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A new reality for football: Belarus derby to screen worldwide in VR as fierce local rivals broadcast match live with 360-camera

A new reality for football: Belarus derby to screen worldwide in VR as fierce local rivals broadcast match live with 360-camera
A Saturday night showdown in the latest episode of a little-known local rivalry will invite fans starved of football to gain a unique perspective by using immersive technology to follow all of the action live from Belarus.

Less than 14 miles separate BATE Borisov and Torpedo-BelAZ Zhodino, two clubs with a rivalry that tends to produce a fiery atmosphere when they meet.

Tickets for their latest encounter, costing less than $3 even for a grandstand view, are yet to sell out at the Borisov Arena, which has a capacity of just over 13,000.

Fans from across the world will have their eyes on Belarus this weekend again, though – and as a league previously considered obscure by almost everyone outside of the region takes the focus again, a new element of novelty is being introduced by the hosts.

Aware of their place as one of the only clubs in the world still available to fans to watch live, BATE are offering their potentially vast new audience a broader view by streaming the game live via a 360-degree camera on their YouTube channel.

In what is believed to be the first broadcast of its kind in the history of Belarusian sport, viewers will be able to watch the yellow-blue derby in virtual reality by using VR glasses, turning their mobile phone in their hands or looking around the stadium with a keyboard or mouse.

“The camera will be installed in the bowl,” say Bate, who are working with Feeling Digital, a VR company with previous projects including alien-based games and a recreation of a 450-ton dump truck, based on a local coal pit and shown at an exhibition in South America.

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Although the idea is less immediately lucrative than the marketing masterstroke that saw reigning Premier League champions Dynamo Brest sell tickets in exchange for a virtual presence, the innovative broadcast is likely to endear large numbers of new fans to both sides.

Organizers of BATE’s unofficial UK fan club are hoping to exceed 250 followers over the weekend, and their Torpedo counterparts, who have sent replicas of the club’s shirt to fans in Germany, Northern Ireland and Florida this week, have already (narrowly) topped that number.

They might be more confident of putting on a successful show in front of the all-seeing camera, starting the day at the top of the early season table and aiming to repeat the success of a reserve team that beat BATE’s understudies 2-0 on Friday.

Having never won the league, Torpedo are a long way short of BATE’s record of 15 titles and five Champions League appearances, but BATE’s patchy start to the season – losing three of their five games so far – will give them confidence.

They also take an imaginative approach to publicity, producing a highlights video earlier this week set to a funk soundtrack. “Visiting stadiums and other public places during a pandemic is not recommended,” they accept, adding that the aim of the film was to “convey to the audience that atmosphere which can be penetrated only at the stadium itself.”

On Friday, they even created a trailer for the match featuring figures made from Lego. As questionable as the wisdom of playing football right now is, the odd charm and creativity of the clubs under the spotlight on Saturday justifies their global attention.

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