Welcome to the Thunderdome!
A few months ago WWE launched the all new ‘Thunderdome!’ A state of the art
arena fully equipped with LED boards that allow fans to attend events
WWE sends out a link to a live stream of the event and each fan sits down,
camera focused on them and microphone primed, ready to enjoy the show.
Think Zoom meeting on steroids.
The live images of each fan are displayed on the LED boards and sound is
pumped out through the arena speakers. The wrestlers can react and feed of
the noise as though a crowd was there in the room.
“Well good for them but what’s that got to do with Villa?”
Ok I hear you, but go with me on this and imagine the Villa Park stands full of
LED boards beaming 20,000 fans love from their own homes straight into the
ground. The collective roar of each individual fan booming out of the sound
What a sight it would be, but what are the pros and cons, could it really work
as well for football as it does for the WWE?
Let’s start with the positives. As with the wrestlers, players could feed of the
noise of the home crowd and see the reaction of their fans in the stands.
The fans would be able to watch the game knowing they have a presence at
the stadium, that their cheers and groans, sat on their sofa at home, can be
appreciated by more than the wife and kids (or the dogs and cats in my case,
who just look at me totally confused).
Those viewing on TV will be treated to stands full of faces and authentic crowd
reactions as opposed to depressingly empty seats and a complete lack of
atmosphere (lockdown football has at least given me a glimpse at life as a
“Sounds great but what are the down sides?”
Alright, it’s not all roses, there are some downsides. The obvious being the
sheer cost of implementing the scheme could be enough to leave it dead in
the water from the very beginning.
The other big problem would be it’s vulnerability to misuse. In the WWE one
fan who used their virtual seat to display a rival promotions logo while another
appeared on live TV dressed as a member of the KKK (no he wasn’t in a
Then there is the smaller problems of TV rights and the difficulty of getting a
coherent chant going.
“So that’s it then, the problems are to big to overcome”
Hang on, don’t be so hasty, I have a few ideas. Let’s look at how each
problem could be solved.
Firstly, fitting the entire stadium would be unnecessary, the majority of the
screens would be out of sight of the TV cameras and those in the upper tiers
would likely go unnoticed by the players. So if we fitted LED displays in the
lower tiers only it would reduce cost but would still allow a large number of
fans to attend virtually.
The cost of installation could be meet by selling tickets to fans for the virtual
seats as well as using them to display adverts in rotation with the fans faces.
Even so, obtaining and fitting that amount of LED boards is still an extravagant
as a temporary measure, but why is it only temporary?
Once full crowds can return the boards could be relocated to replace the
traditional advertising hoardings and other available spaces. The boards could
still carry the adverts that are seen at the moment but those ads could be
rotated with live streams of fans. Doing this would allow 10 to 20 thousand
virtual fans to join the 40 thousand in the stadium and would allow those fans
who have moved out of the area, or even the country, to have a presence at
Imagine, for example, the Ghana Lions cheering on the side, their voices
added to those of the live crowd.
To alleviate this I propose a two pronged approach. Firstly, use booking
history to ensure slots go solely to villa fans with priority being given to season
ticket holders, with those meeting certain booking history requirements taking
any spare slots.
The second part is to ban anyone misusing the system, not only from gaining
entry to the virtual stadium but by also applying a 12 month ban from
attending games in person starting from the day the stadium opens fully for
the first time.
Sky and BT have been quick to defend their rights to be the only broadcasters
showing premier league football in the uk, so how do we get them to allow
clubs to stream the games to the fans in virtual seats?
Well, sky already has an increased number of games giving them a greater
pull for advertising. The addition of virtual audiences would greatly enhance
the viewers enjoyment of the games by having real life crowd noise reacting
authentically to the action. The Premier League could alternatively strip Sky of
the extra games and return control of those games rights back to the clubs.
I’m sure a case could be made by a decent legal team to sky not having rights
over live match’s that they can’t show, such as the 3pm Saturday games.
The problem with crowd chants is how they get started. Normally a couple of
mates will start a chant, those nearby will join in and the chant will quickly
grow from there until it fills the entire stadium.
In a virtual stadium you can’t hear the individuals next to you, only the overall
noise produced by the crowd meaning our mates voices are now lost in a sea
of noise. One of the best parts of going to a live game is the chants, so how
do we get them back in a virtual stadium.
The answer, we appoint a fan leaders, a select group whose audio is piped to
the rest of the virtual fans, via the live stream, so that when they start a chant
everyone else can hear them and join in.
In conclusion, fitting a football stadium with all the necessary equipment would
be no small undertaking and nothing will ever beat the buzz of a live crowd at
a match. However, while fans can’t attend in person, a virtual stadium would
allow the next best thing and in the long term it would provide a way for distant
fans to make their voice count.
I’m in favour of a Villa Park version of the ‘Thunderdome!’ and see it not as a
quick fix to a short term problem, but a long term solution to bringing together
the Villa family, no matter how far away they are.
So to the Ghana Lions, I look forward to saying (In my best American accent)
“Welcome! To the Thunder Park!"
Article by: Ryan Lee