WRITTEN BY Thomas Dohm
Sr. Producer at MediaMonks
Among industries affected by COVID-19, sports were hit especially hard, with seasons canceled and postponed until the pandemic could be contained. We’re now approaching a closer sense of normalcy, with sporting events now back on—albeit for digital audiences. What the pandemic has shown is that leagues, clubs and sports brands can go much further in using digital technology to reach and support fans.
The Stand Red app, made by MediaMonks in collaboration with Octagon and Standard Chartered Bank (led by Marc Davies, Snr. Sponsorship Manager), Main Club Partner of Liverpool FC, does an excellent job at connecting Liverpool Football Club with all of the team’s activities. Allowing fans to countdown the time to the next game and digitally show their support, the centerpiece of the app is its virtualization of Liverpool’s fabled Boot Room at Anfield, where the club’s legendary manager Bob Paisley pored over strategies. The Boot Room just recently won an FWA award for the app.
The AR experience lets users step into the Boot Room themselves, where club memorabilia springs to life—and where they’ll find the late Bob Paisley, who sits in the room and converses with fans. Paisley’s presence is part of a celebration of his 100th birthday, and is just the latest example of how we, alongside Octagon and Standard Chartered, wanted to pay tribute to this iconic figure in club history.
In addition to the Boot Room experience, we used a mix of CGI and live action acting to bring Bob Paisley back to the big screen in a series of five films. The films, produced alongside the Boot Room experience for Standard Chartered, give fans the opportunity to see the sporting icon again, and while pulling off such an illusion in a Hollywood-level production is impressive, it’s a whole new thing to be able to physically walk into a room and engage with the legend himself. The project’s success shows the importance of digital fan engagement—here’s what we’ve learned in the process of building it.
First, in our attempt to bring Bob Paisley to audiences on-screen, we understood that digitally representing someone on film—especially the deceased—raises real concerns about bodily autonomy. When reproducing someone’s likeness, start by getting their family’s blessing, and include them as stakeholders in the process. Following the development of the app and films, Graham Paisley, Bob Paisley’s son, said: “It’s been an incredible process to see how this technology works, and also very moving. My grandchildren never got the chance to meet Dad in person, so this is a nice way of showing them who he was and what he meant to people. The whole family is really happy with the result.”
Authenticity was key in recreating the Boot Room digitally, ensuring both its contents and Paisley himself were faithfully portrayed. Paisley’s model in the AR experience is downscaled from the one seen in the films, and capturing the manager’s spirit on-screen was one of the biggest challenges of the project. In creating a realistic portrayal in CGI, we mined video footage of Paisley for a variety of distinct facial expressions that we could manually model, then animate. This included the careful work of recreating even the finest details of Paisley’s face: 200 unique facial shapes and 200,000 hair follicles manually placed and more, in over 400 hours of modelling time.
But even more impressive than making this incredibly high-res model, perhaps, is how we managed to squeeze it down into a model that could be used within an AR environment. AR requires a small digital footprint, which means developers must be very economical. We managed to keep high fidelity despite sizing down the digital Bob Paisley’s head from over 100,000 polygons to just 10,000!
Bringing Bob Paisley in front of fans again was a privilege, but so was reproducing the various items and artifacts that users engage with within the virtual Boot Room. Collectively, these artifacts give fans a tangible experience with the club’s history, helping them forge deep personal relationships. These include radio broadcasts, which users discover by turning the knob of a vintage radio; signed shoes worn by the club’s most legendary players; Bob’s own notebook, which tests users’ own sense of strategy and more.
Ben Phillips, one of our Film Creatives involved in the project, noted to me that working on this project felt more poignant than uses of similar technology that gives posthumous Hollywood actors one more chance on the big screen. “It felt more significant with the timing,” he said. “Not only because it was a celebration of Bob’s 100th birthday, but also because it coincided with the club enjoying a renewed period of success on all fronts–the best that Liverpool fans have seen since Bob Paisley’s era.” In this case, the films and the Boot Room experience serve like a passing of the torch from one great manager to the next.
Football fans are incredibly passionate. I’ve been working with Octagon and Standard Chartered on sponsorship projects for close to two years, and there is something fascinating about creating content for football fans. They are, by definition, “fanatics,” and in a world where every brand is competing for attention, content created for football fans automatically gets talked about when they engage organically but obsessively.
When the work is done at a high level of quality, fans will react with satisfaction, delight and passion. It’s all the more important, then, that sports brands take special care in how they engage with audiences digitally. There’s so much potential for brands to capture the passion of their audience, giving them tangible ways to connect with the brand—whether in the stadium or at home.
And while we all look for meaning in our work, it’s not every day that we can read on social media that our work gave someone goosebumps or brought them to tears in the way that our work for Standard Chartered and Liverpool FC has—and that’s a powerful thing.