Zoom Could be the Future of Fan Engagement
AFG Aarhus fans were able to partake in the game through Zoom. Photo by Getty Images.

Zoom Could be the Future of Fan Engagement

Many soccer clubs are trying to figure out ways to have more engagement from their fans during games. One thing that has helped is teams using pre-recorded fan cheers to stimulate how games normally sound. Danish team AFG Aarhus was able to find a way that may be able to fix fan engagement while the pandemic perpetuates. With their experiment, it looks like Zoom could be the future of fan engagement.

AFG’s rival game against local Randers was the perfect way for the club to experiment with Zoom fan engagement. The club rented a TV screen that was 130 feet long and 10 feet high to see their fans during the game. They are the first team to be trying this new method.

The club reached out to Zoom to see if it would even be possible. The company was thrilled about the idea. AFG then went ahead to rent the TV to be able to have the fans sitting where they normally would. They didn’t want to use their stadium TVs since it was too high up. The club also got better Wi-fi in the stadium. They were able to have 10,000 fans join in the game.

Due to rights issues, Zoom wasn’t able to broadcast the game through their platform. This meant that fans had to have the games playing on their TVs while using another device, like a laptop, to Zoom in.

“The television companies liked it because they could use the fan celebration like a normal Premier League game, cutting away to the stands to see happy supporters,” said Soren Carlsen, AFG club head of media. “This time, after showing the goal and the players’ reaction, they cut away to people’s homes. The delay wasn’t a big problem.”

This also aided in the sound of the fans. The stadium was able to use the pre-recorded fan cheers to have the regular ambiance of the game. Then they took a small sample of the fans that Zoomed into the game to catch live fan sounds as well.

“It was an opportunity for us to recreate the community around the games that we are missing because, of course, everybody is missing football as a sport but in Denmark we miss the camaraderie and the fans,” said Carlsen.

According to ESPN, there was early statics that showed that behind-closed-doors fixtures are taking away from home-field advantage since fans are not there to support the home team. This could be backed up by what has happened since Bundesliga’s return. Only eight of the 35 games have ended in the home team winning.

AFG has been talking with many teams about how this was possible. Many Premier League teams- including Arsenal, are interested in how they can do Zoom games.

“It is almost easier to say which countries we didn’t get inquiries from,” said Carlsen. “Clubs from the top five leagues — England, France, Italy, Spain and Germany — and also, Austria, Norway, and on Tuesday I talked to Australia, Major League Soccer in the United States. They are curious about how it could work, both clubs and the leagues themselves.”

It was rumored, but not confirmed by either people, that Las Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay talked with Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta. While the new Zoom reality for games is blowing up for soccer, football might also be able to partake in this idea as well.

The biggest problem still stands, how this can be financially possible. Carlsen did not hide the fact that this is a big financial investment.

“The biggest cost was man hours, we needed to work on the internet connection, the fiber-optic cables and setting up the big screens. But everybody can go out and rent something [like that], so for the Premier League clubs considering this, the financial side should not stop them,” said Carlsen.

Although leagues like Premier League may be able to pull this off, it probably won’t be possible for MLS to partake in. They made it no secret when they said that they are losing $1 billion on this season alone. While European leagues can be financially dependent on broadcasting revenue, that’s not possible for MLS.

It probably wouldn’t be a far stretch to have the NFL do something like this. They have a large amount of revenue that is generated from broadcasting games. So the financial means wouldn’t be a problem for them.

As Carlsen stated previously, man hours are the biggest cost. Not only to run the equipment, but they hired 50 moderators as well. Carlsen said that there were a few people who tried to expose themselves and had to have the moderators step in.

Even though the financial investment is large, it’s worth it if teams want live fan reactions while also being able to keep people safe.

“This won’t be something we see once the coronavirus is over,” Carlsen added. “What the virus has shown us is how important fans are and the community around the club. We all love football but we miss the community more, the camaraderie and spirit that is a football club. I will be excited to watch how this technology will be used in the Premier League because a lot of them are global brands. How will it work when they have fans all over the world who want to take part? Could you have 100,000 fans take part and how will it affect the intimacy?”

This begs the question of if Zoom could be the future of fan engagement for a while. If so, let’s hope the clubs are willing to invest in it.