Next Gen Stats for Bocce Ball

How NFL tracking technology works and potential applications to Bocce

Greetings 👋 

Gina here. I’ve teamed up with Dave on Bocce Labs. Click here to learn more about me and about Bocce Labs.

Recently, Dave wrote about the potential application of TopGolf tracking technology to our beloved sport of Bocce:

Today, I’m going to share my thoughts about how the NFL uses RFID tracking technology and how it could be applied to Bocce.

This topic is near and dear to my heart, as I worked at the NFL while in grad school, and I did my final capstone (thesis) project for my Master’s program using the Next Gen Stats tracking data. Additionally, I currently work at Zebra Technologies, the company that manufactures the RFID chips used by the NFL. One of the things that excited me when I learned about BocceLabs was seeing if I could apply these experiences to the sport of Bocce.

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What is NFL Next Gen Stats?

The NFL’s Next Gen Stats technology, tracking process, and data are the results of years of testing between the NFL, Zebra and Wilson. In 2017, the NFL and AWS ventured into advanced analytics, leveraging AWS machine-learning technologies.

NFL player tracking, conducted by the NFL’s Next Gen Stats team, captures real-time location data, speed, and acceleration for every player, every play, on every inch of the field. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensors throughout the stadium track tags placed on players’ shoulder pads, tracking individual movements within inches.

NFL Next Gen Stats leverages this tracking data in real time to create new stats, predict success rates of plays, and improve player health and safety, all while creating a better experience for fans, players and teams. Using Machine Learning and data analytic services provided by Amazon Web Services, the Next Gen stats teams provide accurate insights on their platform to help clubs analyze trends & player performance.

Next Gen Stats Technology: How Does it Work?

The Next Gen Stats team has installed a tracking system in every NFL stadium which is composed of: 20–30 ultra-wide band receivers, 2–3 RFID tags installed into the players’ shoulder pads, RFID tags on officials, pylons, sticks, chains, and in the ball. Altogether, an estimated 250 devices are in a stadium for any given game. The tracking system captures player data such as location, speed, distance traveled, and acceleration at a rate of 10 times per second, and charts individual movements within inches. More than 200 new data points are created on every play of every game. Tracking data, including the location of players on the field, speed, acceleration, orientation, and the type of route for each play, is measured every one-tenth of a second.

The raw tracking data consists of X, Y coordinates of player location, which associates with the vertical and horizontal yard measurement on the football field. This is similar to the way we measure the Bocce court in our computer vision algorithm.

Use of Next Gen Stats

Without Next Gen Stats, the NFL would be limited to sharing stats you can easily measure, such as yards per play, with teams & fans. This tracking data allows the NFL to create and utilize more detailed metrics, such as average separation, air yard differential, and even predicting the probability of pass completion (based on historical data).

The obvious use of Next Gen Stats data and metrics are teams. These detailed stats allow coaches and scouts to better assess players’ abilities, both at a general level as well as on a play-by-play basis. For example, coaches can understand which wide receiver may be better fit to run an out route in a game-changing situation. In the long run, they can make roster decisions when deciding who to re-sign, or who to trade for or pick up in free agency.

Stats for Bocce Ball

Currently, there are not a lot of stats in Bocce ball (due to the lack of technological advancements thus far.. However, as the use of technology in the sport grows, so could the stats we could provide fans & players alike. Previously, we outlined some potential statistics computer vision could bring to Bocce. Implementing RFID tracking, similar to that used in the NFL, could even further enhance these statistics. Metrics such as acceleration, angular velocity (change in direction vs time/speed) are two that come to mind that could be interesting in Bocce.

Tracking Technology + TV Coverage

Another use of Next Gen Stats data is in the media. Showing these detailed stats, play predictions, and other metrics enhances the game watching experience for fans at home. It allows those watching at home to feel they are getting more insight than just what is being played in the game, and it allows the broadcasting teams to have something to share with watchers during downtimes in the game.

With the growth of the Bocce Broadcast Network in the Northeast & Midwest regions of the USA, there is immense opportunity to enhance the quality of tournament streams for Bocce Fans. The Bocce Analysis Tool has been proposed as one software solution to providing such analytics to fans. Integrating stats from RFID tracking data to a platform like this could give experienced Bocce fans a more high-tech experience, while simultaneously providing insights to new watchers (hi, mom & dad!) who want to learn more about the sport.

For the most dedicated fans, Next Gen Stats has online charts where you can see the plays and associated success rates for each player in a specific game. In the example below, you can see what sort of plays Travis Kelce ran in the Super Bowl and which routes led to more success than others. Since the Next Gen Stats tracking data is saved, Bocce Labs & BBN could create an online portal for fans to review stats from tournaments, league championships, and more.

Application to Bocce

The enhancements to the stats provided in the Bocce Broadcast Network is arguably the most exciting and useful application of Next Gen Stats to Bocce. However, there are some challenges that would come with implementing this technology in our sport.

As mentioned in Dave’s TopGolf article, ball manufacturing is a big one. Though it would likely be feasible to get a Bocce Ball manufacturer to partner with a RFID tag manufacturer (such as Zebra), it would likely be extremely expensive. The NFL is purchasing thousands of these at a time (and has a budget much larger than that of the Bocce world). Most clubs may not want to invest in this sort of technology, so a limited production run would be costly, and likely this technology would only be utilized in top tournaments or larger clubs.

Another challenge of this technology in Bocce is placing RFID receivers in the venue. Unlike the current setup used of a few cameras, this would require multiple wide-band receivers around the courts. This would likely require a more permanent setup and installation (as opposed to being able to bring the cameras and set them up and take them down before/after tournaments.) Getting a Bocce club, such as Waterside Club or Highwood Bocce Club, on board would be a great first step in testing out the installation of the technology. This would also allow a test of accuracy, to ensure the technology could properly measure ball placement to the fraction of centimeters required in the sport of Bocce.

Thanks for reading

The technological innovations of Bocce are just beginning, so who is to say that with the increased interest in advancing the sport, coupled with continual innovation to RFID technology, that a Next Gen Stats-type analytic tool couldn’t be in Bocce’s future? I sure hope so, and would love to be part of the team who tries to bring this to life.

Would you be interested in this sort of technology (either as a player or a fan)?

What sort of metrics would be on your “dream team” of Bocce Next Gen Stats?

Let me know in the comments section!

~ Gina

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