Local soccer back, live and on SuperSport – but not as you know it

While PSL teams have been allowed to train under strict health protocols in recent weeks, only now can they contemplate action – almost five months since they last played.

Local soccer roars back into life this weekend but will look unlike anything that came before in the 24 years since the league began.

The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc with international sport, forcing athletes into hiatus, away from teammates and coaches. While PSL teams have been allowed to train under strict health protocols in recent weeks, only now can they contemplate action – almost five months since they last played.

Two Nedbank Cup matches will take place in a Soweto double-header on Saturday, both of which will be broadcast on SuperSport (semifinal 1: Baroka FC vs Bloemfontein Celtic, Orlando Stadium, SS4, 2pm; semifinal 2: Mamelodi Sundowns vs Bidvest Wits, Orlando Stadium, SS4, 7.15pm).

These take place ahead of next Tuesday’s bumper PSL return with Sundowns against Orlando Pirates.

Given the restrictions on crowds and health requirements, SuperSport will roll out both virtual sound and virtual crowd effects to simulate as best as possible the atmosphere that traditionally accompanies domestic soccer.

Additionally, the vital link between teams and their supporters will be brought to life with SuperSport blending social media interaction with traditional broadcasts.

Meanwhile, SuperSport’s production crews will undergo Covid-19 testing ahead of the weekend broadcasts. Staff will be sequestered in Johannesburg hotels and be kept away from the general public.

On match day, broadcast staff will be limited to 15 people in the stadium with an additional 35 working in the outside broadcast unit vehicles.

Precautions will even extend to player interviews, which will take place at a distance to ensure the safest possible face-to-face engagements.

These innovations and protocols will be in place for all televised Nedbank Cup and Absa Premiership matches in the weeks to come.

According to Alvin Naicker, SuperSport’s head of production, the virtual elements have been in the works for several months. He explained that the sound effects would be drawn from a bank of sound effects generated from past PSL matches.

“These have been carefully edited and cut to create a comparable rendering to what a normal match would sound like,” he said.

This exercise would even produce a different sound between different teams with a Kaizer Chiefs celebration being unlike a Maritzburg United celebration, or a chorus of disappointment from SuperSport United fans being different to one from Bidvest Wits. “The key is to get the timing right, but we’ve done dry runs and the effects have been encouraging,” said Naicker, adding that virtual crowds would also be digitally inserted into wide shots to create a look and atmosphere TV viewers are familiar with.

With the PSL resuming without crowds and without the passions that traditionally flow from the stands, social media will be used to drive engagement with messaging appearing on broadcasts. Moreover, certain games on SuperSport will feature Zoom interactions with fans during dead ball moments, all of it curated to add to the television-viewing experience.

With a big chunk of Absa Premiership matches between this weekend and the end of September, SuperSport will endeavour to ensure the broadcasts are engaging and as close as possible to the experience that fans have come to know and love.

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