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NFC tech in official World Cup match ball draws fans even more into the games

Every four years, the FIFA World Cup brings millions of people together to bond over a shared interest in soccer and a fierce devotion to their country. But how do you drum up even more interest in one of the most popular sports on the planet? To Adidas and the software company Blue Bite, the solution comes down to innovating the fan experience. Specifically, the duo injected the official World Cup match ball with a bit of cutting-edge (see: NFC) technology capable of allowing fans to unlock exclusive, tournament-themed content.

While Adidas supplied the balls, Blue Bite created the software built into the NFC chip (manufactured by the tech company, Smartrac). By activating a special identifier via a smartphone, fans can unlock exclusive information about the World Cup and even the ball itself. Don’t think of it as just a one-and-done experience, either. Blue Bite designed the software to allow fans the opportunity to revisit and unlock new content weekly.

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“The entire idea behind the ball is to get fans engaged and excited about the World Cup before it starts,” said Rachel Furst, Blue Bite’s director of product Marketing, to Digital Trends. “So, leading up to the tournament, fans will have access to a variety of different challenges — challenges designed to bring them back every week. Some unlock exclusive videos of World Cup players using the ball or showing off their own unique goal celebration while others have users post specific photos with the ball itself.”

Similar in function to how Nike leveraged NFC technology in its line of NikeConnect jerseys, the Adidas World Cup ball is purely for consumer use — i.e., it won’t have any impact on the matches themselves. Despite this, the integration of the chip is so subtle that anyone kicking it around (or using it in a match) won’t notice the difference. The shape hasn’t been altered, its physics remain the same, and it’s no heavier — even if you know where to look for the chip, you won’t see it.

“The chip is extremely light and won’t affect the weight or performance of the ball,” Furst added. “Additionally, we had to make sure that all parts would be functional in case the ball gets wet and also took into account fluctuations in temperature or movement, to ensure the internal components wouldn’t become damaged.”

Fans of the World Cup don’t have to be in Russia to have access to Adidas’ NFC-enabled ball either, as it’s currently available via the Adidas website for $124. Host country Russia kicks off the global tournament on June 14 as it takes on Saudi Arabia.

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Rick Stella
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