Artificial crowd noise: a pre-recorded carnival as football returns

The singing, the cheering, the jeering and the swearing from a live audience add to the theatre of a football-watching experience both from the stadium and when broadcast to our homes.

With Arsenal’s first home match since the lockdown started slated for July 1, there is enough time to incorporate the “angry home fans” feature in the pre-recorded fan soundtrack.   -  Reuters

Let’s be honest. The newly introduced pre-recorded crowd noises for television audiences will appease viewers only when there is a chorus of boos around the Emirates Stadium from angry Arsenal fans voicing their displeasure watching their team trail Manchester City at half-time. With Arsenal’s first home match since the lockdown started slated for July 1, there is enough time for the TV producer to incorporate the “angry home fans” feature in the pre-recorded fan soundtrack.

How did we end up here? you ask. After the financial pressure caused by the coronavirus-enforced interruption to the 2019-20 football season, various leagues around Europe decided to return to complete the campaign when viable, even if it meant without supporters in the stands. So when the Bundesliga first resumed in May behind closed doors, fans from their homes watched Borussia Dortmund beat Schalke in the flat in-stadia atmosphere of the Westfalenstadion. The singing, the cheering, the jeering and the swearing from a live audience add to the theatre of a football-watching experience both from the stadium and when broadcast to our homes. The carnival-like atmosphere created by the supporters is among the biggest draws for followers around the world.

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From their second match onwards, German broadcaster Sky Deutschland provided crowd noises, recorded from earlier in the season, to be played over as a soundtrack for the rest of the campaign. A sound producer will be on hand reacting to every situation during a match and adding audio samples to the live feed. Former footballer and broadcast personality Gary Lineker was receptive to the idea and even urged the Premier League to follow suit. “It’s actually bloody clever, this crowd noise technology,” he tweeted. “Instant cheers at goals, louder for home goals etc.. very smart and an improvement. Rather like a soundtrack in a movie: not entirely necessary but adds to the watching experience.”

Before the Premier League adopted it, La Liga took the idea on board by teaming up with EA Sports, which provided preset crowd noises it had recorded live for its FIFA football franchise soundtrack. La Liga also did one better by commissioning “virtual fans” in club colours to be superimposed onto the empty stands of the stadiums. The technology has its flaws with the virtual crowds resembling an older version from an early-2000s FIFA game.

A giant screen shows Manchester City fans as they watch the match against Arsenal on on June 17.   -  AFP

 

Both La Liga and the Premier League provide their domestic audience with the option of watching the matches with a normal broadcast while international viewers can only watch the enhanced broadcast with graphics and audio. It’s still early days for the broadcasters trying to adopt this as a regular feature and iron out the errors; in the match between Real Sociedad and Osasuna, the broadcaster accidentally pressed the goal celebration noise as a shot went wide.

The newly introduced features in the television broadcast have not won over everybody. Football fans from 16 European nations launched a campaign against the fan soundtracks, stating that “augmented reality technology, pre-recorded chants, and other forms of artificial support represent a rebuke to match-going fans.

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“Empty stadia are a direct consequence of a public health crisis that has impacted every single one of us and the absence of fans cannot be compensated for by a computer simulation aimed at the amusement of television audiences.”

La Liga India managing director Jose Antonio Cachaza felt differing views are part and parcel of the game. “Anything you do in football, it divides opinion,” said Cachaza. “Our (La Liga’s) take is we want to offer the fans alternate ways to live the game, especially when we are in difficult times.”

Football presenter Joe Morrison felt “being able to have some fan noise is better than nothing at all.” He added, “I have watched matches on TV which were held behind closed doors and it was not an enjoyable experience. Is it (adding crowd noise) perfect? No, having the fans there would have been perfect, but we can’t do that right now. This is about making the best of a bad situation.”

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The verdict isn’t out yet on the new normal adopted in football broadcasting. In a Twitter poll from Lineker, more than 74 percent of 181,255 users voted in favour of artificial sound effects over the in-stadia noise while watching matches.

On football’s return to Gipuzkoa, SD Eibar fans summed up their frustration with having to sit out the rest of the season with a banner stating: “Football — Fans = Nothing.”

While that may be the case, this will have to do until then.