NFL, Amazon Web Services team up for player health initiative

Andy Jassy, Amazon Web Services chief executive (left), and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

The National Football League has expanded its existing partnership with Amazon Web Services to create a new software-based platform to help deal with an onslaught of player injuries, particularly concussions.

The pair will collaborate on a new project called “The Digital Athlete” that will seek to leverage AWS’ capabilities around cloud computing technology, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. The core idea is to analyze volumes of player health data to aid with the treatment of injuries and rehabilitation, and ultimately use that technology to highlight elevated risks of player injuries before they happen.

The relationship builds upon a two-year, $130 million deal Amazon has to stream Thursday night NFL games through its Prime video service. AWS also powers the league’s advanced statistics platform, Next Gen Stats, which will help also build out “The Digital Athlete” platform.

“The outcomes of our collaboration with AWS – and what we will learn about the human body and how injuries happen – could reach far beyond football,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. 

Player injuries have been a focal point for years, and former players both in and out of court have been increasingly vocal about detailing their physical toll from playing football. 

A legal settlement two years ago between the NFL and retired players created an uncapped compensation fund, potentially valued at $1bn, that will compensate them for various neurocognitive impairments including CTE, ALS, and Parkinson’s disease. Meanwhile, participation rates for youth and high-school football have steady fallen over the past decade as awareness has grown around the physical risks of playing football.

Against that backdrop, the NFL in September created a $3m challenge to create a safer helmet than ones currently in use. 

The league reported 214 total player concussions in the preseason and regular season last year, the second lowest total since 2011. But in 2017, the total was 281, the highest such figure in that eight-year time frame. And a separate 2017 study found that 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

In addition to mining through large troves of player health data and using information gathered RFID chips from player shoulder pads and the ball, the effort will also involve extensive analysis of game video.

“This partnership represents an opportunity for the NFL and AWS to develop new approaches and advanced tools to prevent injury, bot in and potentially beyond football,” said Andy Jassy, AWS chief executive. 

The collaboration was detailed at AWS’ annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.