Tech Could Be Soccer's Savior

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Could technology firms such as TriQuint Semiconductor ( TQNT) play a key role in revolutionizing the world's most popular sport? With the World Cup marred by bad refereeing, calls for goal-line technology are reaching a crescendo, spelling good news -- and a potential multi million-dollar market opportunity -- for a select group of companies.

The World Cup has had more than its share of refereeing blunders, the worst being England's controversial second goal in last week's defeat by arch-rival Germany.

With England trailing 2-1, Frank Lampard's shot cannoned off the crossbar and landed well beyond the goal-line (pictured above). The referee, however, thought that the ball had not crossed the line and waved play on. Germany went on to win 4-1 and dumped England out of the tournament.

Soccer fans sick of blown calls are now urging FIFA, the sport's organizing body, to drag the game into the 21st century. Pressure is mounting to have chips embedded within soccer balls that could confirm whether a goal has been scored or not.

For chipmakers like TriQuint and rival RF Micro Devices ( RFMD), goals could thus present a golden opportunity. Better known for their reported presence within Apple's ( AAPL) iPad, TriQuint's chips could do a job on the world soccer stage.

"It takes the human error out," Shane Smith, senior director of marketing for TriQuint's mobile device business, told TheStreet. "If there was a wireless device in the soccer ball and a system set up across the goal, it would have accurately detected that the ball had crossed the line."

Smith, noting that TriQuint isn't yet working on any projects involving goal-line tech, told TheStreet that his company could provide a radio frequency filter -- or chip -- to transfer a signal from a ball-based sensor. "You're pretty much taking tried and proven technologies and implementing them in the sports arena," he added, citing the technology that powers electronic toll collections in cars (known as "E-ZPass" in the Northeast).

Tech companies are no strangers to the world of sports, most notably IBM ( IBM), which has provided the technology infrastructure (web hosting, data-mining software) for a slew of major events, from the Olympics to Major League Baseball games to the Wimbledon tennis championships.

TriQuint, which helped build a net sensor for Wimbledon, is just one of a number of tech companies eyeing soccer. Others include U.K.-based Hawk-Eye Innovations, a maker of a camera-based system that is already used in tennis and cricket. German company Cairos is also in the game, working closely with soccer giant Adidas to build a sensor-based goal-line system. (Adidas' U.S. rival Nike ( NKE) has not yet responded to TheStreet's request for comment on this article.)

Dubbed GLT (for Goal Line Technology), the Cairos system uses thin cables beneath the penalty area and behind the goal-line to create a magnetic field. A sensor embedded within the ball reacts to these magnetic fields when the ball crosses the goal-line and the information is sent via a radio frequency transmitter to receivers behind the goal. The receivers then send a signal to the referee's watch when a goal is scored. According to Cairos, the whole process can happen within a split second.

"The chips and transmitters, etc. are designed by Cairos and are being produced by some local companies," explained Oliver Braun, the company's marketing director, in an email to TheStreet. "Adidas developed the chip suspension system inside the ball."

The good news for Cairos and TriQuint is that FIFA is doing a U-turn (or should that be a Cruyff-turn?) on goal-line technology. Previously, FIFA has preferred the spontaneity of bad refereeing over technological accuracy, but the organization has been shamed into action after recent events.

At a media round-table last week, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said that "it would be nonsense to not reopen the file on technology" and personally apologized to England and Mexico, which was a victim of a non-offside call in their defeat to Argentina.

"We would be very happy if they would contact us," said Cairos executive Braun, in his email to TheStreet, explaining that the GLT system was used during the 2007 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. "The system is fully functional."

TriQuint rival RF Micro Devices told TheStreet that its technology could easily find a home in the world of sport, and cited the example of offside calls in soccer.

"Wireless RF is an ideal technology for this application," explained Alastair Upton, general manager of RF Micro Devices' broadband components business unit, in an email. "Several researchers in the UK have been working on systems at 868 MHz, 915 MHz and 2.4 GHz for sports applications - these are standard frequencies using proprietary wireless transmission that are better than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi."

Upton added that these systems have already been proposed for monitoring players' locations on the field, which could help track offsides, often the most contentious part of soccer.

"Knowing the location of each player relative to the defender would be all that is necessary to determine offside," he wrote. "A low power transmitter/receiver would be embedded in the jersey, shorts or boots and a wireless transmission to the 4th official would be made instantly who would relay the info to the center referee over the regular wireless microphone."

As for England's contentious 'goal' versus Germany, Upton feels that a goal-line system would likely need to combine both camera and wireless location technologies.

For England and countless other soccer teams over the years, the advent of goal-line technology is too little too late. But for tech companies like TriQuint, RF Micro Devices and Cairos, it could mean a whole new ball game.

-- Reported by James Rogers in New York

Follow James Rogers on Twitter.

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