Consumer-led Innovations at the World Cup
27 Jun 2006|Miguel Winebrenner
Many sports consumers, especially Americans, have been commenting on how much more exciting this year’s World Cup has been. In great part this has been due to the fact that the U.S. team has improved a lot over the past ten years, and because there has been a sustainable US soccer league (MLS) for some time now. What few people know is that FIFA (soccer’s governing body) has made two substantial innovations to the game in order to create the level of excitement that is being felt this year.
The first was an innovating change to the design of the ball. This new design introduced in 2006 (called the Teamgeist) has fewer stitches and as a result is much quicker and more difficult to catch when struck. As opposed to older balls like the Buckminster design from 1970, which was purposefully slower and heavier, this new ball creates less friction with the surrounding air and easily swerves past goal keepers when struck from a distance. Now, it seems, many strikers can “bend it like Beckham.” The result of this innovation in soccer ball design has led to more scores, especially from long-range, and has made the World Cup much more exciting to those who favor lots of goal-scoring, like sports consumers in the United States.
The second innovation that has made the sport more exciting to many has been the way in which it is being televised. This year, FIFA introduced several more camera angles (there are now over 10) which allow viewers to more closely see the players’ speed, force, passion, facial expressions, and contact with other players. Previous angles were seen from perched cameras high above the field where the game seemed slow and boring. Especially compared to basketball and football, where the action is observed from the outside AND the inside, soccer felt like it lacked peripheral views that add more umpfff.
So why did FIFA drive these innovations? People have speculated about this quite a bit, but like so many other innovations taking place this was what Darrel Rhea (Cheskin’s CEO) calls “consumer-led innovation,” and more specifically U.S.-consumer-led innovation. For a while, FIFA has had their eye on the U.S. as a ground to organically grow the sport– with close to 300 million people, the U.S. is one of the largest populations in the world and is therefore the biggest untapped market for soccer. But despite the growing popularity of the sport in America, the fact remained that soccer was seen as slow and it didn’t provide much action. Therefore, it follows that to grow the sport in the one place where it could grow the most, FIFA came to the realization that innovations were needed.
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