The UAE Pro League trained local teams in the UAE on how to work with the equipment to minimise the number of people working remotely on the project.
The UAE Pro League (UAEPL), which is well known for several broadcast firsts in the region, recently introduced virtual crowd cheering into its matches to ensure that fans on TV were able to experience the same excitement that they were accustomed to in a stadium.
With lockdown measures forcing all UAE football matches to be held behind closed stadium doors, crowd cheering and fan noises, that are part of any match, were missing. The UAEPL addressed this by introducing virtual crowd noises as part of its TV coverage. The service is provided from the stadiums over international feeds and is part of the coverage on TV and digital platforms.
Ammar Hina, Broadcast & TV Production Director, UAE Pro League, told BroadcastPro ME: “We organise more than 300 productions every year including the Arabian Gulf League. Since the pandemic began, the experience of football on TV has changed. Earlier, the audio and video for the matches relied on audience reactions live from the stands. The idea of broadcasting a football match without fans was a challenge. In March, we started working on the idea of including crowd noises in cooperation with a couple of companies.”
As a result, the UAEPL team worked with US-based sports marketing and talent management company, Wasserman Media Group, which provided the equipment for the audio effects in matches being broadcast live from the stadium.
The Pro League is the first in the region to adopt this initiative, in order to enhance the match viewing experience.
Malek Doughan, Marketing and Commercial Affairs Director, UAE Pro League, said: “We wanted to present viewers at home with an experience that was as close to how they were used to watching football matches before the pandemic.”
The noises are embedded in the broadcast in real time right from the field via an OB van. Hina said: “We went through around 20 matches from past seasons and collected a bulk of audio clips including reactions, chanting and screaming of the audience.”
The UAEPL and Wasserman employed an audio specialist for mixing the audio in real time for each match.
Hina said: “They are working directly from the field. They watch the match and the screens simultaneously. Whenever something happens on the pitch, they include the appropriate reactions to the broadcast.”
Doughan added: “We’ve tested this technique with our partners because ultimately, we’re going live. It means we need to make sure there is no error.”
The project was greenlit a week before the matches began earlier this year when the world was under strict lockdown due to Covid-19.
“Everyone was working remotely across three continents to put the project together, from including the audio to editing as well as bringing the equipment from the UK to the UAE to set it up,” Doughan said.
With the kit being flown in from the UK, the teams needed to abide by the protocols in place outside and inside the UAE.
The Pro League trained local teams in the UAE on how to work with the equipment to minimise the number of people working remotely on the project.
It also called on professional clubs to place awareness boards in their stadiums to support the initiative.
The league, in parallel, worked closely with wTVision UAE to include virtual visual elements such as logos, statistics as well as virtual panels on the stands.
“To get value for our broadcast, we wanted to make sure that all our initiatives for this season are concentrated on TV, from the graphics to the noises, from branding elements to the aesthetics around the stadium,” Doughan remarked.
The league received such positive feedback for their initiatives that match commentators have now asked the Pro League to incorporate crowd noises into matches even after fans are allowed back into the stadiums, commented Hina.