The game seems like great fun. First of all, people simply look silly wearing the huge bubble, which is a “single chambered ball of air with inner handles and shoulder straps.” People look even sillier as they purposely plow into each other, knocking their opponents every which way. By putting participants on teams and adding a soccer ball, the free-for-all collisions become an organized sport, hence the name of “the number one bubble brand,” “Knockerball.”
Beyond the silliness, it’s likely people's love of controlled violence that has made the product so popular. A map of Knockerball authorized resellers and licensed affiliates shows that most major metropolitan areas in the U.S. have some kind of Knockerball presence. Furthermore, many news media have provided new product publicity, including Yahoo Finance and Fox News. Knockerball even gained product placement on ABC’s romance reality series, The Bachelorette.
Other signs of the product’s popularity are the array of competitors offering similar items, which includes Battle Balls, BubbleBall, and Zorb. There’s also the emergence of “bubble soccer” as a recognized sport. In fact, there’s even a National Association of Bubble Soccer (NABS), “dedicated to bringing this fun sport to the national level for all to enjoy, for both kids and adults.”
Getting more people of all ages to be more physically active is certainly a good thing. The comradery of team sports is also a big benefit. So what’s not to like about Knockerball? Given its wide-spread popularity and the increased attention that head injuries have gained in sports like football and soccer, it’s surprising that few people are discussing bubble sports in the same sentence as the “C” word--concussions.
Some may be thinking, “How could anyone get hurt while suspended inside a big bubble?” In fact, Knockerball insists that its bubbles are “incredibly fun and safe,” saying that playing Knockerball is “probably the most fun you’ll ever have without getting hurt,” and adding that its product allows people to “defy pain.” There’s certainly no suggestion of possible concussions in these statements, nor is there any in the firm’s seventeen Safety Warnings, which mostly consist of commonsense cautions like not using Knockerball “under the influence of alcohol or drugs” or “near streets or roads with automobile traffic.”
What’s amazing is that a company whose business is based on people bashing together seems to have little idea of how concussions can occur. True, the bubble padding of a Knockerball may eliminate one main cause of concussions—a violent blow to the head, but concussions can come from any activity that “causes the head to move rapidly back and forth,” leading “your brain to slide back and forth forcefully against the inner walls of your skull.”
In other words, to sustain a concussion, the human head doesn’t have to be hit directly, it just needs to be intensely jolted—the same type of jolting that seems to be the very object of Knockerball. A search for “Knockerball” on YouTube produces a long list of videos that showcase such jerking and jostling. As one watches people getting hit hard from behind, being popped into the air, and turning tumbles across the ground, it’s not hard to imagine how their brains are being impacted against their skulls.
By themselves, these types of cerebral acrobatics are bad enough, but at least two things make matters even worse. First, as mentioned above, Knockerball has failed to acknowledge and warn participants of the potential danger of concussions. Consequently, it also offers no suggested medical response. Although concussions are a problem for the NFL, at least the league has begun to address the issue systematically, which includes a detailed concussion protocol.
Secondly, Knockerball’s market consists not just of athletes who may be more attuned to the possibility of concussions. According to its own website, the company also targets organizations like independent businesses, churches, and camps, which likely have much less experience diagnosing and treating concussions.
In short, Knockerball’s popular, high-impact play puts vulnerable people at considerable risk of concussions, without offering any forewarning or any suggestions for diagnosing and treating the condition. For these reasons, similarly designed and promoted bubble products represent potentially painful “Single-Minded Marketing.”