NFL officials—much like players—need to practice in order to be at the top of their game, and watching football on a screen is no substitute for standing on the field in the middle of the action. To get that practice, many attend team practices and camps, making unneeded calls while players run through drills and throwing flags that result in no penalties. Away from the field they review game film, study the rules book and take quizzes, but nothing beats reality.
That might be about to change, though, thanks to the virtual equivalent. STRIVR is a Silicon Valley-based virtual reality firm that records practice plays using a 360-degree camera positioned where a player would stand on the field, allowing players to watch that play later using a VR headset, getting extra, virtual, reps. The NFL has been keeping a close eye on what STRIVR has been doing with sports teams since 2015, and a year and a half ago, the league reached out with a question: Can virtual reality help our officials perform better?
Starting in the 2016 preseason, STRIVR began building a library of clips that officials can watch, repositioning its cameras to capture the view from each of the seven officiating locations. “The perspective that a fan might want in virtual reality is different from an official, as is the perspective of a particular position, a quarterback or linebacker,” says Damani Leech, VP of football strategy and business development at the NFL. The database is now up to 500 clips, and features footage of half a dozen teams, including the 49ers, Cardinals, Rams and Broncos.