Wilson Football Factory Proves Unstoppable; Delivers Super Bowl LV Game Balls
See how the Wilson Football Factory crew upheld traditions in an unprecedented year.
The Wilson Football Factory at 217 Liberty Street, Ada, Ohio, is where footballs are made for the sport’s biggest stage. Ada’s craftspeople are dedicated to a handmade process – a ritual as old as the game itself.
This year’s Super Bowl looks a lot different, but the team in Ada has safely managed to uphold many of their Super Bowl rituals even amidst a pandemic. The first of which is a pizza party.
“We have a pizza party at the factory where we watch both championship games,” said Wilson Football Factory Plant Manager Andy Wentling. “Of course, the party is a chance to relax and bond, but the second the last game is over, we get straight to work.”
The crew mounts the graphics for the finalized matchup and begins producing balls. Multiple shifts of craftspeople keep the operation running through the night, and shipments of game balls depart the factory as soon as Monday afternoon.
This year, the only major difference for Wilson factory craftspeople is that they weren’t able to send a crew down to Florida for the big game.
Usually, an elite team from Ada goes down to the Super Bowl to replicate their manufacturing process at the Super Bowl Fan Experience and then attend the game. The team is mostly comprised of longtime factory employees, like Katie Long, who’s been at the factory for more than 6 years. She sews all the balls used on-field during the Super Bowl.
“It’s great to see the fans appreciate the process of making the ball,” said Long at last year’s Fan Fest. “No one really knows we make every leather ball by hand. They assume it’s all done by machine.”
Jimmy Conley demonstrating how to turn a football at the SBLIV Fan Experience.
“My favorite part is being here with my work family, and meeting all the people,” said Jimmy Conley, a ball-turner who manually turns up to 600 balls per day. (It should be noted that Jimmy's work family also includes some biological family members--like his mother Donna Conley who has been hand-lacing footballs at the factory for more than 30 years.) “Once [people at the Fan Fest] see what we do, they treat us like we’re royalty.”
And that royal treatment is much-deserved. The care that goes into every step of the craftsmanship process is unique to the Wilson Football Factory in Ada, Ohio, and these folks are the gears that make the whole operation run. You can learn more about these playmakers of the craft here.
With no NFL Fan Experience this year, you can’t see the ball making process live in person. But you can watch the video below, check out @wilsonfootball's SBLIV highlight, and follow @wilson on Instagram to see how the most iconic ball in the game is made.