The traditional football is going high-tech thanks to Wilson Sporting Goods, which officially launched the first smart football on Monday.
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Wilson, the NFL’s official football provider, said the Wilson X Connected Football will arrive on store shelves when the 2016 season kicks off Sept. 8. Starting Monday, fans can pre-order the football in Official or Junior sizes through the company’s website or sporting-goods retailers.
The Wilson X comes with a smartphone-holding arm band designed to replicate the “wrist coaches” typically worn by quarterbacks. The Wilson X will carry a price tag of $199. By comparison, Wilson’s official NFL football retails for $100 each.
At the heart of the technology is a motion sensor that’s suspended in the center of the football. It connects to Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Android (NASDAQ:GOOGL) mobile devices wirelessly using Bluetooth, sending data on the velocity, distance, spin rate and spiral efficiency of a throw. The sensor also detects whether the ball was caught or dropped.
The football’s built-in battery can’t be recharged, although Wilson says the football will continue to work for 500 hours of connected play, or about 200,000 throws. Bob Thurman, vice president of Wilson Labs, noted that 200,000 consecutive throws would destroy the pigskin before draining the battery.
Wilson is using the new data to present a different look at a quarterback’s performance. Based on a user’s results, Wilson creates what it calls a WX rating. The proprietary quarterback score is Wilson’s spin on quarterback ratings, or QBR, a statistic developed and used by Walt Disney’s (NYSE:DIS) ESPN. Pro-Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks posted a WX rating of 1,553.5 when testing the football last month, according to Wilson.
Wilson says the connected football will allow players for the first time to put a number on “throwing a good spiral.”
Executives believe the high-tech football will be a big hit with customers, whether they play the game on the gridiron or in the backyard.
Wilson, a Chicago-based division of Finnish company Amer Sports (OTC:AGPDY), sees the smart football as a training tool that can change the way young quarterbacks improve their skills. Users can look back on their performance in the app, which saves statistics such the distance and velocity of each throw.
The Wilson X is also aimed at football fans who love playing catch and competing with family and friends. With the app’s Game Time mode, the Wilson X football becomes part video game, part real-life football. The game is similar to the popular Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA) franchise “Madden NFL.” It tracks the offense’s progress moving down the field, thus allowing players to turn a confined space—say, a backyard—into a full-length virtual football field.
The app will be available for free through the Apple Store and Google Play.
“Our Wilson X Connected Football marries the best in digital technology with the top performing football in the world to create an immersive gaming experience for fans that was not possible before,” Thurman said. “By embedding a state-of-the-art, undetectable sensor in a football that connects to a cool app on a fan’s mobile device, every fan can become their favorite NFL team’s quarterback and create their own virtual stadium anywhere, anytime they want to play.”
There are five game modes in all including QB Warm-Up and Elimination, which challenges players to reach certain marks for distance or another stat selected by the user. Stats can be shared on social media and compared against other users worldwide.
The launch of the Wilson X coincides with an accelerated effort to test the use of microchips inside NFL footballs. Wilson footballs equipped with the technology will be on the field during preseason games, and the data could be used during television broadcasts in the future. The NFL has said it will also put microchips inside goal posts to detect whether field goals and extra-point attempts go through the uprights.
Football fans got a sneak peak of the Wilson X football during the week of Super Bowl 50 earlier this year. Wilson has also taken its newest product on the road, bringing the Wilson X to New York, Boston, Los Angeles and other cities. It’s the second connected sports ball from Wilson, which launched the Wilson X basketball in 2015.
Other heavyweights in the sporting-goods industry are pairing their products with devices. For one, Adidas makes a $200 connected soccer ball, the miCoach Smart Ball. Also, upstarts like Blast Motion and Zepp Labs have developed sensors that analyze a player’s swing in baseball, golf and tennis.