Wilson Goes for Paydirt with Connected NFL Football

Wilson Sporting Goods wants to help make virtually any football fans into National Football League quarterbacks. The company, which makes the pro football league’s official game ball, is launching on September 8th what it calls the first connected football.

It comes in a junior version as well as the NFL size but has a composite cover that makes it easier to grip and catch than the genuine leather balls.
The ball uses an internal chip that communicates with mobile devices via a free app for Android and iOS.
A wrist coach accessory holds mobile phones as large as an iPhone 6S Plus for closer communication although Wilson officials say there should be a range of 20 yards.
Bob Thurman, VP Innovation, for Wilson goes inside the huddle with OMM’s Robert Gray to share insights about the ball…
 
OMM: How does the ball work?
Thurman: A tiny, undetectable sensor in an actual Wilson football connects to a cool app on a player’s phone or mobile device.  That sensor inside the ball communicates, via Bluetooth, to the player’s phone as it tracks a fan’s throw distance, velocity, spiral efficiency, spin rate, and if the football was caught or dropped.
 
OMM: What's the biggest surprise for customers?
Thurman: First, that they can pick to be the star quarterback of their favorite NFL team. Second, that they can play a game anywhere anytime – creating a virtual stadium wherever they are. Third, they don’t have to charge the ball as we’ve engineered it to “fall asleep” when it’s not actively connected to the app. This helps preserves battery life {for up to 200,000 throws).
And lastly, they can enjoy this product playing with others, marching a team of friends, or friendly rivals, down a virtual NFL gridiron.  
 
OMM:How long has the football been in development? 
Thurman: About three years. As a long-standing partner of the NFL, we’ve worked closely with the league as it has developed its connected football technology, with the ultimate, longer-term goal of putting a Wilson connected football into a regular season NFL game.  We have play-tested connected footballs with pro players for the last three years, and insights, learnings, and data from our work with the League has informed and helped shape the Wilson X Connected Football.
            
OMM: What's different for football than the connected basketball?
Thurman: Football is acomplex sport and we had to do a lot of work to teach the ball to recognize a vary of different types and quality of throws, how strong a fan’s throw is, the distance the ball is covering in flight, how fast it was travelling through the air, if it was caught, dropped, batted away, fumbled, etc.
The things we measure with the Wilson X Connected Football – velocity, spin rate, distance, spiral efficiency - haven’t been measured before so we had to start at square one and build the experience out from there.
  
OMM: What’s the feedback from the connected basketball released last year?
Thurman: The Wilson X Connected Basketball has received a great response from avid basketball players, which is who we designed the experience for, and their feedback is that it’s more fun to get shots up and play. That’s a win in our eyes.
We also hear great things from coaches who have integrated the ball into their practice sessions or training camps.  As you can imagine with a cloud-based product like the basketball, we’ve been learning a lot from our players in terms of how they use the ball and features they would like to see us add.  We are prioritizing that feedback now and working on a new game.
 
OMM: Do you find more iOS or android users for the basketball? And what do you expect for football?
Thurman: Use is in line with device trends largely. We see more iOS users with the basketball currently, and we expect that to continue with the football.
 
OMM: Are you working with the NFL or NCAA on connected footballs?
Thurman: Yes, we work closely with the NFL and a number of Division 1 college teams on connected football innovations. The applications for the data you can unlock with a connected ball are almost limitless from enriching the fan experience through cool data visualization graphs during broadcasts to helping elite players work on their game. We also see applications for coaches such as scouting and pre-game strategy sessions.
                                                                                                
OMM: What’s next for connected sports equipment?
Thurman: Our connected products strategy is key for Wilson. As you can imagine with a cloud-based product like the basketball, we’ve been learning a lot from our players in terms of how they use the ball and features they would like to see us add.  We are prioritizing that feedback now and working on a new game, as well as products for football, baseball and golf.