NFL Exec Says Wearables Could Crack Second-Screen Advertising

But will brands buy in?

In step with those marketers embracing Google Glass and other wearables, the National Football League is now testing innovations like tech-enabled clothing and on-field tablets for its 32 teams.

Even though some argue that such devices have limited marketing potential, NFL chief information officer Michelle McKenna-Doyle sees wearables as an opportunity to improve second-screen advertising, which has been slower to take off than many had expected.

Adweek talked with McKenna-Doyle during the Innovation Loft’s "Wearable Computing—Beyond Google Glass" workshop about how the league is using new technology that could help brands maximize their TV and online ad investment.

How does what the NFL is doing with wearable technology feed into the brand’s marketing strategy?

To the extent there are things to help our sponsors activate our fans around, I think we’ll be looking for that. Our broadcast and our broadcast partners obviously create big ads to sell during our games. I think there’s a lot of that that can still develop online [like a second screen] or a call-to-action that might happen during the actual commercial, but then you actually do it on a wearable device or something so that you don’t have to think about doing it later. Perhaps there’s something on your arm or even your body. Our broadcast partners have already proven that when social media is overlaid with broadcast, you stay with the show. Live sports is one of the last remaining pieces of content that doesn’t get DVR’d. I think it’s a chance for those who advertise during NFL content to look at new ways to engage their customer.

How far along is the NFL in the wearable space?

We’re doing different tests with shoulder pads; we did it all last season and we’re testing for others this season. A lot of our partners like Nike and others are building it into clothing. We’re looking at, well, what can we put in jerseys for our fans? We’re looking at putting ticketing entrance [into the in-game experience]. Maybe it’s not a paper ticket or your phone—it’s something you wear.

The NFL has a big partnership with Microsoft to power technology on the field. What is new there?

We signed it at the end of last season. During the season last year, you could see Microsoft on the sideline—they had their logo on our communications car—but we are expanding it this season with tablets on the sidelines. On the tablet, you can see the play. Video is taken and then we cut it into still prints and photos. [Plays] used to be printed and put in a binder—over time, the Surface will replace those binders. We’re testing it because some people are going to like the paper better. These devices have to work in pretty extreme conditions, so we are testing all that this year.

Any hints you can give us about new technology for the 2014-15 season?

Officiating is going to a whole new level. Referees will be consulting with a centralized command center [at the NFL’s headquarters in New York] around making calls during the game. All the same video that he’s seeing on the field, they can see in New York. They’ll then confirm what the right call is.