Last year, the NFL tested out Zebra Technologies MotionWorks RFID system in 18 stadiums to track vector data: A player’s speed, distance, and direction traveled during each game in real-time. This season, that wireless tracking technology will be embedded in every NFL player’s shoulder pads, and viewers at home can see all that data come to life in the redesigned NFL 2015 app for Xbox One and Windows 10.
Within the app, there’s a feature called Next Gen Stats that turns each player into an digital avatar for a “Next Gen Replay.” In coordination with a highlight clip posted shortly after it occurs live on the field, Next Gen Replay displays every player’s speed at each moment of a play, lets you toggle between players, and keeps track of the actual yardage a running back has run in a play or in a game.
“We will tie Next Gen Stats into every replay that comes into the Xbox,” says Todd Stevens, Executive Producer at Microsoft. “Replays like a one-yard touchdown run, you don’t really need Next Gen Stats. But some of these plays, like a long pass play, are truly spectacular. We wanted to give them a bit of special sauce.”
To do so, the Next Gen Stats section will also include features that highlight players rather than plays. At launch, which will be in late August, there will be a special section called Afterburner that highlights the speediest players in the NFL over time. More of those player-highlight collections are planned for the future in a section called Top Playmakers.
Tying speed, position, and distance data to 22 separate football players, animating them on a virtual field, and aggregating all their data over time might seem like a process that would take a while to add to each highlight clip. But according to Stevens, as soon as a highlight clip is posted to NFL.com, the Xbox NFL app will have all that stuff ready to go for each video.
“The only thing that keeps us from having it instantaneous is the human element to cutting the highlight,” Stevens says. “If somebody in Culver City for the NFL has to edit the highlight, as soon as it hits NFL.com we get it, and we can tie in the data instantaneously. We have all the data as the game is being played. You could see the little position graphics live. There are complications to showing that, but it’s something I think we’ll end up trying to do in the future.”
Along with the video-game-like presentation of real-world plays, there’s an actual gaming aspect to the Next Gen Replay feature. In a mini-game called “NGS Pick’em,” you choose eight to 10 players you think will run the fastest or travel the farthest in a game.
While Next Gen Stats is innovative, a few more features within the new NFL app for Xbox may be even more compelling for big-time fans. You can basically roll your own sports ticker: You select pop-up notifications for specific games, your favorite teams, and two fantasy teams from NFL.com, CBS, ESPN, and Yahoo. A little alert will pop up from the bottom of the screen to let you know if something notable has happened in tracked games, if someone in your fantasy matchup has scored, or if a new highlight clip from a game is ready. Using the Xbox One’s “Snap” feature, you can then view that clip in a sidebar without interrupting the main game you’re watching on the big screen.
“Our focus was to make this the best gameday experience,” says Stevens. “It’s super-simple to customize and slide in and out of things without missing any of the game. You hit one button and you go into that snap view, another button and I’m back in full screen.”
The new app will be available in late August, just in time for week three of the preseason. The NFL app and the Next Gen Stats features are free to everyone.