Gear Review: RefsCall Flag Set

Sometimes I feel like I should be on the payroll at Official Sports International. While I’ve always had good customer service experiences with OSI, I find the lack of documentation and thin item descriptions in the online catalog frustrating. So, many of my reviews of OSI gear end up conveying very basic information that is simply left out of the official OSI description.

Such is the case with the RefsCall flag set ($235) available from OSI and Referee Store.com. To help you decide whether to spend $235 on a set of flags, OSI provides the following information:

A full function electronic flag set at a great price. Set includes two flags for the assistant referees, an arm receiver for the referee in the middle and a distinctive set of OSI checkered flags plus flat flag case. Most OSI swivel flags will fit on these poles. The receiver can be set for sound only, vibration only or for both sound and vibration. The system has been produced for all kinds of weather and will perform very well in wet conditions. Easy to use and each component takes a standard 9V battery. A set of three batteries is included with each set. Exclusively from Official Sports. 1 year warranty.

And that’s it.

To make the decision to spend this amount of money on a beeper flag set, I’d like a little more information, and maybe even a downloadable owner’s manual (as it happens, the printed sheets included with the flags don’t tell you much, unless you can read German. Luckily, iTOOTR kann ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen)

Sigh. Well, I guess this where iTOOTR comes in. So, I don’t look at it as helping OSI so much as helping referees decide whether a given item is worth the purchase price. In this case, I’d answer that question with a qualified “yes”.

The Flags

The flag handles are made of high impact black plastic, and are longer and fatter than standard flags. The plastic is smooth and this could lead to the handle being a bit slippery, especially in wet or sweaty conditions. I imagine this could be easily remedied by applying some tacky tennis racket grip material, if desired.

The butt end of the handle features a screw cap, that when removed reveals the 9V battery. Replacing the 9V battery isn’t a straightforward as it might seem due to a tight fit; I had to wrestle with the battery and finally resorted to using a small flathead screwdriver to get the battery out far enough to get my fingers on it. The user instructions claim that the batteries in the handle will last for at least 5000 actuations of the transmit button.

The transmit button is a soft piece of frosted clear plastic, backed by a spring for resistance. A green LED sits right above the transmit button and lights when the button is pressed. When the button is held down for longer than about 1 sec, a short beep is emitted from the handle. The instructions give no indication about this functionality; my guess is that it simply indicates that transmission has taken place.

The flags themselves are standard issue OSI checkered flags, and appear to be the same as on the Basic Swivel Set (#1532). The poles are the same swivel design as found on other OSI flag sets; the poles are equipped with a small collar near the base that has loop velcro attached to it. The flag material has the corresponding hook velcro material that keeps the flag securely attached to the pole.

The flag and handle weigh in at 7.5 ounces, including battery.

The Receiver

The receiver, worn by the referee, is also made of black impact plastic. It is designed to be worn on the arm, using the included armband (more on that later). The dimensions of the receiver are 3.25″ long, 2.375″ wide, and 1″ thick. Including battery, the receiver weighs 3.3 ounces.

The receiver has two buttons on the side and two LEDs on top of the unit. The buttons serve three different purposes: to power the unit on and off; change the notification signal between tone, vibrate, or both; and to place the unit in “Learn” mode for pairing with the flags.

The instructions don’t give an estimated battery life for the receiver. Each component ships with a 9V battery pre-installed.

Accessories

Included with the flags and receiver are an armband for the receiver and a simple nylon zip bag for carrying everything. The armband is very simple: a black nylon fabric with velcro at either end, and a clear vinyl pouch through which the armband is threaded. The pouch holds the receiver when in use. I was immediately suspicious of the vinyl pouch; it just didn’t look like it would hold up all that well. Furthermore, due to the design, the armband doesn’t hold the whole receiver flush against your arm, but only that part of the receiver that touches the armband. As a result, the receiver could flop and move slightly when you’re running. I quickly decided on a replacement armband, which I cover below.

The included nylon bag is similar to many other flag carrying bags you’ve seen. This one zips closed instead of using velcro flaps. It’s bright yellow and has the RefsCall logo screen on one side. It won’t provide much more than basic protection for your flags, but assuming you put your flags in your ref bag with your other gear, they should be protected against most hazards. If you’re so inclined, you can purchase a specially made, foam-lined carrying case for the somewhat exorbitant price of $75. I really don’t think it is necessary, as these aren’t delicate pieces of high-tech electronics.

Usage

Before using the first time (or after changing the battery), you’ll need to pair the flags with the receiver. This is a fairly simple operation and is described fully in the user instructions. The receiver can be set to sound a beep, vibrate only, or beep and vibrate. I chose to use the vibrate only option, and in two games, had no problem recognizing when the assistant referees were asking for my attention.

It is possible to press the transmit button on the flags without activating the receiver; I discovered that a very quick press and release of the transmit button was not picked up by the receiver. I strongly recommend that your pre-game include a quick test with your ARs so they know how long to hold the button in order for the signal to be received.

After use in two matches, I can report that my crew encountered no glitches with the flags. None of the ARs reported a time where they pressed the transmit button that I didn’t respond with eye contact. The flags came in handy in two identical instances in both games: injuries that were behind play and out of my sight.

A little bothersome was the fact that a brand new alkaline 9V battery in the receiver was shot after only two matches. I’ll report back after a few more uses to see if this trend continues.

A very important point that is not included anywhere in the OSI documentation: both transmitters trigger the same response from the receiver. This is in contrast to the (significantly more expensive) Ervocomm and Touchline flags, where each transmitter sends a unique signal to the receiver (e.g.; one beep from AR1, two beeps from AR2). I didn’t find this to be a problem at all, but it is something that you should know before you purchase.

Recommendations

In terms of match fees, $235 is a lot of money to spend on a set of flags, so you should think carefully before buying beeper flags. I found that I had an increased level of confidence knowing that I was not going to miss an offside flag or some nonsense going on behind my back. That being said, the flags aren’t a substitute for ongoing eye contact with your ARs; you have to think of beeper flags as an additional tool at your disposal, not a crutch for bad habits.

If you find that you miss the odd offside flag – and you’re fairly serious about refereeing – you might find these flags give you just that bit more confidence.

Once you start using beeper flags, make sure you cover how you want them used in your pre-game. Here’s how I handled it:

I want a signal (i.e., press the button) in the following situations:

  • All offside decisions
  • All fouls
  • Quick in/out of play decisions on my quadrant’s touchline, or on the goal line
  • When, at the taking of a penalty kick, you have a problem with the outcome
  • Substitutions (AR1 only)
  • Any other time you feel my attention is needed immediately and I am not looking at you

Since only 1 of the 4 ARs with whom I worked over these two games had used beeper flags previously, I intentionally tried to keep the instructions simple and to the point. As mentioned earlier, I also had them “practice” pushing the transmit button while holding the receiver so that they could get a feel for how the system works.

Finally, I mentioned the suspect looking armband earlier. I elected to purchase a armband designed for a smartphone and use it instead. I bought the Philips Actionfit Sport Sleeve armband ($15) and it worked quite well. It holds the entire receiver firmly against your arm, so that it doesn’t flop around when you run. The armband is available in a couple of different sizes, and Amazon stocks them as well. You’d do well to buy one of these, along with plenty of spare batteries.

Six Month Usage Update

  • The plastic grips do get slippery when wet, which led to a couple of drops when raising the flag
  • Because the programming buttons are on the outside of the receiver, it is easy for them to get accidentally “pressed” when using the Philips armband.  Putting the receiver in the armband first, then turning it on, and only then putting the armband on helped alleviate this problem
  • The receiver can occasionally forget its’ programming, requiring you to re-pair the flags to the receiver.  Be sure to check operation well before kick-off
  • The receiver can rarely “lock up” such that no amount of button pressing will shut it off.  In this case, only by removing the battery can you “reboot” the receiver.  This never happened during a match; only when trying to re-pair the flags to the receiver
  • If you prefer an adjustable armband, a good alternative is the TuneBelt Armband Carrier for MP3 Players.  I’ve tried it and prefer it to the Philips armband.

Click/tap the image to enlarge.

 

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8 thoughts on “Gear Review: RefsCall Flag Set

  1. Great suggestion on the armband! Used it for the first time yesterday during a NFHS high school match and it made ALL the difference in the world. I got a replacement set of flags from OS to spruce these up a bit and they looked great and worked very well. Thanks for all that you do!

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  2. Thanks for the great info. I did buy a set due to not wanting to miss offsides, etc. What is the best way to insert the battery into the receiver? Having a bit of a problem with it. Thanks

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  3. I read this gear review thoroughly before buying the flag set. And everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Here is my review:
    The beeper flag set had the following issues: 1) the battery is VERY hard to instally into the receiver. It is tight and has to be put in at the right angle to fit. 2) the receiver would not link up to both flags so made one flag useless (I tried repeatedly to set up both flags to receiver)
    3) I would only want to use vibration mode, as beep is very loud; on the VERY first use the receiver vibrated randomly (not when the flag button was pressed) so made the flags useless for communication. 4) to make it worse, I could not turn the receiver off by pushing the button. So it burned through the battery before the next use. The only way to turn it off was to remove the hard to install battery.
    5) the handles Are PLASTIC making them slippery and uncomfortable to handle especailly when it is hot and your hands may sweat. The grips are too large for a small hand (female refs) 6. the arm band for receiver is useless and can ontly be mitigated by buying a separate IPOD type armband. In addition, returning them for refund is nearly impossible. The amazon website on marketplace is confusing and the seller is hard to get a hold of. The INSTRUCTIONS that come with the flags do not state how to trouble shoot, OR who to cALL when there is a problem. The Seller did not incude a shipping invoice or instructions on how to return.

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    1. I’m sorry to hear you had such a bad experience with these flags. Let me know who the seller is and I will see if there is anyway I can assist.

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  4. I have two sets of the REFSCALL which I brought at the same time (and a set of ERVOCOMS), with the REFSCALL, I highly recommend put a grip around the handle either tennis grip tape or another option is the tubular grip used on cricket bats (is a single piece and just rolls onto the handle). Synchronising can be a time consuming, my first set of REFSCALL flags was extremely easy to link to the reciever, my other set (that was a present for my son) took quite a bit time to link both flags (bit annoying but I got there in the end). Overall the REFCALL flags work quite well and when used properly are just as good as the expensive ERVOCOM and Touchline flags. I did the same thing as recommended above and brought a armband pouch for the reciever and it works a treat. Battery life of the reciever is around 6 games and I am nearing the end of the season and havent had to change the batteries in the Flags yet. I found changing the battery in the reciever easy and quick and there was no need to sychronise the flags with the reciever (I dare say I will have to when I change the batteries in the Flags). If you can afford it by rechargable batteries with a spare just in case of those long days with numerous games. Value for money if only Refereeing local games stick to the REFSCALL.

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  5. I purchased the RefCalls from a friend of mine, and when I initially paired the flags, both flags worked for approximately 2 games (1 week in between). Now, after changing the receiver’s battery as it naturally ran out, I am only able to pair one flag at a time; after the first flag is paired and I attempt the same procedure with the 2nd flag, the 2nd flag will pair, but then the first flag un-pairs. I am at a loss on how to proceed with the flags from here – I don’t believe a constant pairing of the flags, and back-and-forth pairing, should be occurring with the flags at all. Can someone assist? I have the instructions on PDF and I’ve followed them step-by-step. I also have fresh batteries, but if it’s the battery life that is affecting the pairing, then I’ll have to purchase more 9V batteries to have as spares.

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