Soccer ball

Inside Nike’s eight-year journey to create the perfect soccer ball

Nike has embarked on an eight-year mission to create the perfect soccer ball, and players from some of the best leagues around the world will soon be playing with the latest modern and futuristic ball model. It’s no secret that soccer players – and athletes in general – are quite sensitive to any changes to their equipment, especially the ball. That’s why Nike consulted more than 800 professional athletes, including athletes not sponsored by Nike, and spent eight years researching before creating the Nike Flight ball, which was unveiled to the world on Monday.

The sleek and innovative ball will make its debut next season in the NWSL – which became the first professional team sports league in the United States to mark its return during the coronavirus pandemic on Saturday – with the Premier League, Serie A and the Russian Premier League, among others.

The name of the bullet hints at what culminated in nearly a decade of research. The engineering team covered 68 different iterations of the balloon and spent 1,700 hours in the lab before settling on a balloon that, thanks to its new AerowSculpt technology, can envelop the air and produce 30% more flight. true than previous Nike soccer balls. It specifically overtakes the Nike Merlin, which is used in the Premier League and other major leagues these days.


At first glance, the Nike Flight ball almost looks like a giant golf ball, especially once you start paying close attention to details like the dimples or pentagonal-like ridges of a 3D ink layout. This is why the sportswear giant has opted for a simplistic all-white color. Kieran Ronan, senior director of global equipment at Nike, explained how they were able to take innovative learning from other sports industries, including golf, and apply it to their study to help influence the flight of the ball and avoid oscillations.

“There were so many different permutations, but the only thing that was true for the golf ball back then and still is now is its ability to fly through the air. And in golf, you factor in the distance the ball travels to travel downwind relative to the wind, whether the wind is coming from your left, your right and so on – rain, dry, wet, ”Ronan told CBS Sports. principle of what it does is, when you think of a smooth surface, when it travels through the air, it is gripped by the air. The application of dimples in this case from the golf ball, or in our case with the AerowSculpt technology, it deforms the surface so that air can grip it, essentially allowing for truer flight. “

Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and the United States Women’s National Team have been among the notable teams to work with Ronan over the years. Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan both provided feedback during the eight-year draft. But it wasn’t just the star players who helped Ronan and his team design the ball. They took a ton of input from a robotic kicking leg in their lab to help track ball start-up tests on ball aerodynamics, which was another cutting edge in tracking technology used in the golf and adopted in baseball. .

“The other thing taken from the golf industry is the speed of iterations. When we brought the robot to the lab three or four years ago, it allowed us to increase the stake, the number of tests that we could do, ”Ronan said. “The 1,700 hours of testing comes from the players, what they say, inputting and mapping and plotting against an equation, feeding that information into the system for the robot, and then the robot begins its work. “

But why robots? Consistency.

“If you’re thinking about bringing in a player and you had to ask a player to hit a thousand shots, muscle fatigue, overall physical fatigue, what information you get from the first kick, or maybe five or six kicking after they’re warmed up, up to a thousand kicks will give you a very, very different set of settings, ”Ronan said. “Whereas with the robot you work precisely in that range and you can start working with the depth of the grooves, the shape of the grooves, the general aesthetic aspect of the design to help us achieve the optimum number that we have. we’re looking at this time and that time. “


Unlike traditional 12-panel soccer balls, the Nike Flight ball uses only four fused panels to help create a sweet spot for superior touch and performance. USWNT and OL Reign midfielder Ally Long, who currently competes in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup on CBS and CBS All Access, explained the importance of a consistent and more faithful flight to the ball. .

“As a central midfielder I want to be on the ball all the time and be the quarterback who can help build the attack using all the different ranges of passing,” said Long. “In order for me to be the best, the ball has to be consistent and predictable. Not too light, not too hard, made with the perfect material so that every touch I make can be perfect to prepare for the next pass. is nothing better when I hit a ball perfectly and it goes exactly where I want it to go. “