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Premier League giants take baby steps toward digital economy

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If you’ve ever been on any sports’ club website you would be forgiven for thinking these guys are technophobes, but Intel is predicting a new era for sports broadcasting and fan engagement.

“We’re going to find ourselves in a couple of years’ time looking back and wondering how we ever got by,” said James Carwana, GM of Intel Sports.

The sports industry, and football in particular, has never really been at the forefront of technology. For an industry which defines itself, and almost entirely depends, on fan engagement little has been done to embrace new technologies and ideas. However, the last couple of years have seen a few rays of hope.

A couple of the more innovative clubs in the football industry, ones who just so happened to be partners of Intel, featured on a panel session to discuss the glaringly obvious opportunities which are being presented to sport clubs and the progress being made in shifting incredibly traditional businesses.

“We have been seeing a convergence of technology and sport and this has been accelerating over the last few years,” said Damian Willoughby, SVP Partnerships at Manchester City FC.

“Technology is impacting all of us and from our perspective, we are looking at how we can create fan engagement or fan experience, whether it is at Anfield or anywhere around the world,” said Billy Hogan, Chief Commercial Officer at Liverpool.

“What isn’t changing is the popularity of the English Premier League,” said Peter Silverstone, Commercial Director of Arsenal. “What is changing is the consumer appetite for how they consume the English Premier League as a product.”

What you have to take into consideration, and why it is so baffling that football clubs and the industry on the whole have been so slow to react to new technologies, is the global reach. The English Premier League (EPL) official Facebook and Twitter pages have 42 million and 18 million followers respectively. Another 23 million follow the competition on Instagram.

Below you can see the social media reach of each of the clubs on show during the event:

Club Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube
Liverpool 32.2 million 11 million 12.4 million 1.1 million
Arsenal 36.9 million 14 million 13.3 million 1.1 million
Man City 36.7 million 6.6 million 10.4 million 1.6 million

This is a truly global industry and while these numbers are certainly impressive, the challenge now is how to best capitalise on such significant assets. This is where the Intel partnership and content play a role.

As all three of the executives point out, the idea behind technology implementation is to offer a greater variety of ways for fans to consume content. This might be through virtual reality, player POV footage, more in-depth analysis, behind the scenes content or partners stories. The idea is to create content which came be customisable, interactive and varied. Each user can create their own story on-demand, building interactions which are more suited to them.

Looking at Intel’s True View product, one of the technologies which will be used to deliver this enhanced experience, Carwana highlighted 38 5K sensors will be installed in each stadium, allowing the team to capture footage which is eight times the definition of HD. The cameras capture volumetric data (height, width, and depth) using voxels, a 3D pixel, delivering a new experience for the consumer.

Collecting this data will allow the three clubs to introduce 360 degrees replays, allowing the consumer to decide how the content is viewed, player POV footage and new content on laser wall screens. Intel believe this sort of technology is addressing a supply/demand chasm in the market; consumers are demanding a different type of experience, yet few in the world of sports seem able to deliver it.

Creating all of these experiences has another excellent impact on these clubs; it allows them to match the globalised nature of football. The worldwide footprint of the Premier League is pretty unmatched in the entirety of sports, especially over the last decade with clubs targeting fans on distant shores. These are three clubs which have certainly fit this mould.

“Some of these people will never get the chance to go to Anfield, but we can deliver this experience,” said Hogan, referencing fans in Indonesia, China and the US.

Although there certainly have been positive steps forward in converging the worlds of technology and sport, this is only the beginning. Looking forward, there are some genuinely exciting technologies in the pipeline, each of which has the potential to completely revolutionise the experience.

Virtual reality is one which is constantly discussed, and while there might be some applications and hardware on the market which offer some sort of experience, this is only the tip of the iceberg. VR is very much an embryonic technology for the moment, though the fast decreasing price of hardware and the approaching 5G euphoria could take this technology to the next level.

Another area to consider is the delivery of content through holograms. A couple of months back Vodafone delivered one of the best 5G demos we’ve seen, live-streaming a hologram from Manchester to its Newbury HQ of England Women’s football captain Steph Houghton. The image was crisp while latency was pretty much non-existent. Slumbering journalists very bolted upright by genuine innovation.

Imagine sitting in your living room and experiencing a Premier League Football game as if you were sat on the halfway line and seeing replays through the eyes of the players. Or how about a boxing match hosted in Las Vegas, but live-streaming holograms to hundreds of venues throughout the world. The viewing experience could be completely revolutionised.

What these three clubs are doing are the first baby steps into digital transformation, a buzzword which has plagued us for years. However, it might not be too long before the sports entertainment world morphs into a completely unrecognisable beast.

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