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Smart Football: our exclusive hands-on with the Wilson X

RealSport were invited to have an exclusive hands-on with the Wilson X Connected Football, ahead of the official UK launch later today.

There’s been a trend in the NFL over the past few years of collecting as much data as possible on the way the game is played. The league introduced tracking chips in players’ shoulder pads to help track movement, player speed, and a wealth of new metrics to help coaches evaluate their team and offer new insight to media and fans alike.

The latest extension of this technology saw the NFL place microchips inside gameballs, tracking how fast balls are being thrown, how much spin the quarterback is getting on his passes, and various other pieces of information. This technology is already on the NFL field, but soon it will be in the hands of fans too.

Wilson, the NFL’s official ball supplier since 1941, will officially be unveiling to the UK marketplace later today the Wilson X, the world’s first ‘smart football’. The ball contains the same microchip that is being used in NFL gameballs this season, and comes with an accompanying app to track the data from the chip.

More than a simple tool

RealSport were invited to spend some time with the Wilson X ahead of the official reveal. The ball feels like a traditional ball, if perhaps slightly lighter – one nice touch is the middle laces being cross-stitched to form an ‘X’, but it far down enough the laces that it shouldn’t have any impact on your throwing technique.

The associated app is simple to navigate, and it’s the app that really opens up the ball to more than a simple tool for tracking passing velocity and spin. Firstly, as one might expect, there is an international leaderboard, allowing you to see where you rank with Wilson X users around the world for who can throw the fastest and furthest – but for me, the element that will keep fans coming back to the Wilson X is the ‘games’ mode.

There’s a few different games on the app, some suited for solo play, and others for a group, and it’s the latter that really caught my attention. One mode is called “Game Time”, and requires two teams. The team with possession of the ball selects a play from a preloaded playbook, and the receivers need to execute the route while the other team tries to prevent catches.

With the tracking chip, the app knew where the ball was thrown and caught – and from that, appeared to be able to tell how accurately the route was being run. While we didn’t have the chance to delve too deeply into the app, you could imagine that this measure of accuracy can elevate this game into something beyond just a simple game of two-hand touch.

And that’s where I see this ball having the biggest appeal – to groups who already play football. The approximate RRP we were given (though the final price will be revealed today) is unlikely to gear this as a must-have purchase for the casual football fan. For people who actually like to participate in the sport – whether it’s impromptu games with friends at the park or on the beach, or one of the growing number of grassroots and amateur teams, the Wilson X can either enable the various games for the former group, or be used as a training tool for the latter.

One thing that will be interesting to see – and will help people on the fence decide to pay for the Wilson X – is what level of after-purchase support there will be. Will Wilson be creating new game modes for the app, to add new and fresh elements to owning a Wilson X? Will there be more training-focused tools developed for the app to make it a must-have for high schools across America and community teams across Europe? If Wilson continue to add to the app over time, then the Wilson X could be very well-received on these shores as the NFL continue to build their British and European presence.

The ball will be available to purchase in Europe from January 2017. You can see the ball in action in the video below!

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Gur Samuel

Hi! I'm Gur and I'm RealSport's Editor-in-Chief. I'm also currently the site's tennis editor, and contribute to our NFL, wrestling and Formula 1 coverage as well. I'm also an NFL analyst for CNN International and contributor to SB Nation, and have contributed to, or been interviewed by, various print, broadcast and online media, including Sky News, the BBC, Al Jazeera, Mail Online, ABC, NBC, CBS, USA Today, the Boston Globe, and Yahoo! Sports.

Smart Football: our exclusive hands-on with the Wilson X

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