The Game of the Ball
Reproduced with kind permission of my Friend, Ming Zhao, Premier League Correspondent | Project Coordinator at Super Sports (新英体育):
“As the ban on massive gathering will remain in place for the foreseeable future, the exploitation of football as a TV show has accelerated. Below is my observation of experiencing three of the biggest European leagues in front of my digital screen during the Covid era.
The “early start” of German topflight attracted worldwide attention and offered fans the first taste of mainstream football since the lockdown.
Despite the quality of the game itself, the visual impact of those massive empty stands in the background inevitably damages the perceived connection between the passionate and loyal German ultra groups and the Bundesliga experience. To make it worse, the echoes of those shouting instructions from the dugout reminds me of attending a FA Youth Cup tie in Oldham on a rainy Tuesday night.
You can argue with the example of the initiative of cardboard cutout fans by Borussia Mönchengladbach, but the inconsistent efforts by individual clubs help little to increase the overall product consuming experience of the league as a whole.
Similar to its German counterpart, La Liga re-started the season with el Gran Derbi between Sevilla and Real Betis being strategically selected as the campaign opener. Anticipation was high from TV audience due to an eye-catching collaboration between La Liga and EA Sports. In a bid to boost the viewing experience, artificial crowd was first used in live broadcast to take up the empty seats and create familiar ambient sounds.
It proved the operators of the system, along with millions of audience, needed some time to get used to the innovation, as several awkward imagery alignments could be spotted during the first half. But I have to admit my experience of the second half of Sevilla derby and subsequent La Liga games was way smoother.
Two days later, when Chinese international Wu Lei sealed the precious 3 points for relegation-threatened Espanyol, I almost forgot there was nobody but his teammates celebrating with him on the spot.
The Premier League
As the most lucrative football programme on TV, English Premier League uses the crowd noise produced by EA to augment the audio effects.
During the heavyweight clash between Man City and Arsenal (some might not agree) on the opening day, a pre-recorded soundtrack from FIFA20 was added to the authentic buzz at the stadium to simulate a normal matchday ambient at Etihad. What’s more interesting is, each time City scored a goal, cheers “from the stands” could be clearly heard from my TV sound bar. The credit goes to a dedicated audio engineer that played, again, the pre-recorded fan reaction into the audio mix.
However, in my opinion, the visual effect still needs improvement, as the mere cover-up of rows of empty seats with huge ad banners could hardly please anyone but commercial partners.
I was so obsessed with EA’s FIFA series when I was a school kid (starting from FIFA96). And EA never failed to impress me with the incremental simulation of the real sport with its annual release. As the TV show nature is explicitly emphasised by the whole football industry during the pandemic, we may have entered the era of going the other way around.”