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Behind the scenes of the digital transformation of the World Cup

A Picture of Emilia Robbio
July 19, 2018 | Topic: Digital transformation   Technology  
Behind the scenes of the digital transformation of the World Cup

The World Cup 2018 is now over, 32 teams fighting it out for over four weeks to become the greatest in the world. This year the new technologies were just as impressive as the players themselves. Football, fútbol or soccer is a multi-billion dollar industry and it’s no surprise that technology is changing the game at the World Cup.

At Belatrix we specialize in digital transformation, which is the integration of digital technology in all areas of a business, to transform its operations, and deliver better services to customers. Over the past few weeks, it has been fascinating to see the digital transformation of an event such the World Cup, and how it has constantly integrated new technologies with the aim of delivering better experiences to both players and fans.

In this blog, I want to take a look at the technologies that were introduced, that have helped drive the World Cup’s digital transformation.

Behind the scenes of the digital transformation of the World Cup

The controversy of Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR)

Virtual Assistant Referee (VAR) was one technology that was sure to make headlines this year. Systems like VAR are used in tennis, rugby and the NFL. There are 33 broadcast camera feeds and two dedicated offside cameras are directly transmitted to the Video Operation Room (VOR) using the same network. Eight of these feeds are super-slow motion and four are ultra-slow motion. At knockout games, there were two additional ultra-slow-motion cameras. The objective is to help referees make decisions related to goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity- which helps inform the referee on which player should be disciplined.

VAR was a controversial system though, for example, in the cases that VAR was needed, but the referee decided not to use it. However, despite some of the controversy, the technology arguably did help increase standards, and at the very least, crowds can be certain they won’t see another “Hand of God”.

The creation of Adidas’ Telstar Ball with NFC

It was 1970 when the World Cup first played with an Adidas ball. This year Adidas’ director for global football hardware, Roland Rommler, helped create the Telstar ‘18, while also adding technological advances. The inspiration for this years’ ball came from the first communication satellite sent to space, Telstar 1.

For this year, the Telstar ‘18 ball is embedded with near-field communication (NFC) that allows interaction with the ball via a smartphone. NFC is the same technology that powers things like Apple Pay and Android Pay. This implementation allows consumers to interact with the ball by giving it a name or accessing content and information unique to that ball. It’s a high-performance piece of sports equipment. In order to ensure that Telstar’18 worked it was put through a series of severe tests in three continents at altitude and at sea level, and in temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 100 degrees. It was also tested by international teams like Argentina and Mexico, as well as the world’s biggest clubs, such as Real Madrid and Juventus.

This technology changes the way consumers interact with the ball. Although it’s not as “smart” as some of the other balls Adidas sells, it does provide additional, valuable touch points between Adidas and the people who purchase the official World Cup ball – a key part of any digital transformation.

Player improvement due to Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS)

This technology is a tablet-based system that is equipped with cameras and wearable technology. According to Tech Story, this is one of the most impressive technologies that’s been introduced at the World Cup. The system follows the position of the players and the ball, providing player statistics, positional information, and video footage to coaches in real time. Each team is provided with three tablets, one for the analyst on the bench, one for the medical team, and one for the analyst in the stands. The concept for EPTS is to monitor and improve player and team performances; the system can also be hooked up with heart-rate monitors, as well as other devices to measure physiological parameters. The best thing about EPTS is that it’s designed to be non-invasive so it doesn’t infringe on the player’s performance.

The use of wearable technology in the EPTS system is transforming some of the core actions that football teams take. It’s providing more insight to help coaches and teams make better decisions. In a very similar way, organizations which digitzalize their processes, have access to better information and data, and can make better decisions on their products, services, and the wider market.

Reflections: The World Cup’s digital transformation led to amazing fan experiences

We’ve seen incredible new technologies at this year’s World Cup – from VAR, to the Adidas Telstar ball which has been referred to as, “the role model of balls, The Godfather of all balls”, to a major innovation system that gives coaches access to player statistics and video footage in real time. But ultimately the purpose of this new technology, is to create amazing new fan experiences. Having spoken to my family who were lucky enough to attend, the World Cup certainly delivered! This shows how new technologies, and using them effectively in a digital transformation, are changing every industry.

It’s been a few days since the World Cup ended and I already have nostalgia, but with all these exciting innovations, it makes me wonder what new technologies will be introduced at the desert kingdom, Qatar in 2022.

And finally, of course, big congratulations to France on winning!


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