The hospitality center at the RCD Espanyol football club in Barcelona’s Cornella suburb is a fitting place for a demonstration by LaLiga of the latest technology used in football. LaLiga is the sports association which administers the top two football leagues of Spain. One of them being the Primera Division where the likes of Barcelona FC and Real Madrid battle it out.
Just as in many forms of entertainment, football is competing against a larger-than-life digital world and is trying to adapt to modern tastes and expectations of the public. As Jaris Evers, LaLiga’s Chief Communications Officer told me, “When I was young, video games tried to imitate real football. While now, computer games are so advanced and spectacular that the opposite is occurring. We’re trying to make the real match as exciting as the video game for young viewers.” He added that “many youngsters are first introduced to video games and only see their first real match when they are older.”
Enhanced Football Enjoyment
Last year LaLiga introduced Intel’s Replay 360 System in four stadiums and plans to install another four by next season. It uses 38 cameras placed around the pitch to record exciting plays. The result is a still frame which allows you to view the play through many angles, including the point of view of the players. Evers said that plans are in the works to create Replay 360 clips which capture motion and that the English Premier League is planning on installing Replay 360 in two stadiums next year.
In addition, Samsung recently announced that its virtual assistant, Bixby, now knows Spanish (and four more languages) and in cooperation with LaLiga, Spanish football fans can interact with their devices to receive information such as stats, kickoff times, and videos.
Lastly, Virtual Reality has already entered the scene with an immersive experience created with Mediapro, which allows fans to “be on the pitch” and experience the action via Samsung Gear headsets. Fans can try these out at several of the popular Corte Ingles department stores located around the country.
More Data for the Clubs
Statistics on players has always been important in sports and with today’s advanced methods of analyzing data it is even more so. LaLiga in conjunction with Mediapro provide clubs with Mediacoach, a suite of advanced tools and match analysis services which aim to improve the performance of teams and players. A LaLiga representative pointed out, several times, that “all data on all players are available for all teams, thus giving big and small clubs equal opportunities to analyze data.” A colleague from Cities of the Future commented that “the data might be open to all but the technology to analyze it would still depend on the club’s budget.” The rep didn’t respond to the comment.
Let’s play some ball
Another piece of technology being used is the “Calendar Selector.” It uses machine learning which takes into account around 70 variables including past viewing and attendance data and weather forecasts to create optimal match schedules. Along with this application, a 3D model of each stadium indicates where the sun will be shining at any given time. This “Sunlight” software shows how sunlight will affect players, fans and TV reproduction.
Will technology make the difference in the end?
Technologies, are adding a new dimension to the game and in many ways changing it. For example, the Video Assistant Referee, or VAR as it’s widely known, allows for referees to replay an action to ensure that the correct call has been given. It is a multi-angle review tool which assists in making decisions on the field. It calibrates the lines of the field to help with offside calls and even allows for graphical overlays to make decisions more accurate.
However, at the end of the day, the decision is still left to the referee. And the children who are wowed while viewing a 3D image of a Messi foul kick are still lining up to get his autograph and are wearing his jersey in the schoolyard because of what he does.