When I first heard of Danish SuperLeague team AGF Aarhus pioneering the world’s first ever professional football match where fans would attend via Zoom, I knew I had to be there. Well, here. But there. Our new reality needs new terms and concepts.
I “bought” a free ticket to book my place in one of the virtual grandstands for neutral supporters, and I envisioned some future-tech VR experience, with all of us plugged into a shared online experience the likes of which had never been seen or experienced before.
Alas, it turned out to be little more than just a giant Zoom call, complete with lots of foreheads, screaming children, mute-button searches, and various other associated growing pains and technical difficulties.
On the plus side, other than the sidechat turning into a less terrible Twitch experience, there were no reprehensible incidents among the 200+ Zoom attendees in my “section”. AGF had a 20-person moderating team overseeing and monitoring all the calls, and at least based on my experience, they did a fine job. Some fans, to their credit, were engaged enough to actively root root root for the home team, though I assume that sort of thing was more frequent in the home or the away “stands”.
And there’s certainly promise to this concept, and the little issues should get ironed out while we wait for the pandemic to subside enough for stadiums to reopen. It’s better than nothing, and maybe even a way to restore some home-field advantage when combined with the piped-in crowd noise like they’ve started doing in the Bundesliga.
The biggest issue, and this is by far the biggest issue, is that the attendees are not synced. We see this here on the blog in matchday live-threads and comments as well, with some people ahead and some behind on their streams or broadcasts. This leads to moments when you don’t know what the other people are reacting to, or in the case of the two goals scored in this specific game, having those ruined for some people who were behind others in watching the game.
My stream was at least 30 seconds behind someone who was watching on Eurosport or wherever, which was helpful in my case since I knew when to pay attention, but would be quite annoying if I were actually invested in the game. Caveat emptor, of course, you should know what you’re signing up for, but without syncing all the participants, the scope of this sort of event will remain limited.
And that sort of sync cannot happen without the club actually controlling the broadcast, which is not a possibility for most leagues, let alone the Premier League. Then again, maybe the one good thing that will come out of all this is a long-needed push for an OTT service from the Premier League itself. (Last rumored for 2022.)
In any case, the first ever Zoom football match was ... okay ... ish. Credit to AGF for setting this up — they had giant screens pitchside where select Zoom participants and galleries were shown. They also had a dedicated celebration camera for players, which was not strictly a feature for the Zoom audience, but was a nice touch.
If you’re comfortable with Zoom (and similar services) after months in lockdown, you’ll know what to expect. But maybe do it with your friends instead of complete strangers.
Also, the first goal, scored by the visiting team, was a ridiculous chip-shot from just inside the half-way line.