It is sport but not as we once knew it. Covid-19 has affected nearly every live sporting event. However, now it is slowly but surely coming back to life, with new measures imposed to keep fans, players, managers, and stadium workers safe. The outbreak has also led to a few new innovations.
Bundesliga was the first major football league to restart their season. The other major football leagues in Europe - Italy's Serie A, Spain's La Liga and the English Premier League were keeping a close eye on Germany, hoping to restart games and finish their seasons with new safety measures in place and implement the new strategies that are being used in Bundesliga.
Borussia Monchengladbach was the first team that found a way to honor their supporters, with cut-outs of their fans. The cut-outs were an idea the club came up with back in March during the league's shutdown. Fans were able to purchase their own cut-out to be placed in the stadium, and the money went to support local causes.
LA LIGA fans were delighted by the return of Spanish football but without that crowd noise, it is a different type of experience. So, La Liga is taking a different approach and decided that the broadcast will be accompanied by a virtual crowd noise feature as well as an overlay of computer-generated fans on the bottom-tier of the empty stadiums. La Liga collaborated with Norwegian company VIZRT on the technology. The virtual crowd noise introduced for games being played behind closed doors are going down well, with understated chants and reactions to near misses providing a gentle background noise. The fake noises are well done and accurate to how that stadium would react to different events.
The stands are blanketed in a static texture that does a surprisingly good job of looking like a crowd, so long as your actual attention is focused on the action on the pitch. It looks more like a ‘90s video game or a stereogram if you look at it up close, but overall, the effect is pretty convincing. We would take it over empty seats.
La Liga president Javier Tebas added: “We have made these broadcasting changes so fans can enjoy La Liga. We work with global partners to offer a great viewer experience. We are in an exceptional situation, but for us it has been important to be able to adapt and offer a compelling, cutting-edge broadcast to our fans.”
We honestly think La Liga’s take on sports broadcasting in the age of COVID-19 is the best we have seen yet. For us, it hits the right blend between abstract and authentic, genuinely adding to the experience without feeling awkward. We hope other sports organizations are taking notes.