By Jo Ruddock
Thursday, November 10, 2022 – 5:42 am
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The UCI Track Champions League, a partnership between Discovery Sports Events and track cycling body UCI, is back for a second season of short-format racing across multiple international rounds. This time, however, the elite competition will also take place in the metaverse.
The tournament kicks off this month with six fast-paced, two-hour race programmes scheduled for primetime Saturday evenings across consecutive weekends. The format was designed to reinvent track cycling and simplified to engage fans globally and features Sprint and Keirin for the Sprint Championship, and Elimination and Scratch for the Endurance Championship. This is the second iteration of the event, with the inaugural November 2021 season proving a success after months of planning amid Covid restrictions.
“Season Two has come around very quickly,” says Scott Young, SVP content and production at Warner Bros. Discovery Sports Europe. “It’s been a busy and very successful year for our company. Discovery Sports Events creates owned and operated content that we can curate as a concept to work with sporting federations like the UCI, to convince them to trust us with very important properties like track cycling. The focus of it is serving up really rich live sports content to an engaged audience, and finding new ways to engage with an audience that would not typically come and look at track cycling.”
“There was genuine shock, awe, surprise and pleasure when the first season rolled out,” he adds. “I was in the middle of the arena watching those athletes who have been in this sport for a very long time, genuinely thrilled by what has been conceived and what they are now part of. There’s no better endorsement.”
“We’re looking at new ways to satisfy the track cycling fan base but also enlarge that fan base,” says François Ribeiro, head of Discovery Sports Events. “The product we’re going to deliver this year is very much in line with what was shown in Season One. It’s a high-intensity and high-quality product when you experience it at the event, but also on screen. This year we’re pushing the boundaries on the technology side. All the data from the riders – power, cadence, speed, heartbeat – will be available not only on the app but also at the venue on the LED screens around the perimeter of the track, so that any spectator or viewer can see how the riders are performing and the data that is being delivered.”
“The biggest innovation will be the metaverse preview that we’ll have in London,” he adds.
This is a VR ‘access all areas’ experience for the final leg of the championship in London and is the result of a partnership between Discovery Sports Events and tech and entertainment company Infinite Reality (VR).
“We will be the first [sports production] to offer 100% of the broadcast feed we produce in the metaverse. There will be more than 10 TV feeds available; that’s not just the world feed and the onboard feed, but also a camera on the UCI referee, a camera on the live director in the OB van, and a camera on the show caller, to offer an immersive experience and a [greater] level of access to fans. They will see content that’s never been available before. We see it as a perfect complement to what we are providing on linear, digital and social media.”
The preview experience will be accessible on iPad or PC, but Ribeiro says development work is ongoing to allow the third season next year to be experienced via VR headsets and similar technology.
“We will be the first [sports production] to offer 100% of the broadcast feed we produce in the metaverse”
“This experience will already offer a level of access that has never been seen before in the sports industry. We have the unique market position of being the promoter of the TCL, we control the format of the event and we do the production of the event, the broadcast and distribution. We own all the media and commercial rights globally, so it’s completely up to us to define what we want to include in that metaverse experience and define the rules of the game in terms of authorisation to any third party.
“Our two prime objectives have always been the same across our business: improve the way you engage with your existing fan base, and how to enlarge it. We see the metaverse as having the potential to meet both those objectives.”
“The metaverse and Web 3.0 is new to most of us,” he adds. “We’ll be the laboratory for the rest of the group.”
For each round of this year’s UCI Track Champions League, Warner Bros. Discovery’s coverage will begin with 30-minute preview shows as excitement builds ahead of the evening’s action with 30 minutes of analysis and rider interviews rounding off each broadcast after the live track cycling.
Worldwide coverage will see the events broadcast live on discovery+, GCN+ (globally) and the Eurosport app as well as on Eurosport 1. Warner Bros. Discovery channels, Quest (UK), Kanal 9 (Sweden), 6’eren (Denmark), Max (Norway) and Kutonen (Finland), will run highlights shows after each round while Germany’s free-to-air Eurosport 1 channel will broadcast live coverage of each round.
“Our two prime objectives have always been the same across our business: improve the way you engage with your existing fan base, and how to enlarge it. We see the metaverse as having the potential to meet both those objectives”
“NEP provides the [OB] facilities, but the people and the ideas, and execution of all that, is all internal,” says Young. “There are 23 cameras that we use for coverage. With the addition of the many other cameras that we put around [the production] and the cameras that are there doing unilateral content for our channels, which can feed back into the match coverage, that rises to around 30.
“I don’t think it’s about the number of cameras anymore. It’s about how engaging you can make that sport. Sport is the last bastion of appointment to view – everything else is downloadable or streamable on YouTube. The fact that it’s only live once is the best thing about sport. If you’ve got engaging content, you’re connecting with the athletes and you’re finding new ways to bring a new generation through metaverse, that’s the way you make your sport highly relevant.”
That goes for audio too
“If you go back and watch [the footage] from Mallorca in Season One, the noise from that maximum capacity crowd when that event started, with the bell ringing, was phenomenal,” says Young.
“I’ve always paid a great deal of attention to audio,” says Ribeiro. “With most other sports, I would love to hear more of the audio of the event and have a better balance with the audio of the commentators. With this event, we are in a position to define the audio. We don’t put microphones on the riders, but we have a lot of mics in proximity to them, to record what they say, capturing the dialogue between riders in between races. That was [obvious during] the docuseries we produced around Season One [Back on Track]. So gaining the trust and confidence of the athletes, to get so close to them, has proved to be [beneficial] for our production.”
“We’re in a very exciting time,” says Ribeiro. “A year ago we were just out of lockdown, and ten days before the first event in Mallorca was the first time I had met the entire Track Champions League team of 140 people, all together. Until then we had only been collaborating over Zoom.”
“There are far fewer unknowns in Season Two,” he adds. “We have a great stadium team. We know what we are going to deliver. The greatest satisfaction is to see the level of engagement of the riders themselves. They have a far greater understanding of how we work and what they can expect from the Track Champions League, for their personal benefit, to raise their profile, to score UCI points, and as part of their Olympic journey. So, we are definitely much less stressed than during Season One, but the excitement is still very much the same.”
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