When Liga MX returns to Univision’s airwaves in the U.S. on July 24, fans will be visible in the stands – at least virtually – via the same digital meeting technology that spectators have used to hold video conference calls during the pandemic.
Univision will create virtual groups featuring members of the team’s supporters clubs and season ticket holders. Images captured on fans’ computer screens at home will then be overlaid on empty seats inside the lower bowls of stadiums during live match telecasts.
Fan names will be supplied by individual clubs, Univision said. Each team will also have proprietary links available to them for group members to join with TV producers also on the call to instruct virtual audiences.
“We’ve been able to test the technology during the Copa por Mexico team tournament that just concluded on July 19,” Marco Liceaga, senior vice president of marketing and business development for TUDN, said. “Lower bowls in each stadium are different, but we’ve been able to adapt the technology successfully.”
Univision did not disclose its technology partner for its new virtual initiative. In May, fans of the Danish SuperLiga club AGF Aarhus in Denmark were able to similarly digitally insert themselves into stadiums during live gameplay, The Guardian reported. This activation was carried out in partnership with Zoom.
Univision is now looking to sell sponsorships for its new virtual fan wall on broadcasts, in addition to other areas of the field during the Liga MX season. These include virtual ads on the center kickoff circle and corner flag banners.
Higher-than-expected ratings for Univision for the Copa por Mexico – a two-week, eight-team exhibition tournament – has Univision convinced fans will turn up in droves to watch the return of Liga MX. The tournament averaged 423,000 viewers over the 14 telecasts. The final between Cruz Azil and Chivas peaked at 919,000 viewers.
“I think, in general, partners are happy to have Liga MX and live soccer back,” Liceaga said, adding that the network is offering new advertising opportunities to all brands that may be interested. Liga MX is also Univision’s most watched soccer property in the U.S.
“We wanted to make sure that we were fully operational with this technology enhancement first during the Copa for Mexico to have it ready for the season,” he added. “Now we’re really ready to roll it out for Liga MX.”
The new inventory is being sold independently of LigaMX and its clubs, which sell their own individual rights to national TV networks. Liga MX club distribution rights in the U.S. are split between Fox, Telemundo, and Univision – with Univision currently holding the majority of the rights deals with the league’s 18 clubs.
During upcoming match broadcasts on Univision’s TV networks, the company will utilize artificial fan noise similar to the MLS is Back Tournament games currently airing on TUDN. The Spanish-language network initially voted against fake crowd noise in the spring when the German Bundesliga resumed on May 16 before quickly pivoting on its audio strategy.
“Being able to hear shouts from players is interesting for the first 10 minutes, but then you realize there is something missing,” Liceaga said.
All of Liga MX matches will also be produced remotely – with camera feeds being sent directly to Univision’s Miami headquarters and Mexico City base of operations. Univision says it will look to create the same level of broadcasts fans are accustomed to.
“We started remote productions [for the entire season] with MLS three years ago because we understood that was the future,” Liceaga said. “Fast forward three years, it has become even more valuable because with the new normal we are sending less people to stadiums.”