Travel to the heart of the new balloons

Having the right to caress the feet of Lionel Messi, Dimitri Payet and the other players of League 1 Uber eats from next season, the new Kipsta ball has had to pass a series of tests successfully. And that is to say the least. The new supplier of the championship, who will take over after Uhlsport for a period of at least five seasons, has imagined a real obstacle course for his official ball. If FIFA imposes its tests to issue the mark Fifa Quality Pro, the key to being used in official competition, Decathlon and its Kipsta brand have devised a number of additional tests to be validated. A process that was revealed a few weeks ago for those who handle these balloons on a daily basis: the stewards of professional clubs, invited to Tourcoing on the occasion.

“Aging the ball in an accelerated way”

It is actually in the Nordic region that Kipstadium is located, the design and development center for Decathlon’s team sports products. The site, built on the wilderness of the Terken brewery and the former Transpole depot in Tourcoing, houses the balloon laboratory where all these tests are performed. ” I do not know if you’ve ever cut balloons, but here, that’s our passion! “, Says Antoine Le Cuziat. The person in charge of the balloon process announces the color in a room that contains a noisy machine behind a yellow grid.

To test the resistance of the ball as required by FIFA, this slider sends a ball 2,500 times at a speed of 50 km / h against a concrete slab. We then check that the balloon has retained its dimensions, its pressure and its original spherical shape. ” The goal is to age the ball in an accelerated manner. This test reflects a year of club use », Specifies François-Xavier Colson. This testing engineer is part of the team of 20 people involved in the design chain. Your credo? Invent methods to advance in the tests. One of them makes it possible to measure the wear with an impactor, the coating of which will wear the ball.

High temperature test

A test made in Kipsta measures the resistance to heat (at a temperature of 66 degrees very accurately). If the balloons are compatible when leaving the factory, they must not be deformed while waiting in the trunk of a car in the summer, or when transported in containers from China or Punjab, this region that straddles India and Pakistan, known for its expertise in the manufacture of balloons.

Here we have the same machines as FIFA. When we send them our balloons to test them, we are calm Says product engineer Florian Combes. Among the 6 tests imposed by the Swiss base, the balloons must be able to inflate up to 150% of the recommended pressure without exploding. Inflation pressure range, transport of the balloons by plane, service life … The stewards from RC Lens and Angers SCO ask their questions before the demonstration continues in another room at Kipstadium, where the balloons’ reaction is checked in the event of a setback. The ball is dropped from a height of two meters by a machine and must bounce up to 1m20. The balloon must retain its dimensions and perfect spherical shape with a deformation tolerance margin of a maximum of 1.5%.

FIFA Quality Pro Label

There is a set of standards that must be met for FIFA to give the green light and put its logo on Fifa Quality Pro on one of the leather panels. Machines and tests are used for each of these standards. The initial weight of the ball must not change by more than 10 grams. Its pressure must not vary by more than 10% three days after inflation. A higher difference may indicate a slow leakage from the ball’s bladder (its inner tube). Another FIFA standard concerns water absorption. The balloons are compressed 250 times in water and their weight must not exceed 10% of their original weight. It is precisely because the natural leather balls soaked up too much water that they made room for heat-sealed panels, without seams in case of future balls for the French professional championships.

Kipsta balloons must overcome other obstacles with a few other tests specific to the northern brand. The strength of the valve is tested by a machine that inserts and pulls out a needle to prevent leaks. In total, one hundred inflations is simulated, which corresponds to a weekly inflation for two years. Another test checks how much force it takes to burst a balloon using a tip. A machine compresses the balloon to 20% of its original diameter to measure the softness.

Tested by Ligue 1 players Uber Eats

After the laboratory tests, it’s time for the field tests! Between July and September, Kipsta met 8 Ligue 1 Uber Eats and Ligue 2 BKT clubs. The selected elite clubs? The top five in the 2020/2021 position, namely LOSC, PSG, AS Monaco, Olympics and OM. ” We offered them either protocol testing with our field testing engineers or to do their session normally but with our balloons, with a short brief at the beginning and feedback from them at the end Says Romain Da Rocha, Footballs manager.

Some Ligue 1 Uber Eats players are kind enough to stay with us to make another comeback after taking free kicks, penalties, volley … Many Lyonnais people played the match, especially the strikers “, Continues Romain Da Rocha, who even reveals an anecdote in the form of a compliment. ” a former porter who is today the Olympic staff started by telling us that he was tired of it, that it was still an attacker’s ball, that he wanted to change his course in the air … And after having the session, he came back to see us to tell us: “It’s not to suck, but your ball is amazing! ”

Key figures:
months to develop a ball
people involved in the design chain
panels on Kipsta balloons (compared to 32 for the first balloon models)
balls delivered to 40 French professional clubs each season (300 per club)
clubs involved in the tests conducted during the summer of 2021, including 5 from Ligue 1
55 test players
tests imposed by FIFA to obtain the FIFA Quality Pro label
club names on the Ligue 1 ball (those of the 19 clubs crowned champions in France)
balls, but identical design between Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 balls
2023/2024 as the season from which Kipsta will equip the Belgian championship (having already delivered the ball to the last Supercup, the local Champions Trophy)

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