Broadcasting behind closed doors: how broadcasters can address the ‘empty stadium’ problem

16.06.20

by Marco Lorenzi

Sport is restarting its engines following a nearly three-month hiatus, with the first live events taking place in empty venues and following strict health and safety protocols. How can broadcasting behind closed doors keep fans glued to their screens?

16.06.20

by Marco Lorenzi

Sport is restarting its engines following a nearly three-month hiatus, with the first live events taking place in empty venues and following strict health and safety protocols. How can broadcasting behind closed doors keep fans glued to their screens?

Undoubtedly, rights holders and owners have faced a tough task over the last few months. They’ve needed to keep their audiences satisfied with interesting, engaging content despite no live action taking place. But now, with the world waking up to its so-called ‘new normal’, there’s a fresh challenge on the horizon – finding ways to enhance venues no longer filled with the chants of excited fans.

Read on as we explore how sports entities have reacted to the restart of official competitions, and for long-term tactics to keep fans glued to their screens when delivering content recorded behind closed doors.

Artificial fans

One of the main issues for sporting events taking place in empty venues is the lack of atmosphere. For the end-user watching the game on any screen or device, it’s an eerie scenario to see empty stands and listen to commentary with no ambience. It comes as no surprise that some soccer fans would be more inclined to wait for the games to become available to the public instead of watching events in empty stadiums.

What’s happened so far? The restart of the German Bundesliga has brought to our screens an experiment that saw some TV broadcasters adding pre-recorded crowd noise to accompany the commentary of live games. The solution generated mixed reactions. Some users who watched the restart of official competitions on TV were baffled to hear artificial crowds cheering during the game. Others, however, were more welcoming and accepting of the solution.

However, it’s not just the audio levels that are impacted without the crowds, it's also the unsettling appearance of folded seats without a single soul around. Even the most important game of the season, if played without fans, can seem nothing more than a pre-season friendly played in a neutral ground – let alone the loneliness of players on the field!

The Danish soccer club, Aarhus FC, took a creative route. The restart of the Danish Superliga coincided with the experiment of ‘virtual grandstands’, in collaboration with Zoom. Aarhus FC fans were able to purchase tickets and ‘be at the game’ against Randers FC on May 28, even when they were just at home watching from the comfort of their sofa. The full warm up was available for fans to watch as if they were actually sitting at the stadium. When the kick-off took place, in-built stadium screens displayed the virtual Zoom party with thousands of Aarhus aficionados. Not only did it mean they could feel part of the action, but they were given the tools to to let their favourite players hear their virtual-real support.

Creative broadcast graphics

An enhanced, interactive viewing experience for end-users remains one of the top priorities for broadcasters, especially in challenging times. To meet demand, sports entities need to go the extra mile to provide their audiences with more information, statistics, and social integrations on top of the broadcast feed.

One of the ways to do this is with the application of a bespoke ‘L-frame’ on the feed – where two sides of the screen form an ‘L’ to provide end-users with additional content. It’s a clever tactic that helps reduce the view of empty stands by narrowing the window that shows the action as it unfolds. More importantly, it’s a way to showcase the match data collected, curated and transformed in real time.

Data is becoming more and more integral to enrich the end-user experience, by rendering the action that unfolds on the field into compelling visuals that help to strengthen the storytelling.

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Monetization is still key

Times may be different, but monetization remains one of the most important objectives for sports entities. Especially in the direct advertising sector, finding new virtual spaces to allocate to sponsors and partners is key.

Think of virtual ad video-walls, for example, that can provide sports organizations with new commercial spaces to sell to sponsors, appearing on screen with targeted banners during specific moments in the action.

Not only can additional areas be identified for virtual sponsorship banners – perhaps alternating with the display of virtual crowds – but the distribution could also be tailored per language and territory with bespoke ad sets shown to fans all over the world.

Here at Deltatre, we have all it takes to take the fan experience to a new level, even when you must change how you play the game.

Conclusion

The right atmosphere to frame a sporting event is everything to fans. Even though many would argue it can’t replace the real thing, technology can greatly elevate the fan experience in challenging conditions.

The future that awaits us is filled with innovation. What comes next? We’re learning that mixed reality is likely to play a pivotal part in shaping the fan experience. As technologists, we play a primary role in making it possible, providing sports entities with the right instruments to satisfy the demand of unique experiences, no matter what, to ever evolving audiences. To find out how we can help, get in touch with the team.

What do you think sports organizations can do to keep their fans engaged when sport is going on behind closed doors? Join the conversation on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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