At the recent RISE conference in Hong Kong, the Spanish league presented the latest advancements to its offering, incorporating technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) to improve the management and spectacle of the game both now and in the future.
“It’s an exciting time for the industry with technology creating huge levels of disruption,” said Joris Evers, Chief Communications Officer at LaLiga. “We committed to building new tools that can create measurable improvements to the experience of our clubs, partners and our global fanbase.”
The 2018/19 season was the first with Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology in Spanish football, ahead of several other competitions implementing the technology that’s designed to help referees make the game fairer.
LaLiga explained the role of technology in VAR to visitors at the conference, including how artificial intelligence calibrates the pitch to allow the insertion of graphic overlays. This is made possible thanks to collaborations with technology provider EVS and Mediapro, the official producer of the competition.
During the conference, LaLiga shared that VAR helped to correct 6.10% of the 983 goals scored during 2018/19, while it also reduced the instances of player protests by 17.3%. The average time to review decisions via VAR was 83 seconds, or 129 if the on-field official consulted the pitch-side monitor.
Tech for transfers
One of the most important ways that LaLiga supports its clubs is through its financial controls, enabling them to maintain healthy growth without spending beyond their limits. The transfer window is a central part of this process and has been made easier thanks to a tool called LaLiga Manager.
The tool gives clubs a template displaying each member of their squad, while important details such as transfer fees, salaries, bonuses and signed copies of contracts are easy to access. When transfers are made, budgets are updated automatically which helps guarantee that clubs are abiding by Financial Fair Play regulations.
Each step is verified by LaLiga’s financial and competitions departments.
The technology of the future
While these offerings are creating an immediate impact in football, LaLiga is also looking for the next big thing. Through its Innovation Hub, created with Microsoft’s Global Sports Innovation Center (GSIC), LaLiga created a start-up competition to find the brightest new minds working within sport and this month selected 10 finalists from 279 applicants across 55 different countries.
The final proposals are designed to improve football in a wide variety of ways, from a new matchday solution that offers access control and cashless payments to a new app that helps fans capture the excitement of being inside the stadium. Another new tool will help users interact during broadcasts, while another offers the chance to find fans of their team nearby.
Players’ health and recovery also stand to be improved by a new system that helps to analyse the cause of injuries and, above all, how to avoid them. Another offering can recreate a 3D body model with a scanner to direct medical supervisions and track the progress of each player.
Broadcasters could see advancements too, with one of the selected start-ups developing a product that allows for instant movement between different cameras and another offering different commentary language options for live broadcasts.
The finalists will now take part in a growth acceleration programme that includes mentoring, from directors at LaLiga and GSIC and contact with investors. “We’ll be working hand-in-hand with the finalists in order to maximise the potential of these pioneering projects,” said LaLiga Innovation Director Minerva Santana.
Progress of existing tools
These new innovations will strengthen LaLiga’s work to improve the football experience through technology, a venture that has already achieved notable success.
A number of the tools on display during RISE highlighted how supporters are provided with the ultimate viewing experience. For example, the Mediacoach tool, which offers advanced in-game match analysis and visualisation services to coaches, can detect the ball’s real-time position on the pitch and automatically activate ambient microphones to improve the sound of the match broadcast.
Mediapro's R&D teams are also working alongside LaLiga to experiment with VR technology and the use of the Samsung Gear headset, giving remote spectators the experience of being physically inside the stadium.
On top of this, LaLiga’s Replay360° technology allows viewers to experience the best of the action from any angle thanks to 38 cameras installed throughout Spanish stadiums. In the coming 2019/20 season two more stadiums, Real Sociedad’s Anoeta and the Benito Villamarín stadium of Real Betis, will join the six venues that already offer this technology.
“We will keep improving the tools available to clubs, broadcasters and fans,”concluded Evers. “Implementing and developing the best technology provides a clear competitive advantage.”