and for the NFL to get more accurate statistics for its records. The league still largely relies on photographs to see the players on the field during a given play, which is another official statistic they log. "Some of [the players] have contracts that hinge on player participation," says McKenna-Doyle. "A game stat has to be 100 percent accurate."