Modern football has become a magnet for cutting-edge technology and innovative ideas. The ever-increasing sums of money sloshing around in the sport have raised the stakes, forcing clubs to seek out the next marginal gain through state of the art software and brilliant minds, as well as providing ample business opportunities for enterprising fans.
These nine companies represent the innovation and disruption changing the mechanics of the beautiful game.
Tactics — Globall Coach
Globall Coach is a digital technical tactics tool that promises to streamline a manager’s job both on match days and at the training ground.
First developed by Rafael Benitez while at Liverpool and since used to success by Chris Coleman at Wales, Globall Coach’s software saves managers the task of scrawling over a tactics keyboard and provides players with clear visualisations of their requirements on a digital device of choice.
"They [Wales] use it as a very simple visual tool," Globall Coach executive Ciaran Skinner told City A.M. "If it wasn't for us they'd just have paper and pen.”
Broadcasting — DAZN
The “Netflix of sports” has arrived. Live Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 football as well as live NBA, NFL and a host of other sports is available to subscribers to new streaming service DAZN for less than £9 a month. The only catch? It's currently limited to Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Japan.
Could we see it launch in England for Premier League football? DAZN has plans to enter the UK market but as long as traditional satellite broadcasters are prepared to escalate their billion pound bidding war for the live rights — which in turn has boosted clubs’ bank accounts and fuelled a record-breaking summer of transfer spending — the Premier League looks likely to keep TV as its first home.
Fans of foreign leagues and US sports are more likely to be the first beneficiaries in the UK.
But football’s reckoning with the generational shift to streaming over traditional TV consumption cannot be avoided forever. DAZN could be first to capitalise.
Training — Beyond Sports
Virtual reality technology can be used for more than just simulating a zombie attack; it can help make you better footballers.
That’s according to Dutch firm Beyond Sports, whose virtual reality software has been adopted by Eredivisie clubs AZ Alkmaar, PSV Eindhoven, Ajax and the Dutch national teams.
The software allows coaches to develop custom scenarios for their players to experience, or they can jump into the virtual world themselves and analyse recent matches from their players’ perspectives.
Holland has a history of giving birth to football revolutions through innovation on the training field. Early adoption of virtual reality could be its next breakthrough.
Free agents — Fieldoo
Fieldoo, which operates like a LinkedIn for football, aims to help players struggling in the lower leagues avoid cowboy agents and non-paying clubs with a platform that allows them to directly contact verified agents and seek out trials with trusted teams.
The company claims to have hundreds of players signing up to its platform every day and in May said it had around 200,000 players with 20,000 agents and clubs.
"One of the philosophies we have is also educational," chief executive Klemen Hosta told City A.M. "We try to enlighten players on how contractual agreements work, what they should be careful of, how they should train, who they should contract. It's a tough business, we didn't realise how corrupt football was. And I'm not talking about Blatter, but there were a lot of fake agents exploiting kids and trafficking players from Africa to Europe. We verify every intermediary profile."
Gambling — Smarkets
After TV payments, the gambling industry is one of the most dependable sources of income for Premier League teams, with 50 per cent currently carrying sponsorships from betting companies.
Betting exchange Smarkets, who sponsor QPR, may be the biggest disruptor in the industry right now. While rival Betfair charges a five per cent commission on returns, Smarkets undercuts that with an industry-leading two per cent.
Styling itself as a tech start-up rather than as a traditional bookmaker, which founder Jason Trost says are of often “extremely inefficient” due to poor use of tech, could it be enough to bring down the big bookies?
Fitness — STATSports
You'll probably be aware of STATSports' gear even if you've never consciously noticed the black vests that have become increasingly ubiquitous at training grounds.
There are currently 17 Premier League clubs — as well as a host of European giants including Barcelona, Roma, and Juventus — using STATSports' Viper player tracking and analysis technology, which uses a GPS pod to monitor a players' training and match-day physiological data.
Managers and coaches use the technology to gain insights on their players' heart rate, metabolic power, balance, speed and distance covered to help tailor workloads and preemptively spot injury risks.
Head of performance at Manchester United Tony Strudwick says the tech has "undoubtedly contributed to our continued success on the field".
Strategy — The 21st Club
Football's data revolution means that a team of analysts and a wealth of statistical information from data providers such as Opta or Prozone is now the norm for most top clubs.
But when those analysts spend most of their time bogged down in deciphering the intricacies of their particular team, it leaves little time to take a look at the bigger picture.
This is where the 21st Club come in. Set up by former Prozone executive Blake Wooster, the company operates as a football consultancy to owners and prospective buyers — the company worked on investments in Everton and Swansea during 2016 — by helping to develop a long-term strategy that cuts through the day-to-day noise and myriad myths taken as received wisdom.
And that doesn't just manifest itself in a conversation around a boardroom and diagrams on a white board, but through a bespoke digital platform developed by the company that club bosses can have easy access to on an iPad.
Social media — Brandtix
Social media: for clubs it's just an annoying distraction tool potentially landing mouthy players in hot water and bringing damage to your brand, right? Wrong.
The ability of both clubs and players (and in some case managers) to reach fans represents a massive commercial opportunity for football clubs, but knowing which players provide the biggest opportunity can be tricky. After all, an ageing star may have millions of followers but do you really want them to promote a sponsor's product on Twitter while their performances are simultaneously being ridiculed on the very same platform? Probably not.
Brandtix offers a solution to clubs. Their performance-led analytics index, which uses more than 100 different metrics, allows clubs' marketing teams to simultaneously monitor a player's real time on-pitch performance, social media activity and resulting fan sentiment for both.
Kit and gear - TruSox
"Winning the World Cup", "at the centre of innovation", "one of sport's biggest secrets" and "Gareth's Bale secret weapon". Not descriptions you'd usually associate with socks, yet TruSox have won such plaudits for a game-changing slip-proof design.
TruSox contain gripping pads in the lining — visible black dots above the achilles — that prevent players' feet from moving in the shoe when changing direction. The company claims it reduces the likelihood of injury and players such as Gareth Bale and Arjen Robben have risked losing lucrative endorsement deals by wearing them over their official socks.
Sales have exploded from $70,000 in 2012 to $3.2m last year alone and the big brands are worried.