A Pro Flag Football League Is Launching And It Might Be The Most High-Tech League In The World
NEW YORK — American Flag Football League founder Jeff Lewis strongly believes that his new pro football league will work. While that sentiment isn’t new, the technology he is using to showcase flag football is.
“If you’re going to respect the fan, then you’re going to use technology,” said Lewis, who had spent the past 30 years in finance as a bond trader and hedge fund manager. “You’re going to use it to speed the game up. So if you can call something within the game and get it right and keep it moving, why wouldn’t you do it if you can?
“What we’re going to do is we’re going to speed it up. We’re going to respect your time. We’re going to play a football game in under two hours, OK?”
The AFFL is scheduled to hold pilot games June 26-27 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, and according to Lewis, recently-retired NFL quarterback Michael Vick along with other former pro players being paid appearance fees are among those expected to play 7-on-7 flag football.
They’ll be the first to experience the technology, as the June 26 game is scheduled to be played in an empty stadium so that the game management and broadcast can be tinkered with to see if there are any “good ideas that are bad ideas,” as Lewis put it.
Then on June 27, fans can buy $10 tickets with the net proceeds going to the Positive Coaching Alliance. After the exhibition, it can be streamed on the AFFL website or the Kiswe app.
Lewis enlisted the expertise of SMT — the company that created the video overlay technology for the yellow virtual 1st & Ten line system for football game broadcasts — to provide the fledgling league an eye-popping number of solutions for both game management and broadcast.
Instead of the usual flag football, the AFFL has what it calls “e-flags.” SMT has a proprietary player- and ball-tracking technology that includes a flag pull alert system to instantly alert officials through a custom app when and where the flag was pulled on the field. The OASIS platform designed to determine forward progress and foster consistent officiating uses ultra-wideband to track positional data and is accurate up to four inches, according to SMT business development manager Dino Hall. The officials will have these tools in order to spot the ball and keep the game moving.
“If this is going to be a professional league, you need to make sure you get this right every time,” Hall said.
The AFFL will also have broadcast streams that feature an array of SMT solutions that go beyond the clock-and-score graphics and virtual first down system for a league that divides the field into four 25-yard boxes. Broadcast graphics that can help the dedicated announcer analyze the game include receiver routes that can be charted thanks to data from the OASIS platform.
SMT’s CameraTracker system will also work with the stadium’s SkyCam aerial camera so that the broadcast will have the view from behind the quarterback as the primary game camera, according to Hall. He added that the virtual graphics such as that first-down line would be inserted from that overhead view.
And for the in-stadium and broadcast experience, there’s the GO Clock system that caters to AFFL rules that once the ball is snapped, the defense must wait two seconds to rush while the quarterback has four seconds to release the ball or cross the line of scrimmage.
SMT can synchronize the stadium ribbon board so that it turns green when the defense can rush. And on the broadcast, according to Hall, the GO Clock can be virtually imposed in real-time underneath the quarterback like in a video game in a circle that changes colors and shows how he’s running out of time before the rush. (The defense can blitz three times per quarter without waiting for two seconds.) Sensors in the balls can tell if the ball is spinning by the four-second limit, according to Lewis.
“That’s what we’re going to try to do with the technology — make the presentation really compelling and also get it right and do it fast,” Lewis said. “These guys (at SMT) are basically the best in the business in presenting information and at measuring. So that’s why we’re working with them, and that’s why we created the system that essentially takes this idea – why guess where the guy was when the flag was pulled when you don’t have to?
“In order to really make sure that we put this in the best light, we’re using whatever is at our disposal. It’s not bells and whistles for bells and whistles’ sake.”
The streaming might not be live, but Lewis explains that the delay is to ensure that the broadcast of flag football is presentable to the audience.
“Basically it just goes back to look, who are my fans? The guys that play video games and do most of their stuff on their phones,” Lewis said. “So that’s who I’m trying to reach, and the presentation needs to go to them the way they want it.”
Lewis, whose 12-year-old son plays flag football, hopes to prove with the two games that AFFL “is something people actually want.” He said he was serious about turning his plans for starting league play in 2018 — eight AFFL franchises will take on the eight best teams from the US Open of Football tournament — into reality.
“My theory is that you remove the tackling that it won’t affect people’s enjoyment of it as football,” Lewis said. “But what if I’m wrong? What if the response is that everybody says, ‘Oh, football without tackling? Who cares?’ We can think that some things are true, but what if they’re not?”
As he considered the costs with putting the first two pro flag football games together and all the technology involved, Lewis said, “We’re going to leave it all on the field.
“This is our Super Bowl, so we’re going to put it all out there.”