NFL players to use wearable device to monitor readiness to play

Players association sanctions use of device, offers opportunity to capitalize on health data.

Picture this: A television network during an NFL broadcast comparing the heart rates of star players doing the same workout -- or while they sleep. Say Tom Brady versus Cam Newton. Now picture being able to determine which player’s body was better prepared to play.

That scenario is closer to reality after the National Football League Players Association reached a deal with wearable device company Whoop that, for the first time, gives players the ability to make money on their health data.

Under the deal, closely held Whoop will distribute its wrist-worn strap to current and incoming NFL players to monitor their strain, recovery and sleep. According to the Boston-based company, its strap’s sensors measure data 100 times per second and transmit the information to mobile and web applications for analysis. Whoop says the data gives the athlete, trainers and coaches a snapshot of the player’s body preparedness.

The players will own and control their own data. They can sell the data to, say, a network, keep it private or not participate at all.

It’s the first deal for the union’s OneTeam Collective, a venture group that uses members’ collective cachet, not cash, as investment capital. Here’s how it works: The entity trades rights to NFL players’ images for equity in sports-oriented startups. While terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, the players association made an investment in Whoop as part of the agreement, said Ahmad Nassar, president of the union’s licensing and marketing arm.

The players will design custom licensed bands for Whoop straps that will be sold commercially. In addition, the union and company will study the effects of sleep, scheduling, injuries and other factors on recovery in order to advance player safety and performance.

The use of biometric devices, and the potential for the data it offers, is growing.

Nike, in some of its college contracts, including the University of Michigan, has the right to collect player data. The National Basketball Association’s new labor contract for the first time included a provision that enables players to use biometric devices during practice. Baseball is the only professional sport to have approved the use of biometric devices during actual games.

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