Football advertising has come a long way since the early days of wooden trackside boards promoting local businesses and shops. The latest innovation, used in live international broadcasts of Bundesliga matches, is virtual advertising where a digital message can be overlayed on top of an existing board and then tailored for different overseas markets without those watching the game from inside the stadium or on domestic TV noticing. An innovation that offers new international marketing opportunities for the clubs.
Virtual advertising has been used at Borussia Dortmund’s home Bundesliga matches, as well as for other selected Bundesliga matches, since the start of the season after the technology provider Supponor was given the green light by the DFL to start the process. The DFL and subsidiary Sportcast are also running tests with other technology providers to assess whether the quality and integration of their overlayed images into the world feed can run smoothly in a live situation. Creating those messages may look straightforward to viewers, but virtual advertising is actually the result of a four-stage production process:
Inside the stadium, Supponor uses special LED boards and equips the broadcast cameras with additional hardware to create virtual advertising. An additional information signal is emitted by the boards and received by the additional camera hardware. This workflow makes it possible to detect where the LED board is located inside the stadium, and if people or objects are in the field of view between the camera and the board. The information generated by the camera hardware is transmitted via additional cables to a service truck. The truck also receives signals from the two main broadcast cameras that should be overlayed. The technology provider then generates the final piece of data, allowing the virtual advertising to be displayed. The finalised information signal is subsequently transmitted live from the stadium, using the Bundesliga fibre network, to the Operations Room at the Broadcasting Centre in Cologne where all Bundesliga video signals converge. All received signals are qualitatively checked and then made available for the DFL’s International Product Portfolio (IPP).
The second part of the procedure takes place in the Operations Room. Taking the information signal from the stadium, as well as the world feed from the IPP, these are then overlayed over the existing stadium LED board with virtual advertising. A playlist is used to determine what information is displayed on which board. Currently, virtual advertising is targeted at four regions – Europe, Middle East, Africa, Russia (EMEA), the Americas (AMER), Central Asia (CEAS) and South East Asia (SAJO). The individual messages are centrally controlled and broadcast as per the agreed playlist. This provides scope to verify and adjust the process, and also sets the specific time of how long each message should be displayed during the match. The DFL has provided guidelines for virtual advertising in the Bundesliga, but the responsibility for the content lies with each club.
The third stage of the process involves quality checks. During this stage, all four feeds are made available in a separate room and monitored by a quality control engineer to ensure there are no problems. Each one is observed on a full screen to allow evaluation of virtual board position, proper outlines of objects and people, incorrectly merged objects and colour management. In the case of any technical issues, signals for an individual region – or all four at once, if required – can be switched off, with the viewer totally unaware. In this case the IPP world feed would simply continue without virtual advertising.
Finally, the four virtual advertising signals are transmitted from the Broadcasting Centre to Eurovision in Geneva via fibre and finally distributed globally via satellite or fibre to the appropriate target region.
Remember the wooden trackside boards?
Welcome to the future.