It’s clear that fans feel a real connection to their sports teams. What if a wearable device could celebrate that connection? One company, Wearable Experiments (We:eX), has created a new wearable just in time for the 2016 Euro Cup, the Football Fan Shirt.

It’s embedded with haptic technology that connects fans in real-time to action in the game through touch. According to the company:

“Using the skin as an interface, we are able to transmit plays from the game directly to the wearer using choreographed haptic feedback. This creates a heightened sense of excitement blurring the lines between player and spectator. As well as connecting fans to fans and capturing the data from fan excitement.”

The Football Fan Shirt is connected to an app, where you can select which team you want to follow.

By harnessing real-time game data, this allows the wearer to feel the sensations of what the team is going through with every major play, as it happens on the pitch — including red card, penalties, offsides, shots off goal and the celebration of scoring goals.

I spoke to co-founder, director, and designer Billie Whitehouse, who was in France for the Euro Cup, about their journey in wearables and what inspired them to create wearables for football fans.
Whitehouse explained her entree into connected clothing:

“My background is design education and I was researching emerging technologies, from 3D printing to software solutions, for a means of how people were interacting and consuming content and I become reasonably good at the language and communication style. When an agency came to me about designing underwear, I had no idea how to build it but I just knew what was possible and that was just the beginning for us, we knew we were doing some something interesting and having a really good time doing it and there was enough challenge and enough to drive us to create a business.”

The underwear was called Fundawear for condom brand Durex and it was a prototype that that allows physical touch to be transferred wirelessly between couples and recreated on their skin. It sends real touch from one smartphone to another and from there to mini sensors inside the Fundawear garments, so couples can tantalize each other – even when they are apart.

Everyday wearable clothes not yet the norm

I was curious to see what developments Whitehouse had seen in the wearables sector since their first product was created. It’s an space which is dominated by high fashion wearables for one-off events like the Met Gala and clothing that is more likely to be worn down a catwalk and never seen again, or hung to languish in a museum or gallery more for its creative capabilities than its purpose as a connected device. Few wearables go to market and can be bought easily.

Whitehouse commented:

“What is important to remember is it’s such a new industry that you got to make it big to make people listen and thats what those products are doing. They are building brand awareness, they’re building their audience. There’s one company making wearables called Electro Fur targeting people that go to Burning Man. People buy these hideous furry light up things and they are in this respect extremely successful so depends what community you are looking at for commerciality. But we do want to do a commercial product we don’t just want to be a one-off.”

We:Ex have previously ventured into shirts for sports fans with the Alert Shirt, a fan jersey that uses wearable technology to take the experience into the physical world, allowing fans to feel what the players feel live as it happens during the game. It featured haptic feedback motors that were able to give the sensation of touch to those watching the game.

The idea is for every hit, touchdown, kick, or shove, viewers will get a sensation of how the players are feeling at that exact moment. This works by sending information from the players themselves  — who are wearing almost a reverse version of the Alert Shirt — to a central hub, which then analyzes and compounds that data, before sending it out to all Foxtel app users and transferring that information into haptic feedback via the shirt.

Whitehouse explained that:

“Since then we’ve got better and better and better at doing this. The first version, back in 2014, was removable electronics and rechargeable by USB — and encapsulated in medical grade silicon and we had to build an infrastructure inside the shirt to house all of these things. What we’ve got better at is the enabling technology so actually encapsulating it in fibers and that’s taken a long time. We’ve learnt about the placement of the sensors in terms of building the most emotional experience for a fan, purely for the audience to feel more connected to the players. The intensity and frequency of the vibrations that are connected to the emotional feedback, we’ve just got so much better at it, because we learnt from all those other changes. This time around I think we’ve actually nailed it, it really does feel like a heartbeat, it really does feel like a build-up of intensity when you’re about to get a penalty or someone gets a red card.”

Yet, We:Ex is yet to bring a product to the retail market.  When I asked about the retailing of the Fan Shirt, Whitehouse said:

 “Our whole point of being here is to see how people react to them, we want to see how people respond. We had a booth at Cannes Lions talking to hundreds of people asking ‘what does it mean to you, would you tie your brand to it, is there a sponsorship revenue model here?’ and also some of the bigger teams and leagues at the forefront of the fourth dimension of entertainment. So we’re just having conversations right now.”
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Whitehouse also reveals that their potential market may be different to who they might have earlier anticipated:
“We’ve found that women and children really love this product. I didn’t think of the children factor until we did these events last week, 40% of all Manchester United fans are between the age of 8 and 19 and they are the demographic really into this…the really old, religious fans tend to be like, ‘oh I’m not going to buy another jersey, i already have the team one’. That’s been really interesting.”
  Whitehouse concedes that their journey has been a challenging one:

“Retail is pretty dire and marketing invisible technology is difficult. If you have a creative mind-set it’s certainly not a no-go, there are so many interesting, beautiful ways to get around it, but it’s a new way of talking to consumers that I don’t think people have really experienced before. It’s simple, this is what I know, I come from a fashion background, and marketing it is the part of the next stage, and that’s what I am excited about, there is no one way how to do this and anyone that says there is, is really really ignorant for there’s so many exciting ways…you have to be a bit crazy to want to do it.”

Crazy or not, We:Ex has had an interesting journey and it will be interesting to see how they progress in the future.

Cate Lawrence

Cate Lawrence

contributor