How Intel plans to take Liverpool and Manchester City fans inside the Premier League title race
When reigning Premier League champions Manchester City lined up across from this season’s closest contenders Liverpool in early January, it had the feel of a winner-takes-all shootout. If City won, the title race would be reignited; if Liverpool were triumphant, it was all but over.
In the 72nd minute, with the game poised at 1-1, City winger Raheem Sterling broke free in midfield before playing an inch-perfect pass into the path of Leroy Sané, who ran onto the ball and fired it past the despairing dive of Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker into the far bottom corner, simultaneously sending the majority of the Etihad Stadium into raptures.
Only Sané will know how he was able to squeeze the ball home from such a tight angle, and only Alisson will know how close he was to pushing it away to safety. Now, however, thanks to a partnership between technology giant Intel and three of English soccer’s top clubs, fans will be able to see exactly what their favourite players see during a game’s most decisive moments.
Unveiled at an event in South London, Intel’s partnership with City, Liverpool and Arsenal will see the company deploy its True View technology to deliver immersive viewing experiences to the fans of each club, using volumetric capture to enable them to watch soccer in a way that they never have before.
With True View already being deployed in the National Football League (NFL) and LaLiga, Spanish soccer’s top flight, the idea for Intel is that showcasing the technology at three of England’s grandest soccer stadiums can provide a gateway to similar partnerships with other teams both in the Premier League and around the world.
“We look for innovation, we look for risk takers, and the natural expansion for us dealing with the True View system and these volumetric immersive experiences was tier one, top sport clubs which are like-minded,” Jonathan Levene, managing director at Intel Sports, tells SportsPro.
“We leave it to the fans, we leave it to the story tellers, we leave it to our partners, to say is it going to be VR (virtual reality), is it going to be AR (augmented reality), is it going to be just through your mobile phone? Everything’s a possibility, but the immersive experience itself, we’re absolutely certain this is non-experimental: it’s coming.”
How will it work?
True View requires a huge slate of well-researched technology and expensive gadgets to function. Intel will set the collaboration in motion by installing 38 ultra-high-definition 5K cameras around each of the Etihad, Anfield and the Emirates Stadium. Those cameras will use volumetric capture to record footage, creating more than 200 terabytes of data per game, all of which is sent and processed to a dedicated server room. It is there, in that control room, where an associate producer is able to create three types of content.
The first is 360-degree replays, which take advantage of True View’s ubiquitous camera placements to give viewers the power to manipulate the footage in such a way that they are able to watch highlights of goals, gaping chances and other major moments from every conceivable angle. A ‘laser wall’, meanwhile, provides fans with a graphic overlay for post-match analysis, giving a clearer picture as to where players are positioned on the pitch at a specific moment.
Finally, and perhaps most intriguing, is the ‘be the player’ feature, which freezes a moment in the match and essentially allows viewers to step into the boots of Sergio Aguero or Mo Salah so that they can see the pitch through the eyes of that specific player. The idea is that when, for example, Kevin de Bruyne plays a defence-splitting through ball that defies comprehension, fans will at least be able to try and understand the Belgian midfielder’s thought process based on his view of the game.
For Billy Hogan, Liverpool’s chief commercial officer, the most important thing is that True View puts the power in the hands of the viewer, giving the club the ability to offer their content-hungry fans more personalised experiences.
“What’s exciting from our perspective is our media team has been creating exclusive and unique content that gets great engagement, and we look at Intel True View as an additive measure to that,” Hogan says.
“One of the things that our fans are going to have the opportunity to do is individually consume, which means this becomes a really personal experience, so you can look at a particular clip in a very different way from how your friend may look at it, or someone on the opposite side of the world who’s a Liverpool fan might look at it.
“So when you start to think about putting that technology and that content into the supporters’ hands, that for us is a huge step forward in terms of that progression we’ve been going down from a content perspective.”
Who can use it?
Intel does not have a direct relationship with either Sky Sports or BT Sport, but the company will give the Premier League’s domestic broadcasters the choice to use the immersive viewing technology during their coverage of City, Liverpool and Arsenal games. This means that pundits such as Alex Scott and Gary Neville will have access to Intel’s 360-degree replays in the Sky studio, ultimately providing them with an extra tool to help educate their viewers.
“After that,” begins Levene, “all the clips that we’re going to create will revert after midnight to the clubs. So I think for fans, from a content perspective, if we talked about the laser wall, which is not allowed to show during the live broadcast, that’s something they’ll be able to see exclusively on the clubs’ platforms, as well as other aspects of the story that we will bring through additional clips which are not shown on the world feed.
“Fans will be able to not just view it; they’ll be able to reach out, customise it and tell their own story.”
In accordance with Premier League rules, clubs do not get access to official match highlights of their games until after midnight of the day of each match, which is when they will be allowed to share this content on their owned and operated digital services, as well as across social and third-party platforms.
This is ultimately about storytelling, how you tell the story of what happened in the match and how you bring that unique experience back to your fanbase.
Given that the innovative content is initially exclusive to City, Liverpool and Arsenal, there is a hope among those clubs that - as well as serving their existing fanbases - their partnerships with Intel can help them reach supporters around the world who otherwise might never have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be inside a Premier League stadium.
“I think having unique content is always going to be a draw,” says Hogan. “So as it relates to our current fanbase, we would absolutely hope that they would come to our platforms to consume that content. But I think having that unique content ideally will cause others who may want to consume it to come to the platform as well, and then they can see all the content that exists within the Liverpool digital estate and hopefully they come back.
“But this is ultimately about storytelling, how you tell the story of what happened in the match and how you bring that unique experience back to your fanbase. Some people can never go to a match at Anfield whether in the shadow of the stadium or on the other side of the world, so this is a really unique way [for them] to experience a match at Anfield that they will have never had before.”
What’s in it for the clubs?
It was only January this year that Peter Moore, Liverpool’s chief executive, warned that soccer must embrace new technologies or risk losing younger, millennial fans to video games like Fortnite.
The former EA Sports executive pointed to viewing and attendance figures of millennial males as a particular cause for concern, emphasising that clubs now have to create content that has a lifespan beyond the 90 minutes of a soccer game.
With that in mind, these immersive, gaming-like viewing experiences will not only be drawing fans to other areas of each club’s owned and operated digital platforms, but will also become a new and exclusive way to get ahead of other teams by keeping fans engaged outside of the live event.
Liverpool’s deal with Intel, then, seems a timely one, and serves as another indication that the world’s top soccer clubs are increasingly trying to adopt the mindset of a global entertainment business.
“We look at everything that happens over the course of the week, whether it specific to a matchday or specific to that 90 minutes, or everything that happens in the run up to it and the post-match as an opportunity to tell a story,” says Hogan.
“So it is about content, it is about how that content is packaged; it’s about creating great content and ultimately it is about different demographics and how they consume not just sport, but entertainment, and I think everybody from an entertainment and a sports perspective is always fighting for that attention of whoever that individual might be.
“In our case we see this as something that is unique and different and will cause people to think differently, consume the content differently and hopefully come back often to see what the next story is that comes out of that following match.”
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