‘Project Restart’:

100 days of hurt … we’ve filled our time watching marble racing, virtual Connect 4 and the back-catalogue of highlights put on by the sports broadcasters with air-time to fill. 

So when the Premier League announced the restart on 17th June, the football world collectively rejoiced. Except the ‘null and voiders’ of course.

English top-flight football has been given the green light to finish the rest of the season, with the remaining 92 games compacted into less than two months. Starting tonight, every game will be shown live on television, with Sky broadcasting 25 of its 64 games on it’s free-to-air ‘Pick’ Channel and the BBC hosting 4 Premier League games live for the first time since the league’s inception in 1992.

These are all the ways you’ll be able to watch the Premier League when it returns!

What can the Premier League learn from other leagues that have re-started?

Innovation and new ideas have been a key feature of brands and organisations adapting to the pandemic; and the world of football is no exception. Broadcasters, leagues and teams are going the extra mile to keep fans involved in the match-day experience to offset the obvious downside of social distancing.

In Germany, the Bundesliga’s return to action has been a success overall – Sky Germany saw record-breaking television ratings, with over 6 million tuning in to watch the first few matches, a market share of over 60% among 14-49 year-olds. 

Of course, the lack of crowds, as well as socially distanced substitute benches and goal celebrations, make for a very different viewing experience.

via https://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/how-erling-haaland-celebrated-goal-22037978 

On the other side of the sporting globe the Australian Rugby League (NRL) restarted their competition after 67 days out of action on the 28th May in front of a silent stadium. However, viewers of Fox Sports’ coverage were treated to the overlay of artificial crowd noise; of course, it split opinions across social media, but it had enough of an enhancing effect on the viewing experience for BT Sport to use a similar technology for their Bundesliga coverage. And, judging by the ratings, many are happy to watch this ‘new normal’ of football.

via https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/52950715

The head of BT Sport, Simon Green, said audiences had reacted positively since they added artificial crowd noise to its live coverage of the Bundesliga, and added that the feature would be available for Premier League matches when it returns.

Last weekend also saw Spain and Italy both restart their respective domestic football. La Liga’s attempt to combat the obvious lack of crowds that viewers see has been to trial AR virtual fans, through ‘blanketing a static texture’ across the stands (see image) – again splitting opinions on social media, but demonstrating a different approach to a challenging issue.

via https://www.theverge.com/2020/6/12/21288963/la-liga-fake-crowd-noise-betis-sevilla and https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/11843093/laliga-fans-cgi-crowd-noise-sevilla-betis/

Lastly, we’ve seen the clubs on the continent also looking to innovate. Borussia Mochengladbach fans ordered more than 12,000 cardboard cut-outs of themselves to help fill their stadium; Danish club FC Midtjylland opened up their car park, inviting fans to take part in a drive-thru spectator experience; and another Danish club brought fans closer to the action through the help of a 131-foot video board and 556 Zoom meetings!

What we’re looking out for when the Premier League returns:

With the Premier League restarting today, we’ll be excited to see how a league that is known for innovating will adapt to the new reality. Here are some early signs of how the Premier League, Broadcasters, and clubs are learning from their continental counterparts and will look to elevate engagement with fans:

Built into BT Sport’s existing app, subscribers will be able to access the ‘Watch Together’ feature for its Premier League broadcasts. This new feature will enable viewers to see and chat with friends on a split screen mode, in real time while the match is being played. 

Sky Sports have also announced a number of new features – including a range of bespoke and team-specific crowd noises in partnership with EA SPORTS FIFA. Plus, Sky Sports will be rolling out a remodelled version of the cult favourite ‘Fanzone’ and ‘Watchalong’ extensions, where fans will be able to watch with their friends and vote for their choice of song with the ‘Choose a Chant’ feature, with the hope that these viewing options will resonate with fans more effectively during lockdown.

Additionally broadcasters around the globe are gearing up for the return of Premier League football. NBC have announced that the upcoming games will be free to watch and the first live sport to appear on Peacock, NBC’s new streaming service. DAZN announced ‘COUNTDOWN: PREMIER LEAGUE’ as part of their build up to showing all the 92 remaining fixtures live, exclusively in Canada, Japan and Spain

From the perspective of Premier League clubs, it is interesting to see which are already learning from their counterparts on the continent – some examples include: Tottenham are giving fans the opportunity to appear on a similar live video fan wall. Fans will be “streamed live on our giant video screens in the stadium bowl intermittently throughout the match so that the players will know the fans are watching and cheering them on”. Brighton also announced there will be a chance to be on a stadium cardboard cut-out, for a fee of £20. 

These are just some of the early ideas we’ve seen emerge, but we’re sure to see many more innovations develop as the league progresses. We’ll be tracking sentiment across European leagues to better understand the dos and donts of sports engagement under pandemic rules – let’s just hope none make the mistake of FC Seoul