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An oxymoron in the making: Telepresent fandom(!)

“Fall without sports…”

“Live football without fans…”

Not sure about you but as much as I understand the rationale behind such decisions, it gives me the shivers when I read such headlines as it pained me to watch the last couple of weeks of EPL, EFL and Turkish Super League.

Empty stands, players’ dejected appearance and last but not least fake crowd sound that got interjected during commentary killed the whole joy. I just couldn’t stand it.

Imagine trying to shift your expectations from this:

To this:

Cardboard fansMultiple hats I wear make this “fake” experience utterly unbearable.

Firstly, I’m a football fan. I like many team sports Not only I love the thrill, suspense and excitement of watching this beautiful game but I also enjoy everything else around it. I (try to) play, I collect jerseys, I follow the transfer market and I even am prone to the foible of spending time in front of youtube watching highlights of past games or top x goals of a famous footballer (let’s admit it, who can resist reliving the penalty shootouts of the UEFA championship final that your favourite team won). The roots of this hobby go back many decades to my childhood.

I vividly remember from my teenage years how I skipped school to stand in the ticket lines, spent hours to trudge into the stadium with no seats (now that I think about it this might be the cause of my mild claustrophobia!) and jumped up and down for the next 3-4 hours. Catching a goal being scored or even a glimpse of a highlight of the game was a matter of pure chance but still, it didn’t matter, there was no alternative to the thrill, excitement and joy of this experience. Those games are still some of my greatest memories from those years.

One particular experience of that age is pertinent. Listening to live commentary on the radio! It might be a bit difficult to imagine days without internet or even TV but I crisply remember the days we would listen to this one radio channel that provided live coverage of the football games of the day. As multiple games were played at the same time, the commentators would move between games either at defined intervals or whenever an important event happened. We would try to guess what that event was depending on the crowd’s sound in the background, loud joyful chanting at a home game, that’s either a goal scored or a penalty kick awarded, loud angry shouting at a home game, either a goal conceded or a red card or a penalty kick to the away team. I’m digressing into nostalgia, sorry:)

Secondly, as an entrepreneur, I’ve had first-hand experience in building/operating technologies and providing services for sports fans. With the idea popping in my head to solve a personal pain. Having had enough troubles finding tickets to football games and ending up dealing with scalpers, I started BeyazBorsa (antonym of “black market” in Turkish) back in 2008. With our eyes set at Ticketmaster’s pedestal, we went straight after their crown jewel client, Galatasaray. Lo and behold, we managed to sever their ties with Ticketmaster in Turkey and built an end-to-end ticketing, access control and FRM system for a football team that has a 52K seater stadium, the largest fan base in Turkey and an unbeatable track record of national and international success (OK, if you haven’t noticed yet I admit I’m a Galatasaray fan:). All our KPIs were around fans’ experience before and on gamedays. How did we fare in ticket sales, stadium access, inquiries, etc.? Every gameday, my entrepreneurial pride would peak as I watched 40-50K fans use their tickets to access the stadium without a glitch.

It was about a month or so ago when we were watching an EFL game with my great friend Yusuf that we started bouncing off ideas about telepresence at stadia.

  • What if we had a tablet computer placed in the cardboard printout?
  • Could we give seat specific view to the fan from their home?
  • We can probably give them audio access to chant as if they are at the game? Or even taper the sound based on the membership level?
  • How about using AR/VR technology to make it more immersive?
  • And give fans access to sounds from other fans with neighbouring seats? (similar to teams speaking with each other in FPS games).

The ideas were endless. I guess with remote work/study/socialise becoming more prevalent, video calls/conferences taking over in-person interactions, telepresence robots occupying conference/exhibition halls, seeing ventures with such ideas might be around the corner.

I’m not a Luddite but I’d rather go through the struggle of queuing for tickets, standing shoulder-to-shoulder packed like sardines and tiring my vocal cords from chanting with fellow fans. I consider that as a far better experience socially, psychologically and physiologically.

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