The new Chelsea Third Shirt features a built-in NikeConnect label which links up to your smart phone. Sounds clever. But what does is actually do? We caught up with Michael Hailey, Senior Director of Product Management at Nike+ to find out.

Michael leads the team that develops and launches some of Nike’s most innovative products in terms of tech, and was integral to the launch of NikeConnect in NBA jerseys last year. So yeah, he knows what he's on about.

Michael, starting from the top, what can you tell us about the NikeConnect technology and what are you looking to bring to the game with this?

NikeConnect is a wearable technology based on NFC. It was successfully introduced across the NBA last year and we’re incredibly excited to bring it to football for the very first time. We’re launching it with Chelsea’s third kit and the idea behind it is that through NikeConnect we can bring passionate fans closer to the teams and athletes they love through a product that they already have a deeper connection to.

How long has this particular idea been in the works and how much goes on behind the scenes to bring something like this to the game?

When you’re talking about the technology specifically, with the R&D involved, it’s many, many years. What we’ve been working on more closely with Chelsea, is how to apply that technology. For us, we see the NikeConnect technology as an enabler and it’s a means to an end rather than the end itself. What we’re most excited about is this experience that we’ve developed that’s going to be embedded within the Nike App so that when you tap on your Chelsea third kit, it will launch this whole new experience that we have built exclusively for those people who own that shirt.

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What will this shirt, coupled with the NikeConnect technology, give the fans?

The idea behind this technology is that the more that we know about you then the better we can serve you so that’s what we’re looking to build through NikeConnect. For us it’s been about thinking how we provide something that is completely unique, innovative and amazing to the most passionate football fans on the planet. We want to bring those fans closer to their club and the way we thought we would do that is through access and collaboration.

People with these kits will get first access to exclusive Chelsea product from Nike, first crack at player playlists, there will be access to tickets and some pretty epic experiences like going to Cobham, Chelsea’s training ground, going on stadium tours, being able to go NFL or NBA games with Chelsea players or even flying on the team jet to an away game so there’s amazing access built into the experience we’re offering but most of all, we’re super excited about the collaboration aspect.

For example, for the very first time, we’re going to democracise our jersey design process which will go through the app and NikeConnect and we’re going to invite these shirt holders to come in and collaborate with Nike designers to go through a multi-leveled design process. So it’s all amazing stuff that’s all built into the shirt and only available for those shirt holders.

The football shirt is perhaps the closest way fans can have a tactile relationship with their club. Does this tech build on that thinking and embrace a new era?

Yeah absolutely, that nails it. We talked to a number of kids in London and particularly a lot of Chelsea fans. Once of the things we asked them was what they’d like to get out of their relationship with the club. That’s really what NikeConnect enables – this two way connection between fans and their club when in the past, fans have had to become used to this one way flow of communication that says “hey go buy this jersey” or “hey come watch our club” but here we’re really look to make this dialogue two way where the most passionate fans actually get to have a voice like contributing to the design of their favourite team's shirt. So with this, we’re enabling that deeper connection through an amazing product ultimately building a bridge with this sense of community too.

Why now and why the Chelsea 3rd kit in particular?

Working with Chelsea just seemed like a really natural fit. They’re one of the most prestigious clubs in the world and have really passionate fans. They’ve been a great partner for Nike and feel like a strong club to be the first in football to welcome in this technology and given the style of their third kit, it seems like a really perfect place to start. We’re looking forward to seeing what the response will be and how we can use the technology to keep bringing Chelsea as a club and their fans, closer together.

You've already launched this into NBA. What did you learn that you’ve been able to bring into the Chelsea collaboration?

Yeah, so just about a year ago we launched NikeConnect to the world through the NBA. If you tap on an NBA jersey today, it has the technology in there and that will bring up a bespoke NBA experience. We’ve also put it in some footwear such as the Air Force One in New York and that launched a very specific experience for our most passionate sneaker fans. What you’re seeing here is that we’re really using NikeConnect to tie what we know about you as a consumer and serve you better by giving you tailored content opportunities that fit your lifestyle. The way that we can differentiate our services based on an individual's need is something that is truly unique and exciting too as it can give us that chance to really cement a bond the brand has with its most engaged consumer.

There were tons of learning across the board but the biggest thing we learnt through the Chelsea fans we sat down with, was firstly just how passionate they are about their club but we saw there were some really common threads with the NBA. Kids who follow a club or have an interest in a specific player, they really want more access to them so we see the role of NikeConnect to be that bridge and unlock that connection. It worked incredibly well in the NBA and I think we’ll see the same with the launch through Chelsea.

There’s been a lot of buzz around wearable tech. Would you see this as a new chapter for this kind of tech?

Yeah I think so. Wearable tech is something that has been talked about a lot and for us, what we’re most excited about is that putting NikeConnect onto a shirt is that is provides this direct way to provide this amazing experience to fans who support Chelsea and what’s more, we’re giving them an experience that we know they’ll love, based on the conversations we’ve had with fans in the development phase. There’s a world of opportunity beyond this but this is the first step and it’s being taken in football so it’s a big moment.

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Shop the full Chelsea 2018/19 replica collection at prodirectsoccer.com