Football’s big game will be a triumph of mobile communications management

By Jonathan Crowl

This year’s football championship game in Houston will pull out all the stops in putting on one of the world’s biggest annual shows. What isn’t apparent to fans is how much organizing and planning is required to seamlessly pull off the event.

It isn’t just the halftime show that makes this event such a complex production. Technology has made great strides in expanding the possibilities for what the game itself can be, allowing it to offer a more dynamic, immersive experience that also serves as a stage to showcase new innovations. Meanwhile, these same technologies improve the game itself in many ways that go unseen. Mobile communications may seem like an afterthought to fans, but they’re an essential part of how the game is played today.

This technology is always evolving, but it has a long history in football. Way back in 1956, two inventors from Ohio came to Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown with a new toy: a radio receiver that could fit inside a football helmet. The idea was that Brown could use this radio receiver to communicate with his quarterback and relay plays from the sideline, speeding up the process and eliminating the need to use substituted players as a way of relaying the play.

It took nearly 40 years, but in 1994, these headsets have been approved for use by every team. What does this have to do with the football championship, you ask? Plenty, actually. Mobile communications gaffes have led to strange disruptions of on-field communications. Overhead flights have had their radio communications accidentally picked up by coaches’ headsets. Once, a Madonna halftime show rehearsal was set to the wrong frequency and played over the wrong frequency while coaches were trying to call plays in the game.

Preventing this and other mishaps requires a lot of work and planning, but experts make it possible to pull off an event as big as the football championship.

How modern-day football leans heavily on mobile communication

Today’s college and professional football teams rely on this technology for the most important aspect of in-game communications: play-calling. Thanks to mobile solutions, offensive and defensive coordinators can work high above in the press box, where they have a much better view of how plays develop than if they were standing on the field. This gives coordinators and their analysts the best perspective from which to study the game and decide which plays to call. These calls can then be sent down to the head coach and the quarterback, who can relay the plays to other team members and execute the play before the clock runs out.

Other communications are supported as well. Coaches can talk strategy and have conversations about the game as it takes place without chasing each other down. Despite how it may look on the field, a single play requires an enormous amount of communication from both teams. It can sometimes be difficult to get everyone on the same page before the play clock runs out, so even with this mobile technology, athletes and coaches are under constant pressure to be fast and efficient.

Protecting mobile communications —and preventing cheating

There is only one problem posed by mobile communications. As beneficial as the technology is, it still represents one way teams can cheat and create a disadvantage. For example, an opposing team might attempt to listen in on the frequency being used by the other team, giving them a chance to steal their strategy and know their plays ahead of time. This is why these frequencies are monitored closely and frequency coordinators are employed whose jobs it is to manage the devices on any given frequency during the game. This is done not only to protect teams from cheating, but also to prevent interference of broadcasts and operations communications.

If an unregistered device goes on a frequency at an unauthorized time, the frequency coordinators will know about it right away and can recommend several actions ranging from revoked credentials to fines and punishments on the team, if one is found to have cheated during the game.

Another way of cheating is tougher to detect. Instead of tapping directly into the frequency being used by an opposing team, some franchises have allegedly used interference to inhibit one side’s communications. Most recently, according to NBC Sports, the Pittsburgh Steelers accused the New England Patriots of using frequency interference to prevent them from talking during parts of the game. Those accusations never led to punishment, but teams and the league are at least aware that such tampering is possible.

With all the hoopla going on around football’s big game in Houston, managing these mobile communications will be even more complicated — but, given the stakes of the game, they will never be more important.

Photo courtesy of iStock.