At least 10,000 fans will be in ‘virtual’ attendance during AGF Aarhus’ derby match against Randers on Thursday night as the Danish Superliga club invites supporters from around the world to experience the fixture live on Zoom.

As part of the initiative, fans will be able to tune in to one of a number of Zoom calls, where they can interact with fellow supporters and enjoy the match. The call will not show coverage of the match itself, so fans will require a second screen to watch the action.

In total, 22 different calls will be created to replicate 22 sections of AGF Aarhus’ Ceres Park stadium, which has a capacity of 19,000. Screens will then be set up at the stadium to beam the fan footage and audio back as the match is going ahead.

The virtual tickets will be free for fans. The club announced the plans earlier in the month and the initiative has proved popular among supporters.

“Today we are announcing that we have reached 10,000 fans,” Søren Højlund Carlsen, the club’s head of media, tells TheStadiumBusiness.com.

“In theory there is no limit to how many fans can take part, but we are expecting around 11,000 to 12,000. That would be fantastic. It will be a big technical challenge but we have done some testing and are confident it will work.”

Fan footage is set to be integrated into the television coverage of the match and Carlsen hopes the initiative can keep fans engaged with the club while they are unable to attend fixtures in person.

“We discussed how we could engage fans and engage the community,” he says. “We are a local club, the club of the city, with a strong community. How could we recreate that digitally, even though fans aren’t at the stadium?

“In Denmark, every Friday night, there is a TV programme that invites the public to sing together as part of a community and we thought, ‘could we bring that into football?’”

The club has put plans in place to ensure that no inappropriate behaviour is shown on the screens in the stadium, with over 50 digital moderators to be monitoring the calls.

“There will be ‘digital stewards’. If we have any profanity [or see anything we shouldn’t], we will kick people off the call. The rules on the Zoom call will be the same as in the stadium – if you don’t behave, you’ll be kicked out.”

Carlsen explained that although the majority of fans will be tuning in from Denmark, the initiative has attracted interest from overseas, and as far afield as Australia. Fans from Randers, which is based just 30km north of AGF Aarhus, will also be tuning in through a dedicated away zone.

Carlsen admits that the logistics of setting up the screens has been a “big effort”. The club will not use its ordinary big screens, with new displays measuring 40m long by 3m high set to arrive tomorrow. The screens will be placed alongside the pitch in time for Thursday’s match.

The initiative has also proved popular with the players. “They have reacted very positively,” says Carlsen. “Every professional wants to win and they need the encouragement from the fans. We all need support and they are used to this boost from the fans. They are happy that we’re creating an environment of support and that they will hear the fans as well.”

Thursday’s derby between AGF Aarhus and Randers is the only Superliga fixture from matchday 24 that did not go ahead due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It will be the league’s first match back following its suspension.

AGF Aarhus is also due to play OB Odense at home next Monday and Carlsen said the Zoom calls will be opened for this fixture if Thursday night’s initiative proves successful.

Image: AGF Aarhus