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It’s hard not to be excited about the Football World Cup 2018, starting this week in Russia. Even sports fans like me, who grew up on other types of football, appreciate the immense skill, contest and passion as nations slug it out over soccer. 
Economics of football world cups are staggering. Organisers of the World Cup in Russia predict the tournament’s economic impact could be as high as US$31 billion by 2023. That covers investment in new and existing sporting arenas, tourism benefits and so on.
The 2018 World Cup is expected to attract more than 3 billion viewers worldwide and over a million tourists. Opinions vary, but the football World Cup on several measures, particularly online viewing, is bigger than the Olympics. It is the greatest show on earth for its time.
The effect of the Football World Cup on the broader economy is impossible to fathom. For example, shares in Domino’s Pizza Enterprises, covered in last week’s column, rallied on expectations of a boost in global pizza consumption during the tournament. 
My guess is many Australian clubs and pubs will get a boost this month as football-mad fans descend on venues showing live games.  Beer sales will rise. So too, takeaway food. Collins Food, owner of KFC stores, could do brisk business in June as fans consume late-night junk food.
Wagering companies are other beneficiaries.  A spike in sports betting around World Cup football matches is likely, possibly leading to a flow-on effect to betting on other competitions. Casino stocks should also benefit around World Cup time. 
Sports retailers, such as Super Retail Group’s Rebel chain, might get a boost. One can imagine soccer-mad children and their families loading up on jerseys and new equipment. 
Of course, it’s a long bow to buy an ASX-listed stock based on the World Cup, even though plenty of fund managers have snapped up Domino’s on expectations of football-related sales. Russian time zones are not great for Australian football viewers; kick-off times featuring the Socceroos range from 8pm to 5am, meaning more people watching games from home.
Moreover, the Socceroos’ form in the lead-up to the World Cup suggests they will not progress far in the tournament. Let’s hope I’m wrong and that Australia pushes into the quarter-finals, for that will create huge local interest and boost football-related sales.
Sadly, outside of wagering, ASX has few specialist sports stocks. A few micro-cap tech stocks, such as Sports Hero (an app-based sports-outcome predictor) and eSports Mogul (an e-gaming company) have emerged, but they are tiny and their shares have underperformed.
Brisbane Broncos, the well-run listed rugby league club, has rallied since 2016, but it too is small, highly illiquid and not leveraged to the Football World Cup.
XPD Soccer Gear Group, a provider of footwear and sports apparel in Asia, is currently suspended, its share having slumped since listing.
My preferred sporting play at current prices is sports-data provider, Catapult Group International. The maker of wearable sport technology for elite athletes raised $12 million and listed on ASX in December 2014. Its 55-cent shares peaked at $4.29 before tumbling to $1.24.  
Chart 1: Catapult Group InternationalSource: The Bull 
Management changes, co-founders selling some stocks, capital raisings and earnings below expectation have weighed on the former market darling. Fears of stronger competition in sports-data analytics from European rivals have weighed on the share price. 
Key competitor Statsport, an Irish company, this year signed the Brazilian soccer team as a client from Catapult and its technology is reportedly popular with professional soccer teams. Catapult’s reputation as the go-to provider of sports data for professional global sporting teams could be under threat.
But every stock has its price. For all the sharemarket gyrations, Catapult is still a terrific business and a leader in the global market. 
Major sporting codes and clubs use its technology to extract real-time data on their athletes and feed it into their sports-science programs. Catapult’s product range covers a variety of high-tech sporting hardware and software. For a time, Catapult could do no wrong on the market.
Longer term, Catapult has potential to move into the “prosumer” sports market as semi-professional or amateur clubs embrace its technology. Or as wealthy private schools or colleges here and overseas use Catapult technology to give their athletes an edge. 
Catapult has identified 3 million customers for its global prosumer soccer product – a market that will be boosted by the upcoming Football World Cup. Catapult’s prosumer technology sales are growing strongly, off a low base. 
Catapult said it was the first provider of wearable tracking devices to have its technology approved for in-game use by FIFA, according to the federation’s International Match Standard (IMS) for Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems. 
The company is more leveraged to the World Cup than the market realises, judging by recent share-price performance. 
Stockbroker Morgan in June had a buy recommendation and a $1.76 target price for Catapult. An average share-price target of $2.02, based on the consensus of five firms (too small to rely on) suggests Catapult is significantly undervalued at the current $1.24.
Some big investors are taking an interest: AustralianSuper emerged as a substantial shareholder in mid-May. Chartists will look for Catapult to break out of its sideway consolidation pattern around $1.40, a point of previous resistance this year.  
As a volatile micro-cap, Catapult suits experienced, risk-tolerant investors who understand the dangers of investing in loss-making tech companies as they grow rapidly overseas.

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• Tony Featherstone is a former managing editor of BRW, Shares and Personal Investor magazines. The information in this article should not be considered personal advice. It has been prepared without considering your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on information in this article you should consider the appropriateness and accuracy of the information, regarding your objectives, financial situation and needs. Do further research of your own and/or seek personal financial advice from a licensed adviser before making any financial or investment decisions based on this article. All prices and analysis at June 13, 2018.