iBall offers sneak preview of the future of ball tracking

FEATURE: The innovative handball with an internal tracking chip will be used at a national team tournament for the first time during the final weekend at the EHF EURO 2018

The iBall has entered the world of handball with a bang. The technological novelty was first introduced at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne in May, where it drew a lot of attention, and it will now be used at the final weekend of the EHF EURO 2018 in Paris.

The ball has a tracking chip inside, which enables the distribution of real-time data, such as the speed of the ball, distance to the goal and shooting positions.

At LANXESS arena in Cologne, the use of the ball brought a new dimension to handball, for both fans and broadcasters. The reactions have been overwhelming according to Peter Knap, CEO of SELECT, the renowned ball manufacturer collaborating with chip experts KINEXON and EHF Marketing GmbH on the iBall project.

“It was a new concept when it comes to tracking of the ball. There have been reactions like: ‘Can we buy the iBall?’ But for consumers it makes no sense as the ball has to be linked to a system monitoring the ball,” says Knap, adding that the introduction “has had a big impact in the world of handball. Everyone is eager to find out what data the ball can provide for which purposes? The interest is absolutely there but it is still in the initial phase.”

For all parties involved in the project, it is important to stay on top of developments in chip technology. Behind the scenes, there have been years of hard work before the first real product launch at the EHF FINAL4.

While Knap calls the introduction “a success”, he also knows that the iBall “can be further developed.”

The ball will have its second big outing at the EHF EURO this weekend, when it makes its debut in a national team competition when Russia, Romania, hosts France and the Netherlands decide who will succeed Norway as European champions.

“Having the iBall at the Women’s EHF EURO is very important to us,” Knap says. “Technological improvement is important. When we speak about the iBall, the key points are data for analysing the game but also data for giving new options in working together with the likes of broadcasters and betting companies.”

Apart from all the technology and the data it provides, the manufacturing of the iBall has been a true challenge for SELECT. Physically adding anything to a handball creates an imbalance which has to be corrected. Also, how do you prevent the chip from getting damaged when, for instance, the ball hits the post at full speed?

SELECT have sorted it all and are now fully focusing on the ball’s future potential, which, according to Knap, will not be limited to just the elite level of handball.

“For now, it opens new doors for working together with broadcasters and companies for online betting. You have several options to do, but we are only in the initial phase and handball is absolutely in front here,” Knap says. “I see this as a category for the top, top level – so far. It will take time to come to an amateur level as well, but it will also come there in order to improve their training. There is a lot of potential in it. It will take time because it is not something you can do overnight, but it will come.”

Also, for the European Handball Federation, the future of the iBall is an important tool to help the sport enter new territories in terms of broadcast opportunities and fan engagement.

“We try to further develop our top competitions and events, to adapt to sport market developments and even become forerunners here. We use goal-line technology, instant replay, and so on, and the iBall is the next step,” says EHF Secretary General Martin Hausleitner. “It is designed to give fans a better understanding of what happens on court. We are already planning the next steps and will develop it further for next year.”

written by Eric Willemsen / cg