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Serie A appoints ISG as exclusive virtual media provider for empty stadiums

Interregional Sports Group will project virtual branding and graphics at closed-door Serie A stadiums for the remainder of the 2019-20 season after the Italian league expanded its partnership with the company to make it the league’s exclusive virtual media provider.

The deal will see ISG, together with local production partners Netco Sports Italy, project sponsor branding and team graphics onto empty stands at selected times during Serie A matches now that the league has resumed action following the Covid-19 pandemic.

Virtual display technology, which allows sponsor logos to be superimposed onto sports TV coverage, enables rights-holders to expand their commercial media inventory and differentiate marketing for defined broadcast territories.

ISG was already working with the league to project branding onto virtual goal mats during Serie A matches and to differentiate match graphics for four different regional broadcast feeds.

Following the resumption of the league, ISG has deployed the technology to project centre circle logos of Serie A club sponsors pre kick-off, at half-time and prior to second half kick-off.

Now, under the latest deal, the company will expand its use to project “graphics and colours of the competing teams” onto empty seating areas after the Lega Serie A assembly carried out a testing programme to identify the best solution.

Simon Burgess, joint chief executive and co-founder of ISG said: “Lega Serie A are a world leader and innovator in virtual media in live broadcast. We have been working with Lega for many years and are extremely proud to continue to invest in and support new virtual media solutions in these challenging times.

“Our prime objectives are maximising ROI for brands and delivering optimum revenue impact for rights-holders, while never compromising the enjoyment of the live event for the viewing audience,” he continued.

The impetus for Serie A’s differentiated media feeds came from the fact that the league’s title sponsor TIM operates almost exclusively in Italy, freeing the league to sell virtual goal mat inventory to other regional partners outside of Italy.

ISG also produces virtual goal mats for Coca Cola, Lega’s title sponsor of the Coppa Italia Final and has employed the virtual technology to help a handful Serie A clubs to sell some small on-pitch branding opportunities.

“This approach provides interesting graphic enhancement but is not overexposed nor does it impact on the enjoyment of the live action of the match it appears in,” Burgess said.

“We have been working more and more directly with Serie A clubs, using our expertise to find other ways in which we can help them increase their revenues and make best use of their stadium infrastructure to create new virtual media spaces and platforms, whilst balancing those key criteria,” he added.

SportBusiness understands the company hopes to roll out virtual pitchside advertising with some Serie A clubs next season.

“Our senior team has been deploying and commercialising virtual media for almost a decade, working with all types of technologies and solutions and ISG has grown rapidly over the last six years. We are now entering a new paradigm in live sports broadcasting that presents huge opportunities to all stakeholders. However, it is a very complex process with many moving parts, liable to risks as well as rewards. ISG partners with rights-holders, broadcasters and brands to realise those collective ambitions to a world class standard.”

Virtual overlay specialist ISG also has a five-year agreement with Formula 1 for its global betting sponsorship rights from 2020 to 2024, worth around $100m (€88m/£80m) or $20m a year.

Under that deal, the company is using digital replacement technology to sell regional betting sponsorship deals for the motorsport series. In March, 188Bet was announced as F1’s first betting sponsor for the Asia region in a five-year deal brokered by ISG and thought to be worth at least $8m a season.

Serie A becomes the second major European League since the resumption to project virtual images onto empty seating during televised coverage of live games. Upon LaLiga’s return behind closed doors, Spanish production group and rights agency Mediapro reworked its host broadcast of matches, partnering with specialist graphics production firm Virtz to project a virtual crowd overlay onto empty seats.

But SportBusiness understands Serie A and ISG have no plans to project images of crowds onto empty seats.