In Spring of 2018, Major League Soccer’s Competition Committee came to TGI with a unique challenge: can the overall pace of match play be sped up by improving the mechanics of putting a ball-in-touch (a ball that has been played out of the playing area) back into play?
Although no other professional league had truly addressed this situation to date, the creation of ball retrieval stations or ball holder units placed at intervals around the pitch became the focus of the project. Fast forward to February 2021 and TGI has now successfully developed five “ball holder” products that have been implemented (or will be in 2021) in a professional sports setting.
The testing phase of the project involved two prototypes: a self-standing version and a fixture designed to retrofit on the top of the AdTrac Stadium cap. Initial tests were conducted at the 2019 Generation Adidas Youth Showcase event (pointed by TGI’s Matt Radley, Matt Auriemme and Taylor Ryan) with a primary focus on end-line ball caddy placement, as a test to see how players, especially goalkeepers, would react to having a ball ready and accessible in a known location.
Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup matches were utilized later that same year for further prototype testing and match flow observations. The testing revealed to the MLS Competition Committee that ball person gamesmanship and the general delay in securing a game ball during the throw-in process can be significantly reduced by using ball holder units placed around the perimeter of the field, thus speeding up play.
The program was fast tracked by MLS for a 2020 season implementation with the overall product line being enhanced by a third Goal Net Support Pole Ball Holder fixture. MLS Clubs could choose between the three products and determine what best fit their stadium needs.
When March 2020 arrived and pandemic planning was ramping up at a feverish pace, it became clear that the TGI Ball Holder product line would play an even more important and prominent role in future MLS matches. With strict limits on matchday staff numbers and heightened concerns about virus contaminated game balls, the TGI Ball Holder line became an integral piece in MLS’s virus mitigation plan.
For the MLS is Back tournament in Orlando in summer 2020, self-standing units were needed around the field for all three fields, and a fourth product was developed for behind goal, the “lollipop” branding stand, which was designed to provide a commercial opportunity for the league. This was an important step in creating an inventory asset to allow MLS to further retain commercial partnership dollars. TGI’s Oscar Orellana recognised the branding potential that these units could have in early 2020 and developed a “lollipop” prototype that featured a prominent branding footprint around the Ball Holder that could be seen on broadcast. MLS and TGI responded quickly and in a matter of weeks a prototype was fast tracked into production. Adidas branded Lollipop Ball Stands appeared on the end-lines of the MLS Is Back match fields, helping MLS provide their biggest sponsor critical broadcast commercial value.
With the transition from MLS is Back to MLS Return to Play to conclude the 2020 season, there was a need to further expand the ball holder program beyond the goal area usage to field wide coverage and positions. Therefore, in August 2020, TGI expedited production and delivered close to 250 new units (Self standing, AdTrac and Net pole) to the 26 teams.
Some teams recognised in-game logistical challenges in securing balls that were out of bounds but still on the field-side of the LED arrays. Paul Sterbenz went back to the drawing board with his MLS counterparts and developed a low-profile foam holder that could be placed in front of the LED cabinets, but at a low enough profile to not significantly block the LED messaging. Player safe and field side placed, TGI Foam Ball Holders will debut in 2021.
Recognising the effectiveness of the TGI Ball Holders used by MLS, NWSL placed a league wide order for 250 Free Standing Ball Holder units to be delivered in March 2021 for use in all NWSL Challenge Cup and regular season matches.