It’s been hard to ignore the excitement surrounding this year’s Super Bowl – even if you only have a passing interest in the sport. The incredible comeback by the Kansas City Chiefs, playing against the San Francisco 49ers, provided enough fireworks for even the most marginal of fans.
While a large part of the excitement surrounding the Super Bowl has to do with the evolving nature of the sport (and of course the end result!), technology plays a vital role in the way we live the experience, whether that be from in the living room in front of the television, or inside the stadium. It is also great to see the NFL continuing to be a catalyst and international platform for new technologies to emerge.
So, what’s new?
For the 2020 Super Bowl coaches had access to their own dedicated Wi-Fi network for their devices used to display the plays of the game. As recently as 2013, coaches would sit at the top of the stadium to get a bird’s eye view of the teams and write down what needed to change on paper, before bringing this to the dressing room at the end of each quarter.
Today, the coaches still sit in the same room at the top of the stadium, however, technology now allows them to write any changes directly onto one tablet and pick up another one in the dressing room that has all the notes already downloaded onto it. These tablets can also take screenshots of the plays meaning the coaches of the teams can show each player exactly what they are doing wrong and what decisions should follow in real-time. However, the tablets are also increasing in their capabilities – think about it, the battery life cannot run out, or the internet suddenly fail, as this would be disastrous for the team involved.
In addition, at the 2020 Super Bowl much more data is available than ever before. Coaches can see almost every angle in high definition and can therefore predict what each player is going to do much more accurately, however this may also potentially slow down these tablets. Luckily, in 2020, we saw an additional 230 miles of fibre optic cable installed in and around the stadium to help process the multitude of data available to the coaches.
Interestingly, we saw drone technology used at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but not at the 2020 Super Bowl. Here, cameras would hover right above the players so coaches could see exactly how the props were lining up. In the future it will be interesting to see if the NFL also implements this technology over the line of scrimmage to help gather more tactical data.
With over 65,000 fans inside Miami’s Hard Rock stadium, and an additional 6,000 employees, contractors, and NFL staff members under one roof, security remains the top priority when executing such a massive live event.
One of the ways technology helped here for the first time ever was via 5G. 750 5G nodes were installed inside the stadium, not only to enhance the fan experiences with ultra-wideband service but also to increase the speed of response for emergency services. The 5G network installed in the stadium was partly designed to plan how physical security would react if needed at this large public event. The use of 5G helped to revolutionise the speed of GPS tracking and planning co-ordination when first responder groups practiced for a crisis during the event, as it became clear it would be significantly easier to get emergency services to a crisis, despite the highly trafficked metropolitan areas surrounding the stadium.
However, physical security is not the only thing event organisers have to be concerned about during these kinds of occasions, cybersecurity is also key. The introduction of public Wi-Fi networks in stadiums across the globe are designed to give fans convenient access to the internet, especially when mobile network operators may be overwhelmed. Nonetheless public Wi-Fi networks are a notorious gateway for thieves and cyber attackers.
To ensure that the public Wi-Fi network at the Super Bowl was completely secure and fans could even make payments on it, more cybersecurity measures than ever before were put in place on the backend infrastructure, to ensure fan’s information was safe from criminals.
What keeps fans coming back to an event like the Super bowl is how they feel before, during and after the game. With tickets for the game costing thousands of dollars, many fans may be asking what exactly they get from watching the event at the stadium that wouldn’t be possible at home.
At the 2020 Super Bowl the NFL answered this question by providing fans with a new ability to see stats, speed, and yardage on any player they held their Wi-Fi enabled smart device up to – in a similar way you would scan a QR code on your phone.
Once a player was recognised through the camera, their stats, even in the middle of a play, would be displayed on the screen of their phone or tablet. For example, when Harrison Butker kicked a field goal to put the Chiefs ahead in the first half of the game, fans with their phones on the player could see the yardage calculation of the goal as it was happening. Or, when Damian Williams scored the 4th quarter touchdown to seal the win for the Chiefs, fans could see how many miles per hour he ran as he was closing in on the end zone.
A new feature was also introduced on the NFL’s fan engagement app, OnePass, which allowed people with 5G devices connected to the stadium’s network to watch the game from five different angles. In this way fans could see beyond just the view from their seat and could pause and rewind the game on their phone, before the replay on the big screen.
It’s no coincidence that the 2020 Super Bowl was held at the most technologically advanced stadium to date. As each ticket comes with the ever-increasing expectation of entertainment brilliance, it can sometimes be easy to overlook just how far the advances in tech have taken the sport over the past decade. With 5G now taking off, we can be sure that the next 10 will be just as exciting.