Amid the ongoing difficulties caused by COVID-19, venues, teams and fans alike are coming to terms with the new ways in which we consume live sport.

In the US, the NFL and Major League Baseball have begun welcoming back a limited number of fans to stadiums, albeit with strict social distancing measures in place and mask-wearing essential at all times.

In the UK, a handful of fan pilot events were held over the summer as part of plans to reintroduce spectators across the board from October. A rise in the number of COVID-19 cases put paid to those plans and it remains unclear when fans will be able to return to Premier League and English Football League (EFL) stadiums.

For now, any fan of a Premier League or EFL team has to settle for watching games on TV rather than in person. As a result, Sky and BT Sport customers have grown accustomed to ‘fake’ crowd noise complementing the match footage as broadcasters look to enhance the viewing experience.

Of course, this crowd noise is purely for viewers’ benefit and cannot be heard by the players and coaches. But a new application recently launched that delivers a real-time, controlled sound solution for the venues themselves.

The new venture, dubbed d&b Fanblock, has been formed through a partnership between German audio technology and solutions company d&b audiotechnik and theatrical and creative sound designer Autograph.

Details of the application, which is powered by Autograph Stadium Sound, were first revealed last month and the application has already been used at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium (pictured below), home of Championship side Queens Park Rangers.

The application creates a multi-channel surround system which, when combined with Autograph’s playback software, means venues can be filled with the sound of fans, and not just the eerie shouts of players and coaches. The tech can be used for venues with no fans or with a reduced number of supporters on site, with d&b having worked with Autograph to create “dynamic sound reinforcement concepts” for mixed scenarios.

So, how does the Fanblock solution differ to the fake crowd noise we have grown used to on TV?

“Fanblock provides a much more realistic crowd atmosphere,” Robert Trebus, project manager at d&b, tells TheStadiumBusiness.com. “There is no comparison. When broadcasters add crowd noise to the sound in an empty stadium, the two mix very synthetically and it sounds fake.

“Our sophisticated system allows for object-based signal management, allowing complex sound events to be moved dynamically around the stadium in real-time, and add additional subtlety and detail to the effect of Stadium Sound in response to the actions on the field. This approach allows spectator chants to grow from one section before building out to fill the entire stadium.

“When we play the Stadium Sound composition in the stadium, it sounds as though the fans are right there with the players – the positive effect that Fanblock has on the game should not be underestimated.”

Trebus says the idea for Fanblock was first conceived when d&b realised that players and fans alike were feeling the psychological effects of silent stadiums. So far, the feedback from players and coaches has been positive.

“Early on we conducted a simple test with the players and coaches where we switched off the system for a short period of time and they immediately reacted and asked for the system to be deployed again,” says Trebus.

“The acoustic impression of an empty stadium is extremely daunting and we are delighted to be able to resolve this and bring the energy of a crowd back into the stadium.”

Fanblock’s basic audio content consists of non-team-specific sounds, including background ‘bed’ loops, to provide a continual atmosphere and a library of sound cues that can be triggered by operators based on what is happening on the pitch.

The custom sound design package offers club-specific chants, made possible through Autograph’s content partner, FanChants. As well as regular cheers for goals and club chants, the platform even incorporates booing.

“The short answer is yes, if you have booing in your sound package you can have booing! Fanblock by Autograph Stadium Sound creates a live crowd atmosphere at sports events that can be dynamically controlled in real-time to directly respond to the events of the game.

“d&b Fanblock uses the matrix functions of the DS100 Signal engine to distribute audio to the d&b loudspeaker system. As the system is operated live by engineers in the stadium it can follow the energy levels and punctuate the dramatic moments of the game as they happen – cheering, booing, singing, chanting, whatever you choose.”

Trebus (pictured above) also revealed that d&b has integrated the My Applause smartphone app into Fanblock, enabling fans at home or in the stadium to send personalised singing, applause – or boos – into the stadium.

After the successful roll-out at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Trebus says d&b is hoping to extend the reach of the Fanblock application across more venues. The technology is not football-specific and can be applied to any venue that wishes to recreate a crowd atmosphere.

“We are currently working on a range of Fanblock deployments with a number of sports facilities and clubs and we look forward to announcing more projects soon.”

Images: d&b