It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive disruption for people worldwide since first breaking out in Wuhan in 2019, but as life starts to return to a new sort of normal, sports clubs are attempting to find ways to adjust.
In Denmark, one club in particular has attempted to find find a way to balance the need for public health with trying to give players the chance to avoid having to play in empty stadiums. After all, a big part of a professional player's life is celebrating his goals in front of thousands of fans, but unfortunately as a result of COVID-19, fans are not able to gather in the stadiums as they once used to do.
Thus, Aarhus Gymnastikforening, commonly known as AGF, decided to do something that no other club has done before: to bring its fans together virtually. The team put together a trio of giant screens ahead of their first home game against Randers which would allow up to about 200 fan images at a time and set it up in AGF's home base Ceres Park, organized by webconferencing outlet Zoom.
To make sure that Randers fans weren't left out, there was even a separate "section" for the "visiting" crowd as well. Supporters were grouped together in packs of about 18 at a time after signing up for virtual tickets for where they usually sat when attending games at Ceres Park. The groups then cycled through to allow each cohort of fans to have their faces displayed on the screens throughout the 90 minutes of the game, which ended as a 1-1 draw.
For the most part, the fans behaved themselves - although a few were ejected for some inappropriate and lewd behavior, which is hardly surprising because even during live games, there are sometimes a few obnoxious fans who just don't know how to act decently and sit back and enjoy the game. So, just as there are security guards in the stadiums, there were moderators over the Zoom feed to make sure that things were kept in order.
Danish club AGF's innovative approach allowed over 10,000 fans to enjoy a clash between the home side and visiting team Randers, which ended as a one-all stalemate
"I think it is a brilliant initiative," a fan named Mette told Live Soccer TV in a casual chat when asked about her experience with the Zoom watch party.
"While it's obviously not the same as being at the stadium, it was still a really awesome experience to share with fellow supporters, and it will be very interesting to see if other clubs not just here in Denmark but elsewhere in Europe [and around the world] emulate this model as well as we have to adjust to a 'new normal' in a world disrupted due to COVID-19.
"As it doesn't seem like this outbreak will be a one-off incident, and global pandemics may become an unfortunate reality [that could occur more and more often], it's important that teams find innovative ways to help fans support their teams as going to stadiums [and gathering in large numbers] may not be a possibility anymore."
Indeed, other clubs appear to be using Aarhus as a blueprint, with team executives from several Premier League outfits as well as in Norway looking to possibly emulate this concept for their own matches.
Aarhus, who currently sit in third spot in the Denmark Superliga, will be in action soon this Sunday, when they travel to face lock horns with sixth-placed Aalborg for the first of two meetings in three days (they will face the same team on June 10th in the Danish Cup).
AaB vs AGF Broadcast Information
Stadium: Aalborg Portland Park (Aalborg)