Meet the brains behind footwear tech that’s transforming football
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Meet the brains behind footwear tech that’s transforming football

The founder of a sports tech firm that designed the first foot-mounted wearable device, with FIFA and Arsène Wenger's seal of approval, explains how it lets players up their game

The revolutionary footwear device by Playermaker.
The revolutionary footwear device by Playermaker.

Former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger was so impressed with an Israeli creation that helps track footballers’ progress on the pitch that he invested in the start-up behind it. And he’s far from the only big name to have his head turned by the work of Playermaker: Manchester City, Glasgow Rangers and the Argentinian national team all now use the company’s revolutionary footwear device, which recently became the first foot-mounted wearable device accepted into FIFA’s innovation programme, FIP.  

Playermaker, founded by former Israeli navy officer Guy Aharon, transforms the way football teams use data. Its signature product attaches
to a player’s boot, tracking their technical, tactical and physical movement on and off the ball. The data is then analysed, enabling managers and coaches to gain a better understanding of their players’ and team’s performance. 

First adopted by Maccabi Tel Aviv, its SQUAD Solution is now used by hundreds of professional clubs worldwide, and the company recently launched the UNO by Playermaker, aimed at amateurs of all ages.

 Chief executive officer Aharon, who commercially launched the product in 2019, says: “We saw a huge spike in demand for data-driven sports technology solutions, including the likes of FitBit and Peloton. When we started our research into the market, we identified there was a need for a solution that could be used by professionals, yet also could be accessible and easy to use for all types of players. 

“We also wanted to create a solution that had the potential to be used across multiple sports.” 

He adds: “As many popular sports are played with the feet, we decided to design a product that could track performance on this part of an athlete’s body, differing from other devices that already exist, worn on the wrist or chest.”

The revolutionary footwear device by Playermaker.

 The connected fitness market (where equipment can be connected to a smart device and data collected and stored when you move) has seen exponential growth over recent years. Think Peloton, FitBit, Strava and Apple Fitness+. And the pandemic has dramatically accelerated this trend. In the absence of gyms, adoption of digital fitness and wellness solutions soared. Wearables, connected devices and apps have become the new norm. 

“We were fortunate that the pandemic seemed to really accelerate the connected fitness industry as a whole,” acknowledges Aharon.

“During lockdown, we were pleased to see an increase in demand for our solutions, as they allowed players to continue to track their performance even when training remotely. 

“Players at clubs such as Hull City and Norwich arranged for the devices to be sent to player’s homes so they could continue to use them, and apparently players were using the devices to host competitions with their teammates who were scattered around the country.”

Guy Aharon

The pandemic also fast-tracked the launch of the UNO by Playermaker. “We surveyed the market and identified there was an opportunity to provide an individual solution for players to keep their skills sharp when they weren’t able to go to [their] usual group training sessions.” 

Playermaker picked up a host of awards last year including; Best Wearable Technology at the Sports Business Awards, Sports Innovation Award at the Sports Technology Awards, Innovation Award for Enhanced Coaching Solution by AI Global and Best Athlete Footwear Performance Analysis Device by AI Global. 

The business is thriving within the football sector, arguably the toughest sporting industry to break into. And in a market dominated by products for men, Playermaker is also creating devices for women to ensure the next generation of females achieve their full potential. 

Aharon is also keen to take the technology to other sports – it is already being used by athletic clubs across the world. “As we continue to grow, our main focus is to continue to provide a product that is loved by athletes and those aspiring to become better at their chosen sport.”

 The Playermaker tech was invented, developed and manufactured in Israel, where its headquarters reside. The company has grown to a team of more than 50, with offices in the UK and US. 

Wenger, who has often been vocal about the benefits he believes technology can bring to football, invested in Playermaker after Aharon arranged a training session in the Frenchman’s garden so he could see it in action.

“Once he saw it, the technology impressed him so much he decided to give us his backing. Arsène has impacted the core of the solutions with his vision and experience. Playermaker is very proud to have his support and be able to share our successes with him.”

Company backer Arsène Wenger

The digital fitness industry is being disrupted at an unprecedented pace. Consumer demand for out-of-studio experiences and connected/social fitness continues to drive innovation. 

“The market has significantly changed in the past year. There is a growing number of consumer health and wearable companies that are listed and growing exponentially coming closer than ever to achieving unicorn status. The increase in special purpose acquisition companies also indicate that connected fitness is generating more and more interest in the market.” 

But with more sports technology businesses identifying opportunities, combined with the unpredictability and pressures of the pandemic, it has never been a more competitive space. 

“As a result, the companies that can demonstrate the tangible difference their solutions make to consumers will be better placed in the long-term,” notes Aharon, who says the biggest challenge has been disrupting the traditional way in which sports has been played and sports business operates. “Once the industry understands the benefits technology can bring, however, it becomes a no brainer.” 

www.playermaker.com

 

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