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FIFA Looks Into On-Cleat Fitness-Tracking Devices

The dream of the performance-tracking smart shoe is nothing new.

Nike debuted its connected Nike+ basketball and training shoes all the way back in 2012. The response, however, was not exactly overwhelming. Eight months after Olympic runner Allyson Felix and boxer Manny Pacquiao helped unveil the Nike+ Training shoe, the footwear was gone from Nike’s retail site, according to The Oregonian.

Under Armour faced difficulties of its own trying to break into connected footwear. In October, the company revealed plans to sell MyFitnessPal—a diet and exercise app it bought for $475 million in 2015—for $345 million. At the same time, it revealed it would discontinue its workout tracking platform Endomondo.

Despite these moves, Under Armour said its MapMyFitness platform, which includes MapMyRun and MapMyRide, remained a “crucial element” of its digital strategy, “as does its connected footwear business.” In Under Armour’s most recent earnings call, CEO and president Patrik Frisk specifically highlighted the “success” of the brand’s connected Hovr running franchise.

While the titans of the footwear industry tease out the feasibility of and consumer appetite for smart footwear, the highest governing body of association soccer is investigating a wearable device that would bypass the brand-specific apps and shoes.

FIFA has accepted the sports technology firm Playermaker as one of the first three companies to participate in its new FIFA Innovation Programme. Created last year, the initiative is designed to generate knowledge about products that may not meet existing standards and requirements due to their innovative nature. Acceptance into the program essentially provides a potential pathway for technology to become integrated and accessible to all FIFA teams.

Playermaker’s wearable soccer tracker—like a Fitbit that is worn on top of players’ cleats—provides “in-depth analysis and monitoring of key player performance indicators via foot-to-ball interactions,” the tech company said. At the end of each session, data is uploaded to the cloud for coaches to easily access and analyze.

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Compared to back-mounted wearables, Playermaker said the positioning of its device on the boot generates “further-reaching insights” on the lower limbs. Tracked metrics include touches, leg usage, time on the ball, kick velocity, passes completed, sprint distance and acceleration/deceleration.

As a device that is worn over the shoe, Playermaker’s technology is currently incompatible with FIFA rules. The current project with the organization’s Innovation Programme aims to demonstrate the technology’s value to coaching staff within a controlled environment.

“We are thrilled to be the first ever foot-mounted wearable device to carry with pride the FIFA Innovation Programme mark,” Guy Aharon, CEO and co-founder of Playermaker, said in a statement. “This is a huge milestone both for Playermaker and for technology in professional sport, paving the way for connected foot mounted wearable sensors to be the gold standard of player development technology around the world. We thank FIFA for its support and innovation in making this possible, it is fantastic to see this esteemed organisation committing and investing in integrated technological advances.”

Established in 2019, Playermaker offers what it calls its Squad Solution for teams, as well as the Uno by Playermaker for individual use.