Artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) are transforming industries around the world by providing faster ways of processing information and more exciting options for viewing content. When it comes to football, AI and VR have the power to make the beautiful game even more intelligent, efficient and accessible.
LaLiga is continually working to apply these technologies to Spanish football and to provide a complete entertainment package, one that is more immersive and informative than rival leagues around the world. In line with this objective, LaLiga recently showcased new applications for AI and VR that are transforming the experiences of referees, league officials and fans.
AI for improved refereeing and simpler match scheduling
There are several ways in which AI can make the LaLiga experience even better, with the technology especially important when it comes to video assistant referees (VAR), fixture scheduling and forging stronger links with supporters.
The introduction of VAR for the 2018/19 season has been one of the most significant changes in Spanish football in recent history and AI ensures that the tool is used effectively by referees.
Made possible thanks to technology provider EVS and Mediapro, the official producer of the competition, the multi-angle review tool Xeebra offers referees the most accurate technology for making decisions. The built-in AI accurately calibrates the playing field to allow the insertion of graphic overlays to support decision making.
The technology is so successful that during recent months LaLiga has worked with the likes of the Premier League and UEFA to help them understand its VAR solution and how it can be best applied to other competitions.“VAR has become a protagonist in each football match, enabling more even-handed referee decisions, adding prestige to our league and more drama and new experiences for our fans, whilst making use of the most innovative tools," said Joris Evers, LaLiga Chief Communications Officer.
Another way in which AI can improve the matchday experience for fans is by suggesting the optimal kick-off times for the games. The new ‘Calendar Selector’ tool applies machine learning and algorithms to existing match viewing and attendance data, along with about 70 additional variables, in order to schedule matches at times that will boost stadium attendance and TV viewership for the teams involved.
An additional new software, ‘Sunlight’, complements the findings of the ‘Calendar Selector’ tool by predicting natural light conditions for each stadium at various kick-off times, helping avoid the kind of glare that disturbs the fans in the stands, the viewers at home or the players themselves.
“At a time when there is much talk about artificial intelligence and machine learning, LaLiga is demonstrating its leadership as we start to use these technologies to optimise scheduling of our matches,” added Evers.
As well as improving VAR and fixture scheduling, AI can also improve the fan experience by offering them bonus information. Thanks to Samsung’s Bixby AI platform, fans are able to access a virtual assistant via voice and text on mobile devices to receive up-to-date information about match schedules, standings, results, player stats and match footage.
The new viewing experience of VR
No matter where in the world LaLiga fans are, whether they’re a Sevilla supporter in Sydney or a Valencia fan in Vancouver, VR is drastically changing the viewing experience.
Mediapro's R&D teams, together with LaLiga, are experimenting with this technology and some of the attendees at the LaLiga Innovation Showcase were able to experience moments from the 2018/19 season like never before, viewing their favourite players in 3D (Stereoscopic) virtual reality thanks to the Samsung Gear headset.
Five 360º cameras allow users of the headset to watch the action as if they were in the stadium. They can see the arrival of fans and players, the changing rooms, the stadium, the exit from the tunnel and much more.
While this technology is sure to evolve, the current offerings are far more than a prototype and can be enjoyed by fans across Spain today. Fans looking for the most immersive technology experience can find it at LaLiga Corners, an innovative experiential space found within four El Corte Ingles centres across Sevilla, Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona. This project will run for the next few weeks, with plans in place to bring it to fan events around the world after that.
Other technologies in Spain that rivals want to copy
LaLiga also showcased existing technologies that continue to improve its competition and are being evaluated by other competitions in Europe.
Mediacoach, for example, is a suite of advanced match analysis and visualization services that LaLiga makes available to the coaching staff of all teams. The level of detail on offer is superior to rival football leagues, some of whom are now reviewing the platform with a view to licensing it for themselves.
In addition to the features that help technical staff, Mediacoach also helps to improve audio-visual broadcasting, intelligently detecting the ball’s real-time position on the pitch and automatically activating ambient microphones around the stadium to improve to the sound of the broadcast.
LaLiga has also pioneered the use of Replay360 to allow viewers to experience the action from any angle. Using images from 38 cameras installed throughout the stadiums, this innovation has recently been coveted by competitions such as the Premier League who will introduce it too, albeit in just three stadia. In Spain, the technology is currently in place at the grounds of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Sevilla, Athletic Club and Valencia, while it is set to come to those of Real Sociedad and Real Betis for the 2019/20 campaign.
Working closely with partners and clubs, Spanish football will keep advancing as the technology develops further. Ultimately, the ones who benefit the most are the fans.
As Evers put it: “More than ever before, a football match is a unique experience thanks to recent technological advances which have improved the standing of Spanish clubs, the professionalism of its technical bodies, as well as the fan experience.”© LaLiga - Año 2019