Step up: Israeli shoe-tracking startup Playermaker joins FIFA innovation program

The Tel Aviv company, with HQ in London, will test out its technology with pro soccer teams; it aims to become a standard device for games

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Players greet each other at the end of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier group F football match between Israel and Scotland at Bloomfield stadium in the Israeli Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on March 28, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Players greet each other at the end of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier group F football match between Israel and Scotland at Bloomfield stadium in the Israeli Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on March 28, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Sports tech startup Playermaker, a maker of a shoe-mounted wearable device to track football performance, has been accepted to be part of the International Federation of Association Football’s (FIFA) Innovation Programme.

The innovation program, launched last year by the international governing body of association football, aims to help bring innovative products to the game by making sure that new devices meet its global standard. The program will enable firms to try out their products and change their technologies according to needs and rule requirements.

Playermaker, a Tel Aviv firm now headquartered in the UK, has created a boot-mounted connected wearable sensor device designed to provide in-depth level analysis into athletes’ performance when worn in play. The technology is already being used by more than 150 soccer academies and professional teams across the world including Norwich, Liverpool and Arsenal, providing coaches and players with insights about their plays, and help them make decisions based on data about player development and training priorities.

The company’s technology is the first wearable device selected by the FIFA program, said the startup’s CEO and co-founder Guy Aharon, who founded the firm in 2017 together with Yuval Odem and Moran Gad. “It is a recognition that a company from Tel Aviv has made a significant impact in the world of global football, enough to be the among the first to be recognized by FIFA as innovative and with a big impact on the future of the game.”

A football team with the Playermaker technology (YouTube screenshot)

The device will be tested by FIFA teams for 24 months in various scenarios. The company hopes that eventually it will used universally.

“We believe that at some point all footwear will have Playermaker. We are creating the standard… If we do a good job and prove value, we hope that more and more leagues and teams and manufacturers will eventually adopt it as mandatory,” he said.

In its program, FIFA challenged the industry to come up with simple, affordable technologies that work for all levels of the game, not just the top players, Aharon said.

Two other firms have been selected for the innovation program: Vivaturf, a maker of artificial turf, and, Vieww, which has developed goal line technology.

Guy Aharon, the CEO of Playermaker (Courtesy)

“The main aim of the FIFA Innovation Programme is to provide a platform for products that have shown potential merit for use in football or the football experience but do not yet meet the requirements,” FIFA’s website says.

Today, the most common type of electronic performance tracking systems used in soccer are GPS devices worn on the player’s upper back, and over the years FIFA has created a recognized framework for these systems to be tested, approved and used in accordance with the rules of the game.

However, FIFA is “keen to explore” systems, like that of Playermaker, that add value to the game by using new data sources. Indeed, said FIFA, unlike back-mounted wearables that provide a solid baseline of measurement but don’t thoroughly capture the action of the feet, Playermaker’s product enables “further-reaching insights” into performance due to the position on the boot that generates data on the lower limbs.

“It shows promise to being a cost-efficient alternative for individual and team data collection and in simplifying analysis,” FIFA said.

As the device is worn on the shoe, it is not compatible with the current laws of the game, FIFA said. The pilot project thus aims to prove the value of the technology to teams and their coaches, which could pave the path for the device to be granted approval for certification under the FIFA Quality Programme for Electronic Performance & Tracking Systems.

Playermaker’s device fits on any shoe, Aharon said. The potential customers are the teams themselves and not the makers of football boots. Even so, explained Aharon, “there is a lot of interest” from manufacturers to embed the technology in their shoes for other purposes as well as soccer.

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