2014 World Cup: Innovation Is the GOOAALL!

When England center forward Geoff Hurst scored what turned out to be the go-ahead goal against Germany in the 1966 FIFA World Cup final, he probably didn’t imagine his shot would start a 50-year debate.

The ball cannoned off the underside of the crossbar and bounced somewhere near to the German goal line. Whether the ball crossed the goal line entirely — and thus, actually counted as a goal — will never be determined.

A clearer picture at the goal line

Hurst’s shot created more than just controversy: It helped spark the development of goal-line technology. For the 2014 World Cup tournament in Brazil, FIFA — the governing body of world soccer — will deploy seven remotely monitored cameras around each goal for every match. FIFA also will dedicate several hundred personnel to overseeing those cameras and the images they produce in an effort to help match officials make accurate calls. A German firm, GoalControl-4D, is providing FIFA’s goal-line camera technology, which runs at 500 fps and is accurate to 5 mm. Cameras track the flight of the ball in 3-D, and if the entire ball crosses the goal line, a signal is sent to a watch device worn by the referee confirming that a goal has been scored.

The at-home experience

The fans’ viewing experience of the 2014 World Cup also will be much different from that of the 1966 match (which England won, 4-2, in extra time). The 1966 game was the first World Cup final to be widely seen by TV viewers around the world. It was broadcast in black and white, and filmed primarily by a single cameraman. But this year, TV viewers will see each game as filmed by more than 30 high-definition and 3-D TV cameras. Live-streaming of games online, as well as official FIFA apps, will also help fans monitor play-by-play action as it unfolds.

Soccer wearables

Soccer is without question a rapidly advancing global business. Even in the United States, where other sports dominate in terms of viewership and fan bases, Major League Soccer has added nine new clubs since 2007, and average attendance has grown significantly over the past decade. As soccer grows in popularity, the industry will need to keep investing in state-of-the-art game equipment and gear for athletes to meet the high expectations of fans and attract top talent for teams. At the World Cup, for example, look for high-performance soccer jerseys, shorts and boots. (Hello, soccer wearables!) Puma, which supplies soccer “kit” to eight World Cup final teams, has new shirt technology that incorporates athletic tape that it claims will micro-massage the skin and provide players with a more effective energy supply to active muscles. Nike’s new Magista line of cleats (or, boots, outside the United States) includes the Obra, which is designed with Nike’s Flyknit technology and includes a dynamic fit that creates a sock-like effect. The shoe is custom-made and features conical shaped studs to allow for quick stops and 360-degree turns, a definite plus in a sport where players can quickly tear ligaments and fracture ankles just by dribbling the ball.

A high-tech soccer ball?

Even the soccer ball has been transformed. In 1966, soccer balls were made out of water-absorbing synthetic leather panels hand-stitched around an inflatable vulcanized rubber bladder. Now, they’re machine-manufactured from more durable — and water-repellent — materials such as polyurethane. For the 2014 World Cup, Adidas has developed the Brazuca ball, which is made of only six interlocking panels. More than 50,000 tiny pimples on the surface of the ball provides grip and improves speed through the air. The promo version of the ball is even fitted with six tiny HD cameras to capture on-field action.

Innovation the new normal

Picking the winner of the 2014 World Cup won’t be easy, but one thing is clear: Innovation in soccer is accelerating. It must. Soccer is a global sport and business — and to compete, it needs innovative technology to support operations; e-commerce, advertising and marketing initiatives; communication with fans around the world; its athletes; and more. While soccer, as an industry, may not yet offer a wealth of IT and tech jobs, there are growing opportunities in areas such as database and website management, tech support on the marketing and sales side, and systems administration jobs. The big data trend, which the soccer industry is starting to explore, also could lead to more tech jobs entering the arena in the future.