Thursday, 5 March 2020

How Bundesliga intends to catch Premier League and LaLiga by using technology

Ask a random football fan what the best league in the world is and the answer is bound to be either the Premier League or LaLiga.

Last season's Champions League final was an all-English encounter, while the five previous editions of European club football's elite competition were all won by either Real Madrid or Barcelona.

The Bundesliga has no intention of just accepting its current position just behind those two, however, as the German top flight is determined to close the gap - at least off the pitch - by using the latest technology to win over fans across the globe.

Digital innovations are crucial to the Bundesliga’s future. That much is clear. Boasting the best-attended stadiums in the world and more goals than any other major league in Europe, the latest technologies are key to extending the fan experience to viewers worldwide.

According to Andreas Heyden, Executive Vice President of Digital Innovations at the German Football League (DFL), there are five overarching trends pushing innovation in sports media forward and changing the industry fundamentally.

The first of these is artificial intelligence (AI), using algorithms to analyse vast amounts of data, which enables machines to perform tasks which previously could only be completed thanks to human intelligence. AI is already widely used in our daily lives and at the DFL, it is viewed as the underlying approach that will improve and enable all high-tech capabilities in the future. For example, the DFL is able to create personalised highlight clips for Bundesliga fans. In Norway clips from Erling Haaland could feature more heavily, whereas fans in Brazil could receive more of Philippe Coutinho’s highlights.

Mixed reality (XR), is the creation of a mixed reality environment drawing on real and virtual worlds. It includes virtual reality, augmented reality and other technologies, which adds additional virtual elements to what can be seen in the real world.

“Augmented reality and virtual reality make the game more accessible to viewers around the world, allowing them to experience the electric atmospheres of the Bundesliga’s world-class stadiums," Heyden stated.

The third trend producing intriguing possibilities in the sports world is 5G wireless technology. Thanks to 5G, data will flow faster, cheaper, at a lower latency and allow for real-time calculations. Coupled with the processing power of the cloud, data can be exchanged between networks and manipulated faster than ever before, so the Bundesliga is naturally moving forward with bringing 5G into the stadium. The DFL is developing a real-time app that makes information and match data available to the fans in the stadium without delay on their smartphones via augmented reality, even allowing spectators to see how fast a player is running in real time. In this case, data is transferred from the camera to the data centre, and then appears on the viewer’s screen, all within 200 milliseconds, literally the blink of an eye.

Over-the-top (OTT) refers to the practice of streaming content to customers directly over the web, Netflix, DAZN and Amazon Prime being the perfect examples. Instead of broadcasting sports on TV channels as has traditionally been done for decades, more and more sporting leagues are making games available directly to fans. The focus here for the league is tailoring its media product to the modern-day fan.

For example, the Bundesliga has already begun trials in broadcasting content in 9x16 vertical format, suited to smart phones and in particular social media apps. This is an extension of the Bundesliga’s strategic ownership of its full media value chain, reflecting its ‘glass-to-glass’ approach with the Bundesliga in control of every stage of production and content creation from the glass lens of a TV camera in stadium to the glass screen of a TV or phone in the home.

Finally, data is the last and most crucial trend driving the evolution of sports innovation. The volume, velocity and variety of data is increasing all the time. The DFL’s strong investment in digital capabilities and its wealth of archival material lend it a huge advantage over its competitors.

The Bundesliga’s media archive is the largest of any football league, including over 33,000 matches, 140,000 hours of video content and over 180,000 files. In addition, the league also captures nearly four million data points from every game.

With a focus on all five of these fundamental components of the Bundesliga’s innovation roadmap, the league is actively adopting and testing new technologies. All of this could potentially be applied in a myriad of ways, however it is their application in football that is creating huge added value for all Bundesliga lovers.

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