Luke Gaydon, Business Development Sports, Accedo investigates the options for broadcasters aiming to pump atmosphere into fan-free sports broadcasts.
In these uncertain times, there are two key questions that sports clubs, leagues, and content providers are asking: How do we get fans back into stadiums safely?; And until then, how do we deal with a very different atmosphere in a stadium?
The lack of fans is creating a huge challenge for broadcasters. Should they try and recreate the atmosphere of a packaged ground as some sort of facsimile for having fans there, or do something altogether different?
We have seen a few examples of recreated atmosphere with piped-in music and cheering. In the UK, you could choose to switch the crowd noise on and off while watching the Premier League.
Stadium seats were also covered with photos of fans.
Of course, this will never be quite the same as having actual fans there and some people believe this simply cannot be recreated in a way that is meaningful and valuable.
Some broadcasters are therefore looking to create something altogether different.
This is where I believe we will truly see some innovative ideas emerge over the coming months.
We are already seeing interesting developments such as the rise of social watching where different households are connected with a private video conference and can watch and comment together.
Fan commentary in general is becoming an attractive addition to enhancing the social viewing experience for many and that will likely accelerate.
Others are beginning to look to Augmented Reality (AR) to deliver experiences to fill the empty seats. Prior to Covid-19, some sports providers were already experimenting in this arena to great effect.
Last year, we teamed up with France Télévisions to create an AR experience for tennis. In addition to unique AR features such as exploring the tennis arena and getting up close and personal with the tournament trophies, we also made use of holographic video capture to show a tennis game in true AR—meaning the viewer can move freely over the tennis court and view the game from any distance and any angle they liked.
Like many things, recent events have served to accelerate that trend, and AR will play an important role in the future of sports broadcast.
Navigating the Scheduling Pile-Up
A more immediate question for sports broadcasters is how they will navigate the impending scheduling pile-up. With more than 1,000 sports events cancelled, postponed, or rescheduled over a three-month period, many of those will need to be slotted back into the calendar.
Sports organisations are already struggling with scheduling within their own sports, and this will only get more complex when you consider all the different sports that would normally be televised.
Where there is a clash, broadcasters will need to decide where and when to put coverage of these events, taking into consideration how their decision will affect agreements with tournaments and sponsors.
There will be a premium on open and transparent communication as this unfolds to ensure those relationships are maintained.
The Future of Sports Broadcast
Fortunately, there will always be a big appetite for live sports content. And while sport has suffered a massive setback, innovation around the digital experience can help it come back stronger than ever.
As we continue to navigate this new fan-less reality, digital has a critical role to play in delivering engagement in new and exciting ways.
Luke Gaydon is Business Development Sports at Accedo