Despite the occasional controversy, it’s clear that video officiating is now an embedded part of many, if not most, top-level sports. Whether it’s VAR, TMO, the AMGC (more colloquially and commonly referred to just as ‘New York’) or DRS, nearly every sport has incorporated some form of an acronymised video officiating function to provide support to its officiating teams.
In most cases, video officiating is treated as a standalone service, normally provided and operated by a third-party technology company in partnership with the officiating body.
However, since the start of the 2022/23 Bundesliga season, Deltatre – through Vieww, an acquisition made by Sportec Solutions (STS), our joint venture with the German Football League (DFL) – is exploring ways leagues can benefit from greater integration between this technology and other league-owned assets.
In 2016, Deltatre and DFL Group announced the creation of the Sportec Solutions joint venture, a company set up to collect, process and distribute the Bundesliga’s official match data, thereby giving the league full control of a ‘core asset’. In this regard, the DFL became the pioneer of the league-owned data model in soccer, an approach other leagues are now adopting.
However, for the DFL, owning its match data ecosystem only represented the beginning of this shift in-house. By also acquiring the majority of Vieww in January 2022, it was, for the first time, able to own and implement its own officiating services which, as we will explore later in this piece, brings with it unique and tantalising possibilities and opportunities.
The setup process
First, however, the nuts and bolts. What does the setup and quality assurance (QA) process for a VAR system in a major league look like?
For the start of the current 2022/23 season, STS worked with DFB Schiri, the subsidiary of the German Football Association (DFB) that is responsible for the German leagues’ refereeing and officiating. STS successfully deployed Vieww VAR technologies for the Bundesliga, the German Supercup, Bundesliga 2 and DFB Pokal, as well as goal-line technology for the Bundesliga, the German Supercup and selected matches in the DFB Pokal.
Vieww is only the second provider to offer both goal-line technology and VAR licensed technologies and was formally certified by Fifa as a licensed provider of video officiating and goal-line technology services for global soccer league federations, a certification that has been in place since the start of the 2022/23 Bundesliga season.
The service deployed uses 14 intelligent cameras tracking at 200 frames per second in real-time, in addition to a fleet of 12 vans (many of which are electric) and a newly created remote operations centre to deliver a best-in-class service.
Across the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2, there are 18 venues that host a game every weekend, nine in each league. In each stadium, we have installed the officiating infrastructure, which is Vieww camera technology and cabling.
The VAR system being deployed in the Bundesliga uses 14 intelligent cameras tracking at 200 frames per second
Each weekend, every host stadium is allocated a van which we hook up to this stadium infrastructure as well as the video truck that produces the TV signal. We then remotely connect to the operations centre in Cologne.
The preparation at each stadium, from minus six hours to kick off, involves completing a standard technology checklist, calibration of the offside line and synchronisation of all the cameras.
An hour before kick-off, we work with the refereeing team – both at the stadium as well as in the operations centre – to go through their own checklist and make sure that they’re comfortable with the system. That way we ensure that not only is all the technology calibrated and working correctly, but the refereeing team can carry out their own independent checks too.
For QA purposes, when the games are underway STS personnel are stationed at every key link in the chain: pitchside next to the monitor, in the van outside the stadium and at the operations centre, while there are also independent referees’ observers for each game.
However, the Bundesliga set-up, while ideal for a globally renowned soccer league, is clearly extremely personnel and resource-intensive. STS understands that other leagues and sports aren’t necessarily able to invest to the same degree.
Therefore, STS has created a uniquely scalable solution: a compact VAR solution that, instead of being permanently installed in each stadium, is completely portable, as seen in Portugal’s Liga 3. This all-in-one solution is comprised of a single lightweight box which allows for the ingestion of up to eight synchronised camera feeds and the implementation of a virtual offside line.
This allows VAR operations at any stadium with no infrastructure necessary, and can easily be transported, set up and stored, meaning a much more cost-effective infrastructure for smaller leagues, without sacrificing footage quality.
Fewer cameras also mean fewer people needed to monitor the feeds, again reducing the resources required. Crucially though, the compact VAR uses the same workflows as the ‘full’ system, ensuring high-quality support for officiating teams.
The benefits for leagues and federations
In its more than 35-year history, Deltatre’s work with sports federations has become increasingly far-reaching. From market-leading over-the-top (OTT) platforms and some of sport’s most-accessed websites, to game-changing design and broadcast graphics, Deltatre’s role and influence in empowering global sport through digital technology is arguably unparalleled.
For the first time, though, this ability to connect with fans and viewers extends to what’s actually happening on the field of play. Thanks to Deltatre’s expertise in this sector, and the fact that the DFL now owns its end-to-end data and officiating ecosystem, we are now able to explore new opportunities around what may be possible using this content.
At the most basic level, VAR and goal-line technology cameras provide unique broadcast angles of the action. This obviously has potential opportunities for federation-owned channels, whether they are unique feeds available to fans via club or league apps, or in-broadcast.
When combined with the match data, we can automatically push live, auto-clipped review videos to in-stadium screens or fans’ phones and, in theory, if league rules allow, give specific segments of fans an opportunity to listen in to the conversations between the refereeing team and the VAR officials. These could all be behind membership paywalls or be sponsorable assets or delivered to specific broadcast feeds or social channels.
From a gamification perspective, the league could create and own a ‘be the referee’-type experience, where tracking and event data could be combined to give fans the referee’s exact perspective of a controversial incident.
In soccer especially, VAR has understandably been accused of getting off to a rocky start: like any new technology it takes time to be accepted and appreciated. However, over time it’s possible to see greater benefits and opportunities from this technology than many fans may have anticipated.