The English Premier League is exploring the use of audio effects and computer generated “fans” to improve the viewer experience of watching matches in empty stadiums.
The league on Monday voted to allow teams to return to non-contact training in small groups from yesterday and hopes to be able to clear contact training next week as it steps up “Project Restart.”
Germany’s Bundesliga returned to action on Saturday without any major hitches, which has encouraged the Premier League, but chief executive Richard Masters said it is looking at ways to improve the TV experience of watching games in empty stadiums should the league return as planned next month.
“I think we’ll take a different approach, not better, but slightly different approach about the behind-closed-doors product, and that was one of the things we were able to talk to clubs [about] today... We have [a] group of clubs and broadcasters together on that,” Masters told reporters.
The absence of fans was highly noticeable on Bundesliga broadcasts, with players’ shouting the only noise to be heard other than the voice of the commentator.
Sources with knowledge of the discussions have said that all options are on the table, including adding crowd noise and the use of computer generated fans to replace the images of empty seats in the stadium.
No decision has been taken on whether to use such technology, with concerns that any changes do not make the match appear too far away from the reality of what is unfolding on the pitch.
“In terms of the precise nature of what we are planning, we haven’t really talked about it with the wide group yet, so I don’t want to share too much of the plans,” Masters said in a conference call with reporters. “But obviously the big issue is that if there aren’t fans in the stadium, what does the viewing fan at home, what’s his experience like? And how different is it to a normal Premier League production, and that’s the question we’re seeking to answer.”
A number of companies offer technology, including augmented-reality products, which could add crowd noise and the impression of supporters to broadcasts.
“The idea is to protect the integrity and experience of the game, by turning the attention away from the empty stadium, and instead replacing it with appealing surroundings to make the game more interesting, and as close to reality as possible,” said Gudjon Gudjonsson, chief executive of one such company, OZ Sports.
“These are times to explore and experiment, to make sports even more appealing and to bring it closer to the latest developments in e-sports,” he said.
Oz Sports declined to discuss whether it was in talks with the Premier League.
“OZ Sports can confirm it is in discussions with multiple sports bodies, not limited to football,” the company said.
While the league and broadcasters evaluate all the options, the focus was on the players returning to their training grounds.
Initial training was to be in small groups, no bigger than five players, and with social distancing regulations enforced in and around facilities.
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