One of the ways that football has succeeded in building such a large and loyal audience is through its consistency. While other sports, like rugby and cricket, are constantly innovating and introducing new rules to engage with a bigger audience, football is much more conservative by its nature.
Historically, only small changes have been made to the rules, while the make-up of the league hierarchy, including the number of teams competing in each tier and the rules for promotion and relegation, has remained largely unchanged throughout the last 100 years.
But the last ten years has seen the sport embrace several bold innovations powered by new technology. The changes have been implemented chiefly to help match officials, and ensure fewer incorrect decisions are made.
What technology is being used while also exploring football’s wider relationship with the digital marketplace?
A digital sport
Football has capitalized massively on the opportunities afforded by the growth of the internet during the last 25 years. Today, football supporters, whether watching in the stadium or at home generally have a smartphone either in their pocket or on the table in front of them.
The smartphone has opened up many possibilities, including giving fans the ability to access live statistics from the match they’re watching, check out the scores from other matches and follow their favorite players on Twitter or Instagram.
It’s also great news for the sport’s commercial partners, as it allows instant access to their platform. For example, a retailer could use pitch-side perimeter advertising to promote a special offer and fans would be able to instantly make a purchase from their phone. It also allows betting companies to engage with customers in a whole new way. Many leading online betting sites offer odds that change as the action unfolds, and the smartphone allows fans to see the latest markets while they watch the game. This change in technology means the betting industry has involved, with many fans placing bets during the game from the comfort of their home.
Tech for good
But tech is also capable of transforming professions and techniques are being used by football to directly improve the product for supporters. The first major technological innovation that has assisted match officials was the introduction of goal-line technology in 2013. Generally speaking, this technology has been a major success. Within a few seconds, referees receive a clear notification to a watch that lets them know whether or not the ball has crossed the line. The system used in the Premier League also generates an image that shows the ball’s position to the goal-line, providing valuable insight to supporters on the edge of their seats.
The system has not been without its controversy, however. In a match between Aston Villa and Sheffield United last year, the technology inexplicably failed to give a goal to Sheffield United, despite the ball appearing to clearly cross the line. Those hitches have been few and far between and the technology has been warmly received by supporters, however the same cannot be said for the more recent innovation of VAR, which was introduced last season.
This technology is used to replay incidents and plot lines digitally to make decisions on whether or not a player was offside, if a foul has been committed or if the ball has been handled. The use of VAR has divided opinion, although the Premier League has insisted that the technology is here to stay.
Though VAR is still being perfected, it’s clear to see that football in the UK is embracing new tech to make changes for the better. It will be fascinating to see how similar techniques may be used in the future to help enhance the product even further for supporters.