You take your futures insights where you find them, and today’s issue of Match – a football magazine to which my son subscribes – has a feature on ‘Footy 2020’ – filling the gap between the end of the Confederations Cup and the back-to-training transfer roundabout. The main trends: more ICT (information/communications technology); new materials; more excitement for spectators; more sponsorship opportunities; and greater engagement by fans in their clubs – such as Barcelona’s ownership model.
I’m not going to spend too much time on the ideas, although they’re not online. Some have been pulled out of the cuttings library (such as the scheme floated by Conference team Ebbsfleet to have fans choose the team), some from the Michel Platini UEFA playbook (restricting the number of overseas players in a team), but some are worth picking up.
- Communications technology: the most complex suggestion here is that the offside law might be enforced by satellite tracking of players and game. Given the subtlety of the offside law – an attacker needs to have two defenders between them and goal at the moment the ball is passed – this suggests a massive amount of real time parallel processing going on. But given how often mistakes are made, the expense may be worth it as costs fall. Other tech innovations featured include earpieces for the players (similar to professional cycling), which would sadly end the sometimes hilarious hand signals used by managers to try to communicate with their players; and goal mouth sensors which bleep when the ball is over the line.
- Ideas about materials included kevlar-type flexible leg armour, to replace shin pads; insulated leggings to speed up the warm-up process (or maybe not); boots designed by laser which fit the foot perfectly, and jerseys with dyes which are released when pulled, thereby catching out defenders red- (or blue-) handed. Actually I think they missed a trick here; I think by 2020 we’ll likely see jerseys which are skin-tight and breathable – almost painted on – which won’t be pullable anymore.
- Increasing excitement: goalposts which deflect rebounds back into the penalty area, increasing the chance of scoring from a rebound; limiting the freedom of the goalkeeper to catch the ball in the penalty area; and the end of the shoot-out (instead teams will have to give up a player every few minutes until one side scores). And “clever technology” will be used to amplify the sound of the home fans to create even more atmosphere.
- A couple of celebrity/sponsorship type thoughts: even more club branding – on boots and sweatbands (so the clubs start competing for, or at least sharing, sponsorship ‘real estate’ with equipment providers. And a ‘walk of shame’ through the stands to say sorry to fans by footballers who have been sent off (I’m an absurdly overpaid sportsman who’s just let you all down, get me out of here).
Some of the ideas seem likely (ball cams, managers’ appeals to a TV referee). Some are dull, and some seem unlikely (rich people buying seats under the penalty area). On the basis that any useful idea about the future seems at first sight ridiculous, the only one which made me think almost straightaway, ‘I really don’t think that’s going to happen’, was the idea of transmitting the half-time team talk to fans. Easy to see the reasons why not; but also possible, at a second look, to see reasons why it might happen.