The Spanish football league – LaLiga – has resumed during the June 13-14 weekend. Similarly to the Bundesliga – the German league – LaLiga has implement a strict match protocol for the few physically present at the stadium, impacting the overall experience while watching a match on a TV screen. I have to admit I think the overall experience is definitely much better than the German counterpart (the English Premier League will resume this week) to the extent that I enjoyed watching Mallorca – Barcelona for many reasons, including the good quality of play on the pitch after a long and unexpected break.

So, why do I think LaLiga got it right? Short answer, IMHO they did a great job “reinventing” the experience offered in a live TV game. Differently from what experienced in previous behind closed doors games and what the Bundesliga has offered so far, they challenged themselves and tried answering a very basic question: what can be done to make the experience more enjoyable for TV viewers from all over the world. They didn’t passively broadcast what captured by the cameras, but enriched the digital feed with some adjustments to ensure the overall package could be as enjoyable as a match played in the pre Covid-19 era. As you understand by now, my impression was extremely positive, and here’s why based on three areas:

  • visuals
  • audio
  • smart utilization of technologies.

The video experience

Let’s be honest: watching a game without fans on the stands is pretty depressing. It’s clear something is wrong or anomalous at best. Home and away supporters not only add noise to the overall experience, but represent a great push, particularly for the home team. The well known definition of the “12th player” illustrates the psychological contribution and extra adrenaline provided by supporters on the stands, a material boost capable of magically energizing athletes on the pitch. For the time being, this option has been ruled out by football bodies, and La Liga opted for a creative solution I would describe as “virtual fans”. The proposed solution consists in overexposing CGI resembling packed stands, leveraging a technology that has been around for over 20 years In the NFL and massively improved over time. The result is definitely subject to further improvements, but much better than empty stands.

Interesting to note, just the main lateral camera offered this feature. The two images on the left were taken during a free kick from the main camera and a secondary one behind the goal. The latter shows how the stadium really was with empty stands on all sides.

 

 

The “fans”

Regardless of their digital nature, fans are not silent. This is the second digital enhancement introduced by LaLiga. A persistent and somehow pleasant background noise acts as the “soundtrack” of the entire event. I assume it is a digitally mastered combination of various sounds replicating a mix of situations reflecting the evolution of the game. Definitely not annoying at all, it seems to be smart enough to vary according to the evolution of the game. Clearly nothing comparable to the emotions, passions and shouts typical of a real game, but the presence of this constant and credible background noise removed the sense of “sub-optimal” experience of a match played behind closed doors. This official video fro LaLiga YouTube channel perfectly illustrates the idea.

Monetization efforts

As illustrated by this image, a huge portion of the TV screen overruling the “digital stands” has been used as a large promotional banner. This ad component has an incredible visibility and readability, resulting in a lucrative opportunity to monetize eyeballs across the world, easily diversifying the message by TV broadcaster or geography. A very clever and smart move, unlikely to offset the loss in ticket and concession sales, nonetheless another indication of creativity and desire to extract the maximum from a sub-optimal situation. Always on the revenue front, large banners have been placed around the stadium, offering commercial partners and sponsors a greater visibility.

 

Overall I enjoyed watching this match, and looking forward for the rest of the LaLiga season. Useless to say, Messi scored!

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