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2024 Senior Bowl: Interview w/ Zebra Sports

A few weeks ago, there was an opportunity to interview Dominic Russo of Zebra Sports at the 2024 Senior Bowl. The company provides statistics such as top speed, yards run, and other tangible measurements through the NextGen Stats brand. They work with the NFL on multiple levels and are the sole statistics provider at the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Game, and Combine. The famous “dots” are a tool implemented by the brand.

Here is an example of what they do for the Senior Bowl

How do they do it?

They install RFID patches in the shoulder pads, chips in the ball, and a vast array of sensors feeding real-time data to analysts. As stated in the interview, the game day process is quite complex and labor-intensive. The staff gets to the stadium hours before kickoff to install the chips in the 24 + 6 special teams’ footballs and pads for one team before repeating the process for the other team. Then, they proceed to install chips in the down markers, pylons, and referee chips, and finally, they test it. The middle step is all the real-time play tracking. Finally, before they wrap up activities, the personnel must turn off the chips inside the facility.

The Interview

Highlights

– Mr. Russo believes that the company will expand on collecting data in the future, but the NFL won’t be as excessively analytics-driven as executives in MLB front offices have been. The eye test won’t ever disappear in favor of analytics.

– The NFL will not allow real-time data to be released to teams on game days as they believe it is a competitive advantage. Teams receive the data on the following day at 6 AM. The league is wary of teams using the tracking data to seek a competitive advantage live. He also believes that the NFL is airtight in their security measures, so no shenanigans like DeflateGate and SpyGate can occur with the real-time data.

– They constantly communicate with the league about possible technological innovations and work on quality control. There are teams that use the data on a daily basis during the offseason and training camp. Zebra Sports is excited about the future of its company as it expands its operations.

– The receiver class at the Senior Bowl stood out the most to him, mentioning Ricky Pearsall and Roman Wilson.

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