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Filling the void in games without an audience

30 Sep 2020   ·   

For the 2020-2021 season, European football has suffered an estimated loss of 4 billion Euros, the NBA has calculated 500 million dollars, the NFL 1,300, and the MLB 200. These figures could even be higher, and all due to the loss of ticketing income. The absence of the audience in matches is a huge economic risk, and it also hides another threat: the lack of the show provided by fans in the stands. This absence has led broadcasts to be less exciting, so TV channels are asking to renegotiate their broadcasting rights, and sponsors also want to reduce their contributions. It does not matter which sport we analyse, because the coldness of the empty stadium still influences the pitch, as well as the tracks where car races are held. To mitigate this problem emerged due to the pandemic, different formulas have been implemented around the world, and we can start analysing their effectiveness.

The Bundesliga paperboard

The 4,500 paperboard spectators in the stands of the Borussia-Park stadium attracted the media’s attention, as it was the first time that the stands were filled without fans. Dynamo Brest did something similar in Belarus soon after, putting up real portraits of the fans instead of the mannequins that were on the seats. None of these two formulas worked, and actually, those still bodies turned out to be uncomfortable during the broadcast. What they did achieve was to strengthen the bond with their most passionate fans, who, in both cases, paid for their photo to be placed as well as for the fight against COVID-19. These were marketing stunts, but they were not even close to the atmosphere created by the fans in the stadiums.

FOX Sport virtual fans

The two most elaborated experiments throughout the summer have been carried out in the US. FOX Channel has filled the stands with virtual fans, using Augmented Reality (AR). Modelling in 3D morphological varieties of both sexes and with racial diversity, creating groups that react as a whole. In each game, these virtual models can wear the colours and T-shirts of the fans of the teams that are going to play. Together with their movements, FOX incorporates recorded library sound effects in the stadiums. Boos or cheer ups, depending on the play. It has been implemented in the MLB baseball league, as an experiment, although Brad Zager, FOX Sports executive producer, states that they want to perform this test in other sports, aiming to provide a normal appearance broadcast.

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