When Covid forced football behind closed doors, the outlook was bleak. Fans are the lifeblood of professional football so the thought of playing without a crowd for the foreseeable future had many clubs asking, “How will we survive?”
For clubs in the lower leagues, the prospect of no gate receipts and no live coverage meant the very real possibility that some would simply not survive.
But thanks to the tenacity of several Scottish clubs, the entire SPFL found a way to continue to bring live football to fans.
Video cameras powered by artificial intelligence
Albion Rovers and Stenhousemuir joined forces early in the pandemic to explore installing automated video cameras to film matches.
Thanks to artificial intelligence, the cameras wouldn’t just capture the action. They would package the coverage into a live stream for fans to watch online, ensuring no match would go unsupported.
But despite the promise of the technology, there were still some financial challenges to overcome. Which is why Albion Rovers enlisted long-time supporter and famed comic book writer Mark Millar (creator of Kick-Ass and Wanted, among other Marvel and DC projects), as well as Stenhousemuir, to bring Pixellot technology to the Scottish football leagues.
Together, the ad-hoc team formulated a way to present their plan to other SPFL clubs. And within days, many had chosen to install the pitch-side cameras.
Since its introduction, Pixellot technology has helped the clubs broadcast over 300 matches, generating over £200,000 in revenue thanks to live-stream sales in what many consider a self-sustaining business model. For many, Pixellot has been something of a game-changer.
Transformative effect of automated technology
Stenhousemuir Chairman Ian McMenemy, said: “Streaming revenue replaced ticket revenue, and this was a vital financial lifeline for many clubs right through the lockdown.”
Ben Kearney, a member of the Albion Rovers media team, backed up his point, stating: “At Albion Rovers, we weren’t going to live-stream games as we didn’t have the personnel or the money to find someone who could stream the games for us.
“If it wasn’t for Pixellot, we would have been one of the only teams in the SPFL without a live stream last season.”
But the reality is most clubs in the lower divisions can’t afford to finance live coverage.
That said, as Pixellot is an unmanned, automated production solution, it’s both cost-effective and simple to use. And that’s why some twenty-two clubs across Scotland still have it, even though fans have returned to stadiums.
Many are using it to bolster their online media departments. In turn, this has opened new opportunities for up-and-coming sports journalists to work on matchday content. And it’s not just the clubs and journalists who have benefited.
Communities have seen the live streams as a pillar of hope during an extremely dark period, with Kearney adding: “We have the oldest support in the SPFL. And we’ve had so many people tell us that the streams saved their weekend and helped their mental health. We heard how it got people through. You can’t measure how much of an impact it had.”
Albion Rover’s director Liam Nugent mirrored his thoughts, adding: “It was important for us as a club to stay connected with our supporters. The pandemic stopped our fans from being able to attend matches, and we knew the impact of not being able to watch the team would be a big struggle for some.
“The Pixellot system has enabled us to stream matches, bring in much-needed revenue, and improve the club’s output across social media.”
Two clubs deserve every plaudit
If there was any doubt about these two clubs’ impact on Scottish football, their accolade has put that to bed. Albion Rovers and Stenhousemuir recently shared the ‘Digitally Transformed Business of the Year’ award. And the whole of Scotland has recognised how these two Scottish minnows used Pixellot technology to ‘modernise match coverage’ across the SPFL. In truth, there’s every reason to believe that by introducing the live-streaming service so early in the pandemic, the clubs helped keep Scottish football alive.