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Regardless of whether you think it's called Soccer or Football, no one can contest to the popularity of the sport. In fact, FIFA's "Big Count" in 2006 discovered more than 265,000,000 participated in the sport of the 206 member states. That's around 4% of the global population participating in a sport that is predicted to make €25 billion in the European market for the 2016/2017 season. So how can manufacturers create immaculately designed promotional soccer balls for such an incredible demand without sacrificing quality?
Foundational MaterialsThe sport as a whole is steeped in tradition and unless there is an unavoidable advantage (such as changing from real leather balls to polyurethane synthetic leather) then innovation is met with some skepticism. In fact, law 2 of football dictates that:
... the ball is an air-filled sphere with a circumference of 68–70 cm (27–28 in), a weight of 410–450 g (14–16 oz), inflated to a pressure of 0.6 to 1.1 atmospheres (60–111 kPa or 8.7–16.1 psi) "at sea level", and covered in leather or "other suitable material".
The "leather" of the ball is backed by a polyester cloth held with latex adhesive, which contains the rubber bladder pumped through a valve on the ball's surface.
With the stringent rules on what can be used for an Association Football match, manufacturers are constantly working to improve the component materials in order to create new sensations within the sport.
In order to create the highest degree of professional quality balls, mainstream manufacturers spend a great amount of time in research and development going through rigorous testing with professional athletes. Adidas claim that in designing the Brazuca ball for the 2014 FIFA world cup that they spent 2 1/2 years testing the ball with 600 players, in 10 teams and across 3 continents. The novel idea was to have an identical geometric pattern that was used uniformly across the ball, meaning there would be no difference in reaction wherever the athlete makes contact which removes variables out of the player's control.
The production process begins with enormous strips of synthetic leather being shipped in, passed through a press that uses a latex adhesive to apply the polyester sheets. It is passed through for each layer of polyester backing required, with cheaper balls generally going through twice while more expensive balls will pass through around 4 times.
Once dried the leather is then passed through a die cutting machine which will punch out the necessary shape for the ball design as well as the stitching holes. The traditional football design, the Adidas Telstar, is comprised of 12 pentagonal (generally the black leather) and 20 hexagonal (the white leather).
Once cut the machine cut pieces are then passed through for a silk screen where the promotional design is passed through. While there is no limit to the complexity of the design used through this process, it is generally limited to one or two colours for time's sake. A batch production however could pass through many times.
An alternate method is to create a polyvinyl print that similarly goes through a silk screen, however is then molded into shape via a template of the ball before being finally applied to the already stitched and sealed ball. In this instance the cover, the lining and the bladder would all be constructed and assembled before the custom design is finally incorporated.
Creating the Ball
The bladders are created using butyl, a carbon-rubber polymer or latex, with a silicone treated butyl being the preferred of high end production. The material is gently heated and placed into a mold creating a balloon shape, where it is then left to cool.
After this occurs the dried geometrically identical pieces of leather are then hand stitched together, placed into an oven and sealed. The bladders are then inserted, the final stitches are made and the ball inflated. Each ball must then pass a quality control check outlined in rule 2 of the sport.
If this final hurdle is passed then the custom designed ball is complete and ready for delivery.