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.”