Germany’s Bundesliga restarted behind closed doors in May. Andy Rice, COO of Major Events International, says sport in 2020 will look very different than how we remember it


Champagne orders would have been coming thick and fast to the boardrooms of betting companies around the world last week, as live sport – in the form of the German Bundesliga – resumed on Saturday 16th May.

There was a special ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ reserved for BT Towers on the Olympic Park, as their sports rights gamble finally paid dividends. Thousands, starved of live football, signed up for packages which allowed football fans to get a much needed ‘fix’ of live sport, and the betting revenues flowed.

However – this was not football as we know it. What was missing? The fans, of course.

Saying that “football is nothing without the fans” is a massive insult to the hundreds of thousands of footballers who turn out on Sunday mornings to play non-league football. But perhaps if there is one good thing that will come out of this storm, it is that more people will be out playing sport in the summer of 2020 than will be watching it. That has to be a step – or even a jog- in the right direction.

“Football without fans will be almost unrecognisable, as anyone who has watched the stilted, audience-less Graham Norton Show will know.”

The atmosphere of professional sport – and therefore the motivation of the players – will change massively without the fans. Football will be very different for the players, without stadiums packed full of fans. But more importantly, it will be almost unrecognisable for the millions of TV viewers, as anyone who has watched the stilted, audience-less Graham Norton Show or the now-seemingly-witless Have I got News for You will know.

Audiences and fans – they bring the cast to life. Kudos to Borussia Monchengladbach’s brilliantly creative attempt to recreate a crowd, by allowing fans (and those of their opponents) to pay €19 to place cardboard cut-outs of themselves in the stadium. But atmosphere is not created visually, it is created orally.

MEI Member Beyond 90, who are responsible for most of Manchester City’s fan engagement experiences, may have come up with an answer. Their solution is to create a microcosm of fan experience in a hybrid bar/broadcast studio. The premise is that 100 fans, with beer in hand in a small space, can create as much atmosphere as 50,000 fans in a large space.

That ‘atmosphere’ can then be piped over the stadium’s PA system to ensure the game will be played (and even more importantly, broadcast) with an appropriate soundtrack. It may sound a little far-fetched, but once the social distancing issues have been resolved, why not? And, I am told the pitch to the Premier League clubs went well.

So, whilst German football is back in a sterile environment (in more ways than one), we can be hopeful that Project Restart will conclude with the type of broadcast experience we have all come to expect.


Major Events International is a business development consultancy that helps suppliers connect with major sporting events. MEI are running a Mash Media-sponsored virtual summit in July.