Wembley Stadium
Zebra Technologies hopes to install player tracking technology at Wembley for the 2015 FA Cup finalReuters

Big data is changing the way sport is both watched and played, by tracking the speed, location, and fitness of every player, linesman, and referee - and it could debut at Wembley in May 2015.

Television audiences and fans in the stadium will see more information than ever, while teams and coaching staff will use real-time analytics of every player to improve their fitness and game tactics.

This is the goal of US company Zebra Technologies, which has already signed a deal to install its MotionWorks player tracking technology in all 31 NFL stadia across the US, and is hopeful of bringing the system to the home of English football next year.

During a visit to Wembley Stadium, Michael King of Zebra Technologies explained to IBTimes UK how the MotionWorks technology works and their plans for football. King explained how the NFL approached Zebra, telling the company that using its tags to track American football players was a "no brainer."

"We're hoping to make enough connections with the FA to collect data from the [FA Cup] final," King said.

Zebra hopes to run a trial at Wembley during the FA Cup final on 30 May next year, although it remains to be seen if clubs, broadcasters, the FA and governing body FIFA will adopt MotionWorks into a sport which is historically opposed to technological change.

2010 jump
Every second of movement by every NFL player is recorded and beamed to broadcasters in real timeReuters

Location recorded 15 times per second

Originally developed for tracking components on production lines and stock deliveries to factories, the system uses two RFID (radio frequency identification) sensors embedded into every NFL player's shoulder pads. Around the size of a £1 coin, the sensors emit a signal 15 times per second, which is picked up by at least three of 20 receivers installed throughout the stadium to determine the player's location.

The system is accurate to six inches and each RFID tag has a battery life of 12 months of continuous use. Installation into the shoulder pads of NFL players takes just a couple of minutes and they are left in place all season; a quick test is carried out in the changing rooms before each game to make sure every sensor is working correctly.

The position, rate of acceleration and speed of every player and official can be tracked in almost real time, and from Zebra's on-site server it is beamed to broadcasters, who can augment the data with their TV footage and on-screen graphics. The force of impacts between players is also recorded, and although this data isn't used for broadcasting, it could be used by medical staff in the future.

Zebra hopes by 2015 it will be tracking the ball, as well as every player's heart rate, temperature and lung capacity.

320,000 data points per player, per game

In its current guise the system already records an enormous amount of data. Each tag reports to Zebra's server roughly 160,000 times per game; there are two tags per player and 53 players per squad.

Through a partnership between the NFL and Microsoft, the data collected by MotionWorks will next season be sent directly to Surface tablets used by touchline staff to monitor player performance and team tactics, and although for now the data belongs to the NFL, not the teams, this could change.