Technology

Let's get digital

As the threat of coronavirus robs stadiums of their spectators, we investigate how technology is trying to fill the void

WORDS Steve McCaskill

In the general run of things, if you’re going to include Queen lyrics in an article about football, they will probably allude to the fact that we are the champions, my friends. But consider these pertinent words:

Empty spaces, what are we living for? Abandoned places, I guess we know the score. On and on, does anybody know what we are looking for?

Well, Freddie, we’re looking for ways to replicate the passion and atmosphere of a Champions League game at the business end of the tournament, minus the presence of the fans who usually provide those two things by the bucket-load. And of course, as Mr Mercury also mentions, the show must go on. But how, exactly?

Technology will play a key role over the coming months; various leagues that have restarted across the continent have been trialling creative methods of replicating the matchday experience. We’ve been keeping an eye on them to get an idea of how things might look and sound when the champions of Europe are crowned in Lisbon.

The most obvious innovation is artificial crowd noise. Borussia Dortmund players, for example, are used to being cheered on by their famous Yellow Wall, but instead their celebrations have been echoing around an empty arena that usually hosts 82,000 spectators. Bundesliga broadcasters have been offering audio feeds with dynamic crowd noise created from previous meetings between the two sides in question; producers then insert audio for events such as goals, tackles and fouls to make the broadcast sound like a normal game. In England, Premier League broadcasters such as BT Sport have been utilising crowd noise too, with viewers able to turn the feed off if they so wish.

In Spain, La Liga has been working with EA Sports, developer of the FIFA video-game franchise, to create crowd noise. But the league is not content with just sound: it is pressing ahead with the deployment of virtual stadium technology that “fills” empty seats with digital spectators. “The virtual solution is better because the atmosphere [feels like a usual game],” says Melcior Soler, director of the audiovisual department for La Liga. “A match without fans and with ‘local’ audio feels like a training game. We owe it to our viewers to give them real entertainment.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

In the general run of things, if you’re going to include Queen lyrics in an article about football, they will probably allude to the fact that we are the champions, my friends. But consider these pertinent words:

Empty spaces, what are we living for? Abandoned places, I guess we know the score. On and on, does anybody know what we are looking for?

Well, Freddie, we’re looking for ways to replicate the passion and atmosphere of a Champions League game at the business end of the tournament, minus the presence of the fans who usually provide those two things by the bucket-load. And of course, as Mr Mercury also mentions, the show must go on. But how, exactly?

Technology will play a key role over the coming months; various leagues that have restarted across the continent have been trialling creative methods of replicating the matchday experience. We’ve been keeping an eye on them to get an idea of how things might look and sound when the champions of Europe are crowned in Lisbon.

The most obvious innovation is artificial crowd noise. Borussia Dortmund players, for example, are used to being cheered on by their famous Yellow Wall, but instead their celebrations have been echoing around an empty arena that usually hosts 82,000 spectators. Bundesliga broadcasters have been offering audio feeds with dynamic crowd noise created from previous meetings between the two sides in question; producers then insert audio for events such as goals, tackles and fouls to make the broadcast sound like a normal game. In England, Premier League broadcasters such as BT Sport have been utilising crowd noise too, with viewers able to turn the feed off if they so wish.

In Spain, La Liga has been working with EA Sports, developer of the FIFA video-game franchise, to create crowd noise. But the league is not content with just sound: it is pressing ahead with the deployment of virtual stadium technology that “fills” empty seats with digital spectators. “The virtual solution is better because the atmosphere [feels like a usual game],” says Melcior Soler, director of the audiovisual department for La Liga. “A match without fans and with ‘local’ audio feels like a training game. We owe it to our viewers to give them real entertainment.”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!
Drive-in football at FC Midtjylland

However, the reaction to La Liga’s virtual crowds hasn’t all been positive. Some have lamented the quality of the visual effects, which were disrupted by banners hanging from the upper tiers of an empty stadium during one game and haven’t been available on all camera angles.

That said, other proponents of this technology believe that they can transform broadcasting and drive remote participation. OZ Sports has created a digital platform that allows supporters to create avatars using a mobile app, which can then be overlaid onto empty seats or into an entirely virtual stadium. The same app can also capture audio and intelligently aggregates the cheers and boos of fans so that they can be played out on TV as crowd noise. The company believes that there will be demand even after the pandemic because it can result in a match at any level feeling like a Champions League final.

There are other initiatives that aim to reflect the social aspect of football, as people miss actively supporting their team in the company of their fellow fans. In Denmark, AGF Aarhus have let supporters beam their faces into the stadium. The club has erected giant screens around the ground for home, away and neutral fans, who can dial in via video conferencing software. The Premier League has adopted this idea on a more limited scale, with a feed of 16 fans of each club being displayed on big screens.

Aarhus’s rivals FC Midtjylland have gone for a different approach by inviting fans to watch home matches from their vehicles in the stadium car park. Supporters take in the game via a big screen and listen to commentary on a dedicated radio station; the honking of horns in support is encouraged. Alas, the first match watched in this manner didn’t go to plan: the team lost 1-0 to AC Horsens.

Of course, nothing will ever beat the feeling of taking a seat in the ground and supporting your team during a crucial Champions League game – and the experience of watching on TV as a game is played out in an empty stadium is undeniably odd. But this technology may go some way to bridging the gap until it is safe to return to the stands – and could even continue to play a part beyond that. And maybe one day we’ll be quoting Queen again: Is this the real life, is this just fantasy…

In the general run of things, if you’re going to include Queen lyrics in an article about football, they will probably allude to the fact that we are the champions, my friends. But consider these pertinent words:

Empty spaces, what are we living for? Abandoned places, I guess we know the score. On and on, does anybody know what we are looking for?

Well, Freddie, we’re looking for ways to replicate the passion and atmosphere of a Champions League game at the business end of the tournament, minus the presence of the fans who usually provide those two things by the bucket-load. And of course, as Mr Mercury also mentions, the show must go on. But how, exactly?

Technology will play a key role over the coming months; various leagues that have restarted across the continent have been trialling creative methods of replicating the matchday experience. We’ve been keeping an eye on them to get an idea of how things might look and sound when the champions of Europe are crowned in Lisbon.

The most obvious innovation is artificial crowd noise. Borussia Dortmund players, for example, are used to being cheered on by their famous Yellow Wall, but instead their celebrations have been echoing around an empty arena that usually hosts 82,000 spectators. Bundesliga broadcasters have been offering audio feeds with dynamic crowd noise created from previous meetings between the two sides in question; producers then insert audio for events such as goals, tackles and fouls to make the broadcast sound like a normal game. In England, Premier League broadcasters such as BT Sport have been utilising crowd noise too, with viewers able to turn the feed off if they so wish.

In Spain, La Liga has been working with EA Sports, developer of the FIFA video-game franchise, to create crowd noise. But the league is not content with just sound: it is pressing ahead with the deployment of virtual stadium technology that “fills” empty seats with digital spectators. “The virtual solution is better because the atmosphere [feels like a usual game],” says Melcior Soler, director of the audiovisual department for La Liga. “A match without fans and with ‘local’ audio feels like a training game. We owe it to our viewers to give them real entertainment.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

Technology

Let's get digital

As the threat of coronavirus robs stadiums of their spectators, we investigate how technology is trying to fill the void

WORDS Steve McCaskill

In the general run of things, if you’re going to include Queen lyrics in an article about football, they will probably allude to the fact that we are the champions, my friends. But consider these pertinent words:

Empty spaces, what are we living for? Abandoned places, I guess we know the score. On and on, does anybody know what we are looking for?

Well, Freddie, we’re looking for ways to replicate the passion and atmosphere of a Champions League game at the business end of the tournament, minus the presence of the fans who usually provide those two things by the bucket-load. And of course, as Mr Mercury also mentions, the show must go on. But how, exactly?

Technology will play a key role over the coming months; various leagues that have restarted across the continent have been trialling creative methods of replicating the matchday experience. We’ve been keeping an eye on them to get an idea of how things might look and sound when the champions of Europe are crowned in Lisbon.

The most obvious innovation is artificial crowd noise. Borussia Dortmund players, for example, are used to being cheered on by their famous Yellow Wall, but instead their celebrations have been echoing around an empty arena that usually hosts 82,000 spectators. Bundesliga broadcasters have been offering audio feeds with dynamic crowd noise created from previous meetings between the two sides in question; producers then insert audio for events such as goals, tackles and fouls to make the broadcast sound like a normal game. In England, Premier League broadcasters such as BT Sport have been utilising crowd noise too, with viewers able to turn the feed off if they so wish.

In Spain, La Liga has been working with EA Sports, developer of the FIFA video-game franchise, to create crowd noise. But the league is not content with just sound: it is pressing ahead with the deployment of virtual stadium technology that “fills” empty seats with digital spectators. “The virtual solution is better because the atmosphere [feels like a usual game],” says Melcior Soler, director of the audiovisual department for La Liga. “A match without fans and with ‘local’ audio feels like a training game. We owe it to our viewers to give them real entertainment.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

In the general run of things, if you’re going to include Queen lyrics in an article about football, they will probably allude to the fact that we are the champions, my friends. But consider these pertinent words:

Empty spaces, what are we living for? Abandoned places, I guess we know the score. On and on, does anybody know what we are looking for?

Well, Freddie, we’re looking for ways to replicate the passion and atmosphere of a Champions League game at the business end of the tournament, minus the presence of the fans who usually provide those two things by the bucket-load. And of course, as Mr Mercury also mentions, the show must go on. But how, exactly?

Technology will play a key role over the coming months; various leagues that have restarted across the continent have been trialling creative methods of replicating the matchday experience. We’ve been keeping an eye on them to get an idea of how things might look and sound when the champions of Europe are crowned in Lisbon.

The most obvious innovation is artificial crowd noise. Borussia Dortmund players, for example, are used to being cheered on by their famous Yellow Wall, but instead their celebrations have been echoing around an empty arena that usually hosts 82,000 spectators. Bundesliga broadcasters have been offering audio feeds with dynamic crowd noise created from previous meetings between the two sides in question; producers then insert audio for events such as goals, tackles and fouls to make the broadcast sound like a normal game. In England, Premier League broadcasters such as BT Sport have been utilising crowd noise too, with viewers able to turn the feed off if they so wish.

In Spain, La Liga has been working with EA Sports, developer of the FIFA video-game franchise, to create crowd noise. But the league is not content with just sound: it is pressing ahead with the deployment of virtual stadium technology that “fills” empty seats with digital spectators. “The virtual solution is better because the atmosphere [feels like a usual game],” says Melcior Soler, director of the audiovisual department for La Liga. “A match without fans and with ‘local’ audio feels like a training game. We owe it to our viewers to give them real entertainment.”

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!
Drive-in football at FC Midtjylland

However, the reaction to La Liga’s virtual crowds hasn’t all been positive. Some have lamented the quality of the visual effects, which were disrupted by banners hanging from the upper tiers of an empty stadium during one game and haven’t been available on all camera angles.

That said, other proponents of this technology believe that they can transform broadcasting and drive remote participation. OZ Sports has created a digital platform that allows supporters to create avatars using a mobile app, which can then be overlaid onto empty seats or into an entirely virtual stadium. The same app can also capture audio and intelligently aggregates the cheers and boos of fans so that they can be played out on TV as crowd noise. The company believes that there will be demand even after the pandemic because it can result in a match at any level feeling like a Champions League final.

There are other initiatives that aim to reflect the social aspect of football, as people miss actively supporting their team in the company of their fellow fans. In Denmark, AGF Aarhus have let supporters beam their faces into the stadium. The club has erected giant screens around the ground for home, away and neutral fans, who can dial in via video conferencing software. The Premier League has adopted this idea on a more limited scale, with a feed of 16 fans of each club being displayed on big screens.

Aarhus’s rivals FC Midtjylland have gone for a different approach by inviting fans to watch home matches from their vehicles in the stadium car park. Supporters take in the game via a big screen and listen to commentary on a dedicated radio station; the honking of horns in support is encouraged. Alas, the first match watched in this manner didn’t go to plan: the team lost 1-0 to AC Horsens.

Of course, nothing will ever beat the feeling of taking a seat in the ground and supporting your team during a crucial Champions League game – and the experience of watching on TV as a game is played out in an empty stadium is undeniably odd. But this technology may go some way to bridging the gap until it is safe to return to the stands – and could even continue to play a part beyond that. And maybe one day we’ll be quoting Queen again: Is this the real life, is this just fantasy…

In the general run of things, if you’re going to include Queen lyrics in an article about football, they will probably allude to the fact that we are the champions, my friends. But consider these pertinent words:

Empty spaces, what are we living for? Abandoned places, I guess we know the score. On and on, does anybody know what we are looking for?

Well, Freddie, we’re looking for ways to replicate the passion and atmosphere of a Champions League game at the business end of the tournament, minus the presence of the fans who usually provide those two things by the bucket-load. And of course, as Mr Mercury also mentions, the show must go on. But how, exactly?

Technology will play a key role over the coming months; various leagues that have restarted across the continent have been trialling creative methods of replicating the matchday experience. We’ve been keeping an eye on them to get an idea of how things might look and sound when the champions of Europe are crowned in Lisbon.

The most obvious innovation is artificial crowd noise. Borussia Dortmund players, for example, are used to being cheered on by their famous Yellow Wall, but instead their celebrations have been echoing around an empty arena that usually hosts 82,000 spectators. Bundesliga broadcasters have been offering audio feeds with dynamic crowd noise created from previous meetings between the two sides in question; producers then insert audio for events such as goals, tackles and fouls to make the broadcast sound like a normal game. In England, Premier League broadcasters such as BT Sport have been utilising crowd noise too, with viewers able to turn the feed off if they so wish.

In Spain, La Liga has been working with EA Sports, developer of the FIFA video-game franchise, to create crowd noise. But the league is not content with just sound: it is pressing ahead with the deployment of virtual stadium technology that “fills” empty seats with digital spectators. “The virtual solution is better because the atmosphere [feels like a usual game],” says Melcior Soler, director of the audiovisual department for La Liga. “A match without fans and with ‘local’ audio feels like a training game. We owe it to our viewers to give them real entertainment.”

Penalty Pedigree

Etiam erat velit scelerisque in dictum non. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at. Scelerisque felis imperdiet proin fermentum leo. Nibh tortor id aliquet lectus proin nibh nisl. Nulla at volutpat diam ut venenatis. At urna condimentum mattis pellentesque id nibh tortor id aliquet. Leo a diam sollicitudin tempor id eu nisl nunc mi. Dui vivamus arcu felis bibendum ut. Pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie. Adipiscing at in tellus integer feugiat scelerisque. In arcu cursus euismod quis. Dictum non consectetur a erat nam at lectus urna duis. Facilisi nullam vehicula ipsum a arcu cursus. At tempor commodo ullamcorper a lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur adipiscing elit pellentesque habitant. Vitae sapien pellentesque habitant morbi tristique senectus. Eget nullam non nisi est sit amet facilisis. Ipsum consequat nisl vel pretium lectus quam. Elit sed vulputate mi sit amet mauris commodo quis. Pretium fusce id velit ut tortor pretium viverra suspendisse potenti.

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