Over the years it may seem like American football hasn’t changed much. Large men in pads crash and bang through each other to score touchdowns, or quarterbacks drop back and launch passes downfield for speedy receivers who streak into the end zone.
In reality though, the similarities between the game now and its inception almost 100 years ago are few. In the last couple decades, the NFL has placed an increasing amount of attention towards improving the game and its popularity worldwide. Player safety is a major concern. Better live and at-home viewing, expansion into new markets, and more accurate officiating are all hot topics.
In as little as ten years, this insanely popular game may look completely different. Here are a few of the ways the face of the NFL (and even its name) may change.
10. The Uniforms May Become Form-Fitting
When you watch football, the first thing you notice is huge players with huge pads crashing into each other. If you were to see them during warm-ups though, you may be surprised to learn that save for the linemen, a lot of professional footballers are lean, muscular types. These are fast, agile athletes. The excessive bulk of the padding provided protects against high-impact injuries.
However, in the future players may be outfitted with the latest in military technology which provides a lightweight, close-to-the-body design. If you’ve ever seen the movie Starship Troopers, the concept imagined there may actually be pretty close. The game itself is anticipated to become more fast-paced and higher-scoring, as focus shifts to speed instead of strength.
9. No More Kickoffs
In line with player safety, the NFL may completely eliminate kickoffs from the game. Considered by many to be the most dangerous part of the game, in 2011 kickoffs were moved forward by five yards, which greatly reduced the number of large returns. Now most kicks end in the end zone, establishing a 20-yard line starting point for opponents. Following upcoming votes, kickoffs may be scrapped altogether in favor of spotting the ball, like in other sports.
8. The Helmet Might Become a Communication Device
Innovations in recent technology have already seen the widespread use of audio on the field, via helmets with microphones. In the not-too-distant future, players could have full audio built into their helmets which will allow for play calling at the line, eliminating the need for huddles and furthering speed up the game. Players would receive the plays in their ear as they make their line ups, along with audibles. It could be commonplace for a futuristic quarterback to hear a player call out his number if he’s open, allowing for quicker decision making and fewer missed plays.
7. Heads-Up Displays
We’ve all seen Google Glass and the world it represents. The HUD, or heads-up display, developed for the new line of wearable technology is a huge advancement in modern living. For football fans, this could mean players no longer have to memorize long lists of plays and call signs. When a play is called, an HUD on the player’s visor will display the route, even singling out specific assignments for individual team members. As audibles are called, the display changes, and assignments are highlighted.
6. Pixellated Play Calling
Pixel replacement is a technology that analyzes an image and removes foreground items that are blocking other objects in a particular frame. With this technology, high-speed cameras that are trained along the sidelines and goal lines could snap off a series of pictures each time the plane is broken. The resulting images can then be manipulated to remove other players from the scene, and establish with greater accuracy whether a player was inbounds and where they went out.
5. 360-Degree Cameras
Ever since The Matrix, a lot of people have wondered why set ups like the “bullet cam” haven’t been used more in professional sports. The reality is that size and space restrictions make it difficult to employ such set ups, though times are changing. 360-degree views of every play have already been seen in limited use on sports commentator shows.
As far as during the actual game is concerned, tiny field-embedded fiber optics may be the answer. The fields of the future will no doubt be infused with a number of advancements, the smallest of which (yet certainly not the least important) being the field cams. Implanted into the turf along the goal lines and side boundaries, these tiny cameras can catch a panoramic view of the field allowing for more accurate review any disputes in close to real time.
4. European Teams
It seems to be a question not of if, but when, the European NFL experience will become reality. With annual games held across the pond to sell-out crowds at Wembley Stadium, it seems that London is primed for its own expansion team. Recent events indicate the Jacksonville Jaguars are in the lead for relocation to the UK. By 2025, it seems a foregone conclusion that London will be competing against Washington, San Francisco and New York for the title of Super Bowl champion. Incidentally, it may be time to consider a name change, as the National Football League becomes increasingly International.
3. Altered Playoff Schedule
With the introduction of the new potential EFL teams, it will be necessary to develop a new playoff system. While the current set up may last for a few more years, it is not unheard of for the NFL to alter its organization scheme. In 2002, the NFL reached an even number of teams again, forcing several teams to switch divisions. As teams enter the European market, an EFL vs AFL may emerge as the yearly championship duel.
The groundwork for change can already be experienced with the Pro Bowl, an annual league-wide exhibition event that has eliminated the long standing AFC vs. NFC rivalry, in favor of a mixed program with brand new uniform designs.
2. At-Home Camera Selection
As satellite television took over the TV market in the late ’90s and early 2000’s, the ability to choose your own broadcasting became more and more popular. Now with NFL Red Zone, and simulcast options that serve all the games up at the same time, choices are even more abundant.
NFL.com predicts the ability to soon choose your own camera angle. Want to watch a QB view of the whole play? Go for it. Want to swivel around and see how your team handles defense? You got it. A bird’s-eye view of the entire field? You can have that too if you like, though we’re honestly not sure why you would. Tablets, smart TVs, and digital television are making it possible to take watching TV from speculative to interactive, in exciting new ways.
1. Fans Could Soon Buy Stock in Actual Players
A new development in the sports world allows fans to purchase stock in their favorite players. A major leap from the current fantasy sports trend, player “brands” now carry an actual cash value that may end up being traded, much the same way stocks of physical entities are today. Where once we traded cards of our favorite players, then traded fantasy teams, now we can trade stock in actual athletes, using actual monetary value.