Building on the power of social-based online communications channels to connect people with shared passions, Microsoft and Real Madrid earlier this year created a unique “digital sticker” initiative designed to bring Real Madrid fans worldwide closer to their favourite team.
Though it is usually the fan who collects trading cards or stickers of their favourite football players, the fan sticker album created by Microsoft has turned tradition on its head, allowing fans to fashion their own cards and send them to Real Madrid players as part of a dynamic online album.
In contributing to this album, thousands of participants from 118 countries — from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe — shared their passion for Real Madrid by uploading their own photos via www.connectyourpassion.com.
Within the resulting digital photo album, each of thousands of “stickers” featured a fan’s photo, name, country, and length of time as a Real Madrid fan. The 12 fans judged to have submitted the best images for this digital sticker album were given the chance to participate in a Q&A with players during a ceremony held on March 12 at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in Madrid.
Following the presentation of the fan sticker album to the team, Riedel Communications’ STX-200 professional Skype interface, MediorNet real-time media network, RockNet audio network, and Artist digital intercom system were used to facilitate a real-time Q&A session between these Real Madrid fans and players including Sergio Ramos, Bale, Marcelo, and Chicharito.
The team members connected via Skype to fans in their home countries of China, Mexico, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Venezuela, Colombia, Portugal, and Spain. The lucky dozen are among millions of Real Madrid fans around the world, most of whom will never get the chance to attend a match played by their beloved team, named the “best club of the 20th century” by FIFA.
“This partnership is about so much more than a business partnership, but an opportunity to truly put fans at the centre of sport and revolutionise the way in which ‘Madridistas’ follow their team and share their passion for the club,” said Orlando Ayala, Microsoft chairman and corporate vice president, emerging businesses, and an avid football fan.
“More important is connecting fans with fans in new ways to enhance and extend their community.”
The collaboration between Microsoft and Real Madrid is intended to accelerate the digital transformation of the club — the way Real Madrid football is played, coached, watched, and experienced — through technology, and it is built on a new digital platform supported by Microsoft’s Azure, Office 365, and Dynamics, among other key products.
As Ayala puts it, the digital platform being designed with Real Madrid “is maniacally focused on putting fans at the centre, and opening access and control of rich content and experiences that bring them closer to their passion for the game and the team.”
The effort by the two organisations was launched with the posting of a video, titled “Passion Powers Passion,” which features Real Madrid players and coaches using devices including the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, as well as Microsoft Band, during practice.
Posted at the same time, in early February, a second video introduced the concept of the fan sticker album and invited fans to contribute their own content — and put themselves in the running to take part in the Skype Q&A with team members.
Article continues on next page ...
“Before, the fans collected stars. Now the stars collect their fans,” states the voiceover as video shows Real Madrid players examining and exchanging fan cards generated through the project.
Rather than work with consumer PCs running common Skype clients, which must be integrated with scan and HDMI-to-SDI converters, and put up with issues such as audio dropout and menu popups on the live feed, event organisers simply deployed the STX-200 within a larger Riedel network.
Licensed by Microsoft, the STX-200 is a stand-alone, broadcast-grade solution that leverages Skype to bring live content from remote participants directly into the live production environment.
A single-box solution, the STX200 brings Skype connectivity into the professional broadcast environment, transforming the hundreds of millions of Skype users worldwide into potential contributors to a live event or broadcast.
Ideal for sport, news, and entertainment, the solution made it possible for Microsoft and Real Madrid to engage people from across the world in a dialogue with members of their favourite club. Riedel’s Skype interface allows a single operator to preview and then monitor the quality of multiple calls.
Automatic aspect ratio conversion streamlines the process of adapting and integrating Skype video into live production, though the user can take full control over screen aspect radios as needed. Should video quality levels drop below a set threshold, the STX-200 automatically reverts to a still image of the speaker.
For this event, six of the Riedel STX-200 units were used to reach out to the 12 fans scattered across the globe, and the caller queue was managed and linked via the Artist intercom system, with the MediorNet and Rocknet systems handling signal distribution.
Outgoing Skype calls to each fan were initiated from the stadium master control room in Madrid, with a call handler doing a preliminary check to ensure that lighting and sound were of sufficient quality, confirming the question that the caller would ask, and then briefing the caller on how the interview would take place.
Once these details had been addressed, the call handler used the Artist intercom panel to place the Skype caller into a preview queue and connected him or her with the production feed, which provided a look at the ongoing Q&A session.
Six Skype callers were maintained in the queue at any given time, with a new caller added to the queue as a new caller was switched to “live.” The clean feed of each Skype call, with video and audio free from any distracting notifications, signals, advertisements, or pop-ups, was routed via the MediorNet network through to the Artist system, as well as the production switcher and the RockNet audio network used to create the program feed.
The resulting mix was fed back through the Riedel systems to supply a program feed to participants. The event also was live streamed for all fans to watch, with a series of viewing parties bringing the event to Microsoft retail stores in a variety of cities.
“Strong communities are built on a sense of connectedness: people coming together and interacting on a shared and relevant purpose,” added Ayala. “This is what our partnership with Real Madrid is all about – bringing people together in a different dimension of community and connectedness.
Article continues on next page ...
Technology is only an enabler, playing a supporting role while showcasing the community of fans as the stars of the show.” The use of Skype in production and broadcast applications is not new within the sports arena, as the technology has already been used as a simple solution for bringing live images and interviews into programming.
The combination of Skype with Riedel’s STX200 and the company’s MediorNet and Artist solutions offers far greater potential, ensuring the consistently high quality of audio and video expected of professional productions, as well as versatile control capabilities and flexible options for integrating Skype feeds into the live program.
With this technology and the contribution model it supports, users can take advantage of a much greater diversity and volume of new content. The STX-200 offers professional video interfaces including an SDI (SD/HD) input and SDI (SD/HD) output with a sync input. The unit’s broadcast-grade audio interfaces include a two-channel balanced analogue audio XLR input and output, as well as SDI embedded audio.
Within a robust housing designed for the rigors of broadcast and production, the STX-200 features Gigabit Ethernet connections, a user interface connection via HDMI, USB ports for accessories, and GPIs.
“The live Q&A session between Real Madrid fans and players during the ‘Fan Sticker Album’ event is a perfect example of using the power of Skype to create community,” said Lars Höhmann, product manager MediorNet & Skype at Riedel Communications.
“Though online social communications are not a substitute for human interaction, this joint initiative by Microsoft and Real Madrid demonstrates that amazing things can happen when communications technology provides the quality and flexibility necessary for natural interaction. This event was enormous fun and a tremendous success, and I think we will see many more unique uses of this powerful technology to create stronger communities around shared goals and interests.”
The fan sticker album for Real Madrid remains available for contributions and viewing at www.connectyourpassion.com. Each of the many pages in this virtual photo album features 12 fan cards, but a search feature makes it possible to filter cards according to name, country, and/or number of years as a Real Madrid fan.
“Passion is something that you can’t really explain in words or rehearse, and the love of the Real Madrid fans that goes from generation to generation is one of those unexplainable ones, and that is what makes it unique,” wrote Alaya in a blog about the Microsoft Real Madrid collaboration.
“Through this partnership, Real Madrid fans around the world will be able to get closer to the game, the club and players, and the fan community in ways we never imagined possible.”