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NFL's CIO tackles big data, player safety and in-game technology

Kenneth Corbin | June 24, 2014
The National Football League's CIO, a position that didn't exist three years ago, explains how the NFL is tackling big data challenges, overhauling stats and bringing new technology on the field and behind the scenes.

The league is also offering consumers access, for a fee, to a version of the NFL Vision database, an appealing option for the diehard fantasy players. The NFL Network is also incorporating insights from the data hub into a segment it's calling "Mind-blowing stats."

Then, later this summer, the league is planning to roll out a customizable app that fans can configure to create channels that cull together NFL content tied to their favorite teams. The app, dubbed NFL Now, will be "like a Pandora for the NFL," McKenna-Doyle says.

Is it any wonder, then, that the NFL recently added an official data storage provider ( NetApp) to go along with the " official beer of the NFL," the official pizza, the official wireless service provider?

NFL Focuses on Player Safety and On-Field and Sideline Tech
Separately, late last year the NFL began digitizing every player's medical records, a large-scale undertaking that fits with the league's recent focus on player safety and health issues, but one that has also introduced new compliance challenges around the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

"That doesn't get the big, high-profile news, but it was a major initiative to take all that paper data" and convert into a HIPAA-compliant electronic format, McKenna-Doyle says.

As league CIO, McKenna-Doyle also devotes a considerable amount of time and attention to the on-field and sideline technology, such as the wireless communications between coaches and players.

"It's a very crowded RF space in these stadiums and it's not getting any better," she says. "Frequency coordination, and continuing to develop these communication systems and have them encrypted, is a big part of my job."

Additionally, the league recently moved to change the rules for instant replay, so now, when a play is under review, the official looking under the hood will be in contact with the league office in New York, and McKenna-Doyle's team is working to set up in each stadium the communications infrastructure to facilitate those calls.

Fans this year can expect to see more new technology on the sidelines, as well. Football watchers are familiar with the binders of still photos of the last set of plays that players review on the sidelines with their coaches. This year, that process is going digital, too.

Replacing the binders will be Microsoft Surface tablets, McKenna-Doyle says, though the NFL's competition committee is limiting the content to still images, rather than video. Still, the devices will enable players to zoom in on an image, and, if the technology proves useful and the competition committee consents, video could be coming to the tablets, as well.

"That will be a big part of our development next year, so we're hoping that they work well," McKenna-Doyle says.


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