Realife Tech: Prioritising fan safety for venues

As we slowly navigate our way out of lockdown, one of the challenges for stadiums is fan safety, ensuring that it’s implemented for sports reopening past COVID-19. 

It’s a key consideration for venues and would see some differences compared to before the pandemic hit. Brent Kocher, Chief Revenue Officer at Realife Tech, believes that increased fan engagement will be pivotal as spectators and venues work together to see new safety solutions used to its full potential. 

Collectively, the majority of sports fans would love for the games to continue despite restrictions on fan attendance – a June 2020 study by ESPN showed that 78 per cent of fans were in favour of play being resumed. It was a double-digit increase on a previous poll back in April. 

Australian sporting codes Australian Football League (AFL) and National Rugby League (NRL) have already welcomed sports fans back for their respective Grand Finals albeit in a limited capacity, so other venues both here and overseas will be sure to follow suit as spectators are eased back soon. 

For it to be successful, discussions need to be had about some COVID safety measures to be included and the joint effort by stadiums and visitors to hold key events for enjoyment with health the main focus. 

While we still don’t know the full answers about if and when we get back to full capacity, the slow return of fans in partial attendance will serve as testing opportunities for policies and procedures in the future. Technology solutions can be used during this process as fans make the transition back to sporting grounds. Fan engagement allows not only them to be informed, but engaged in an active role to keep themselves safe, as well as players, staff and teams.

Technology solutions have been created so it becomes a more seamless and stress-free experience for fans who are the focus of increased engagement, factoring in their safety to lessen the potential health risks both inside and outside the venue. 

Going to a game used to be a carefree experience, but nowadays it is a completely different story. Before, all the spectators had to worry about was finding their ticketed seats and snacks or drinks they would like to buy. Now, it has become a case of spectators considering what time slot they’re scheduled to enter through the gate, where their seats are uniquely allocated and how far they would be, nominating a time to go and grab something to eat or drink, and a chosen time they wish to exit. 

 

Realife Tech aims to create the best possible experience for fans adhering to COVID guidelines. 

“At Realife Tech, we’ve developed a “Covid Safety Hub”, a range of mobile-based features that guide fans through new venue policies and procedures, with messaging delivered before, during, and after events.” Chief Revenue Officer Brent Kocher said. 

“The tech features location-based safety alerts that share real-time information with fans, helping to control high traffic areas, reduce lines at entries and exits, and loosen crowd congestion.  

“Fans who engage with this platform can adjust their actions depending on social distancing needs around them; for example, if the area they’d like to visit within the stadium is reaching capacity, or if the bathroom near them has a long line that would make distancing from others difficult, they can choose to avoid those areas and take another route to their desired destination.”  

Venues will need to adapt to contactless changes for matchday between staff and fans entering the venue. It means usual interactions will be limited, including touch-free ticketing scanning and contactless ordering and click-and-collect type process of getting food, beverage and merchandise items.  

Stadiums and venues can look into the single view of the customer across their journey, making this a significant learning opportunity for data collection – from multiple platforms and systems, including apps, ticketing, Wi-Fi, point-of-sale, digital advertising screens and access control points. 

Delving into the customer journey can assist venues with their future offerings and communications to provide a more extensive experience that will become seamless moving forward. It addresses both the current challenges and customer needs.  

With fan engagement at the forefront, it means there will be consistent communication between spectators about the right processes, through dedicated technology solutions. They can then feel more empowered to make decisions and be a key difference as part of their daily lives. It means that while we’re still a while off fully-packed crowds, it doesn’t mean we have to settle with empty stadiums. 

To see what Realife Tech has to offer, you can find out more here.

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Liam Watson is the Co-Founder & Publisher of Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy, industry matters and technology.

FIFA trialling Video Support challenge technology

Football Video Support (VS) has been introduced by FIFA as another means of technology to review decisions.

VS is a video review system by FIFA that is the answer to member associations that cannot implement the video-assistant-referee (VAR) system because their human and financial resources are limited and very few cameras are in use in their competitions.

There are cameras set up around the pitch, either human-operated or automated that are used by referees to make decisions after a coach reviews the play.

FIFA are currently trialling VS with a goal to explore new and existing technologies to positively impact the game, especially in order to help referees to make correct decisions, while ensuring that their potential use is cost-effective, beneficial and practical across the global football community.

How does VS work?

  1. Football Video Support (VS) is a video review system introduced by FIFA as a solution for member associations that are unable to implement the video assistant referee (VAR) system.
    a. Goal/no goal
    b. Penalty/no penalty
    c. Direct red cards (not second cautions)
    d. Mistaken identity (when the referee cautions or sends off the wrong player of the offending team)
  2. VS can be utilized only after the referee has made a decision (including waving play on as a decision) and a team has subsequently requested a review.
  3. Only the team’s head coach (or, in their absence, the senior team official in the technical area) can request a review. This request must be made immediately after the incident by twirling their finger in the air and handing a review request card to the fourth official. However, each player has the right to ask their head coach to initiate a review request.
  4. The fourth official will inform the referee of the review request and, if play has stopped (and not restarted) since the incident, the referee will go to the referee review area (RRA) to review the replay footage. If play has continued since the incident, the referee will stop play when the ball is in a neutral zone and go to the RRA to review the replay footage.
  5. During the review, the referee will be assisted by a review operator, who will show replay footage on the monitor (e.g. different camera angles, split screen, different replay speeds, etc.).
  6. The original decision taken by the referee will not be changed unless the video replay footage shows clear evidence that the decision was a clear and obvious error or that there has been a serious missed incident. As the VS system involves a small number of cameras, the replay footage will often be inconclusive and thus the original decision may not be changed.
  7. The review request must be made immediately to:

– conform to the Laws of the Game requirement that a decision cannot be changed once play has restarted after a stoppage; and

– prevent unnecessary delays to the game while the team’s head coach (or, in their absence, the senior team official present in the technical area) considers whether to make a review request.

  1. After a goal is scored, the fourth official will review the footage on the monitor and inform the referee if a clear and obvious offense was committed by the attacking team. Unless the decision involves factual matters, the referee will then review the incident and make the final decision.

During the trial phase, it is expected that each team will be able to make two requests per match. If the review by the referee results in the original decision being changed, the team retains (does not lose) that review request.

The technology is not going to replace VAR, it is just going to be used as a cheaper alternative in leagues and associations that lack the current VAR technology to ensure fairness and accuracy across all levels of professional football.

FIFA state that there is no specific timeline, and no decision has been made on when the implementation will take place.

They are currently at the trial stage and after assessing the outcome of the trial will talk with the relevant stakeholders in order to decide on the next steps, including potential additional trials by FIFA and other governing bodies.

VAR to be introduced at AFC club competitions for next season

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has confirmed the implementation of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system across its revamped three-tier club structure as well as the inaugural AFC Women’s Champions League for the 2024/25 season.

The newly introduced AFC Champions League Elite, the top club competition in the confederation that comprises 24 of Asia’s best teams, will implement VAR from the league stage, which kicks off this September.

Meanwhile, VAR support for match officials in the AFC Champions League Two will be available from the Knockout Stage onwards. The competition, comprising 32 teams, is set to commence in September.

For the AFC Challenge League, which will feature 20 teams, the technology will come into play in the all-important Final in May 2025.

Lastly, the inaugural edition of the landmark AFC Women’s Champions League, which kicks off in October, will see the VAR system made available in the Semi-finals and Final, underscoring the Confederation’s commitment to supporting and developing women’s football on the Continent.

The AFC prepared for this VAR implementation for the 2024/25 season when they conducted the AFC VAR Course in Malaysia in 2023.

This Course consisted of 25 VAR officials across Asia who were taught the in’s and outs of the technology, as part of an effort to keep the Confederation’s match officials up to date with the latest technological advancements in refereeing.

Another workshop will be taking place in the coming months to ensure the VAR Information Officer’s (VIO) of each AFC country are also kept up to date with the technology.

Earlier this year, the AFC implemented the VAR system across all matches at the AFC Asian Cup for the first time, while also becoming the first Confederation to introduce the Semi-Automated Offside Technology (SAOT) system at the Continental Men’s national team level.

It is clear that the AFC have ambitions to remain a model Confederation that is always open for innovation as well as ensuring the success of its match officials on the biggest stages in world football.

As Asian club football prepares to enter a new era, it is vital that this VAR technology is introduced at all stadiums involved in the three competitions to ensure fairness.

After the Mariners success in the AFC Cup, it will be interesting to see how this new three-tier club structure allows Australian teams to compete further in these tournaments.

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