Inclusivity, camaraderie, and opportunity collide with fierce competition in powerchair football. The 2023 FIPFA Powerchair Football World Cup, which took place during October in Sydney, Australia. For athletes and fans who couldn’t attend, FIPFA delivered five days of live and on-demand video coverage of 54 matches across its YouTube and Facebook channels, while Channel 10 also broadcast select matchups. To deliver the coverage, both tapped the Wheelchair Football Association’s (WFA) production workflow, which is built on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and designed to boost audience engagement.
Enhancing the fan experience through live stream innovation
The Wheelchair Football Association’s production workflow delivered custom, data-driven graphics to complement the tournament visuals – a significant upgrade from previous prefab on-screen transitions and fixture, clock, and score graphics. WFA’s team also built a bespoke app for FIPFA to store and manage results and stats so the production team could easily enter and access data from a mobile phone, tablet, and desktop app for graphics needs.
At the centre of WFA’s production pipeline was AWS Elemental MediaLive, a cloud-based service that transcodes live camera feeds. Transcoded footage is then run through Singular.Live for motion graphics insertion before final delivery. WFA also employed a proprietary mobile phone app for producing professional graphics with real-time data (i.e., lead tables, goal scorecards, etc.).
Commenting on the setup, WFA Technology Lead Alex Dowding said, “AWS MediaLive and Singular.Live work in concert, and it’s incredible that we can use Singular for free through Singular for Good. With such flexible cloud-based tools, it’s easy to innovate and quickly execute on ideas to improve audience interactions.”
One such example is a public score predictor feature the team worked on ahead of the Powerchair Football World Cup. It allowed fans to log into an interface pre-match and enter score predictions. As games unfolded in real time, the app then showed how those predictions stacked up against actual scores. Using WFA’s cloud-based workflow, the team created a proof-of-concept graphic for the score predictor in one morning and delivered a working prototype in three days.
Dowding explained, “The fact that we can put all our graphics in the cloud with MediaLive means I don’t have to generate animation or extra assets; it’s fantastic.”
Building for audience engagement
WFA’s commitment to advancing audience interaction is the driving force behind innovations like the public score predictor. With tools like the AWS Amplify full stack service for web and mobile app development and Amazon Cognito for quick deployment of authentication, it’s easier for WFA to deploy a website front and back end to support new innovations. When ideas strike, the team can quickly strategise how best to turn them into realities, as they recently did with a new voting feature, which lets participants cast votes and visualises the results in real time.
Additionally, the team leverages AWS Lambda serverless technology to process data ahead of time and create APIs from the backend to receive that data. It’s proven helpful when club websites want to receive their current league status because WFA can facilitate with AWS Lambda functions or in an AWS Fargate containerised application.
Dowding says the technology overall provides a huge innovation advantage, “AWS has expanded our horizons massively, in terms of what we can do; we can be more creative, and with everything in the cloud, we know it all will work together and can be deployed at speed. It’s not only helped us to grow the powerchair football audience but also to bring the community together.”
Encouraging player and spectator involvement in the production
WFA’s continued innovation and commitment to improving audience interactions have opened new doors for powerchair football players and fans to become part of the production team. Using WFA’s mobile app, players who aren’t actively competing can provide live commentary and/or help control the graphics and data entry that contribute to the visual stream quality. WFA built the app with tools and information for commentators to use – from goal score tables to mini lead tables for qualification standings, goals, assists, and more. To date, 72 players and three player family members have commentated on WFA national league match streams in the last season, with more expected to contribute to the Powerchair Football World Cup coverage.
WFA’s app is also designed to encourage players and spectators at home to engage in the broadcast, predictions, and social media. At the same time, it lets the WFA and FIPFA teams operate productions with a leaner production budget and crew, which is crucial as most production participants are volunteers.
Dowding explains, “We’ve developed a really user-friendly way for powerchair football athletes and their friends and families to get involved in match stream productions; as long as they can access a mobile phone, they can become a producer or commentator. At the same time, we’ve also raised the bar visually for how the sport is consumed, all while saving on time and costs compared to previous approaches. Without our cloud workflow, streaming matches consistently 10 hours a day at this quality would require a massive team on the ground and a lot more budget.”
As WFA continues to evolve the workflow, it’s also looking into other ways to attract more player commentators.
“Getting the players involved in commentary is crucial alongside the streaming of games. They are the experts, and the sharing of their acute insights makes the stream come further alive. It is vital in growing the sport and reaching new audiences,” explains WFA Chairperson Dean Williams. “This is why we’re also excited to soon offer free training by professional sports commentator Alan March, which is made possible in part by the grant we’ve received through the AWS Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (ID&E) Innovation Fund.”
Noting the impact of the WFA’s work on the sport and players, powerchair football player and WFA National League Secretary Jack Humphries shares, “Football has exploded in recent years, procuring a massive fan following, and with the right approach to community building and engagement, powerchair football could follow a similar path. All the groundwork WFA and AWS have done on these live streams is helping to generate more awareness of the sport and shine the spotlight on these incredibly talented athletes – men, women, boys and girls of all ages and backgrounds – who make the sport so fascinating to watch. As more players and spectators get involved, it will put the sport on the map, where it should be.”
A forward-thinking vision
WFA’s latest Powerchair Football World Cup is only the start of a longer mission to engage and attract more fans to the sport.
Dowding says, “Our collaboration with AWS is the cornerstone of much more to come as we work to grow the sport’s following. AWS offers extensive, amazing tools, and we’re using a ton of them to achieve the best possible live stream experience for the community.”
The team is currently exploring how it might use other AWS services for M&E solutions across its workflow, like AWS Elemental MediaPackage for goal clipping, or to package media for monitoring needs. Looking to introduce a remote commentary solution, instant replays, and more, the team is also keen on utilising Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (Amazon EC2) instances to run professional live production tools like vMix in the cloud. Machine learning solutions and Amazon SageMaker and Amazon Rekognition are also on WFA’s radar, as the team works on using AI for ball tracking, camera operation automation, and other applications. The goal is to use the power of AI/ML to reduce the reliance on hard to find volunteers while also increasing the quality and viewer engagement of their content. Furthermore, the WFA is looking into how it might record matches and drop them into an Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) bucket for teams and coaches to access and use for performance review and analysis.
Williams concluded, “The more we can innovate and automate, the better, as we can explore new possibilities and get more players and fans involved. Our goal is to build a cohesive workflow for producing live match streams and ancillary programming with camera operation, graphics, commentary, and more driven by the people behind the sport, and AWS is proving to be a key part of that.”