The NFL’s new to stay safer: technology

It’s fair to say that the high-tech gear that strapped onto Alex Smith last year was a small price to pay to have a game-changing quarterback in the NFL.

Smith, the Chiefs’ quarterback, can carry a wealth of experience on his back. He has been starting for years — in college and the pros — and he wasn’t likely to find an immediate spot as a backup. But making room for Smith and all the winning that comes with it — especially when it comes to money and the marquee games against the NFL’s other top contenders — required a whole lot of equipment. In the past, most quarterbacks could play in the NFL without wearing such stuff. But it looked as if that was about to change, especially in a year where the league’s best teams were playing with full defenses.

Smith’s technology-infused helmet was one innovation. But the safety gear inside of it, such as face masks, and others like it, offer much broader benefits, as well.

“The game has gotten safer,” said Bobby Anderson, the executive vice president of Ogilvy Optimedia and Innovation, which played a large role in bringing Smith’s helmet into the NFL. “Now, you’re starting to see NFL players playing with helmets [from different companies]. Teams that play consistently with sound products will have better talent. That’s why technology goes hand in hand. You can keep the players safe, so you have the players who are suited for the job.”

That technology is coming from companies like Ogilvy Optimedia, whose clients include NASCAR, NASCAR owners, Coca-Cola, USA Today, GoPro, Campbell’s Soup, Procter & Gamble, Amazon and Under Armour. When it comes to how the league’s brightest stars are dressing, it’s often bottom up. But this is increasingly changing.

“We are very driven by trends,” Anderson said. “We also understand that technology isn’t just for the flashiest, most beautiful things. We are pushing technology into all areas of consumer life.”

That tech can make the players safer in more ways than just kicking butt on the field.

The Ogilvy Optimedia team considered a different type of helmet in researching the kit — a protective one, without whiplash, made of fabric, which would make it unlike the ones athletes are already wearing. As it turned out, this kind of helmet is already common in the medical community, but it is not in the NFL. Instead, the team came up with a different sort of helmet made from a synthetic material, instead.

“When we looked at the performance and the longevity that we knew for a player, the more fabric-based design is designed to allow for air to come in, to get rid of any stressors that can be associated with whiplash from a helmet,” Anderson said. “And it is something that people are really comfortable with and are really passionate about. That’s a safety issue in itself.”

Some of the goods that Ogilvy Optimedia and the NFL are incorporating are small, but significant. The team has been working on a technology that better senses concussion impacts, especially if multiple hits occur during the same play. One aspect of that technology is able to show the most intensive hits, which can be subtle if all hits are over in a few seconds. One big reason for that ease of screening is that an athlete’s reaction time is considerably slower than the product can analyze.

The NFL is looking to expand this study to show fans and fans in particular how concussions affect the level of performance at the level of play. To help do so, Ogilvy Optimedia has been working to fine-tune the technology.

“We have been watching as they have started their advanced concussion testing. They haven’t announced it, but they have come to us. And we are working on something to really validate what they are doing and offer something that they need,” Anderson said. “For the fan, we have the tech and we are the tech. There’s no better partner to work with than the NFL. It’s about making the fan happy and making the players happy.”

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