Where were you on Wednesday 26th June, 1996? England versus Germany, Wembley stadium. The semi-final of Euro ’96, as the host nation battled the old enemy. After 90 minutes of end-to-end action it was 1-1, with extra time, penalties, and then sudden death needed to find a winner. Do you remember the emotions you felt that evening? And have you ever stopped to think what your brain and body is really going through when you watch football? At next summer’s Euro 2012 Championships in Poland and Ukraine…you will find out. Back to that balmy June evening. Every home, pub, and office in the country was fixed on defender Gareth Southgate as he stepped up to take England’s sixth penalty.
He begins his run up, the whole nation takes a short intake of breath as silence falls across the country for a second. He hits it…it’s saved! In one moment, the country exhales together, as shock, worry, and disappointment washes over a nation. But can Germany score their next penalty to reach the final? Silence. Andreas Moller steps up…he scores! Germany win, England are out, and within seconds the nation begins to mourn. Football isn’t coming home.
Is it really just a game?
That summer the country was united, football captured the imagination of every man, woman and child, with Baddiel and Skinner’s iconic anthem, the 4-1 drubbing of the Netherlands, Paul Gascoigne’s wondergoal against Scotland, as well as the heartbreaking miss from Southgate to deny England their first international final since the 1966 World Cup Final.
Fans experience a range of emotions every time they watch their country but what do these emotions mean? Have you ever thought about how the fans experience differed between Germany and England that night? Were the German fans as calm as their penalty takers? And did England fans think Southgate would score that penalty?
Ahead of Euro 2012, consumer electronics brand Sharp have commissioned the largest scientific investigation of fan behaviour, Fan Labs, with the aim to find out what it really means to be a football fan. Using unique biometric technology, Sharp will be wiring up opposing fans during every game of Euro 2012, recording their brainwave data during the 90 minutes and processing the information to work out exactly what a football fan goes through following his country, and whether this differs between competing nations.
Sharp will also be conducting an online football fan survey on the Fan Labs website and on the Fan Labs app, to give fans their own fan archetype, or profile, so you can find out just exactly what type of fan your really are. “As an inventor for society Sharp are excited at conducting Europe’s largest ever survey of football fans, where we will understand supporter’s passions better then ever before.” Paul Molyneux, CEO of Sharp Europe told Humans Invent. “Throughout Euro 2012 Sharp will be be studying fans online, with a mobile app, and on the ground with our FanLabs truck. Our team will be investigating ‘Commitment’ – How actively fans show their support for their country. And ‘Optimism’, how a fan’s confidence and belief changes towards their team throughout the tournament.”
Sharp is excited about what the data could showcase – it may even change a few perceptions along the way, says Molyneux. “Not every fan is alike. We’re celebrating those differences, fueling debate among fans, and maybe even changing some perceptions. We are really excited about getting under way next summer in Poland and the Ukraine – the results should be fascinating. We will finally be able to see who the die hard fans are, and why they react the way they do.”
Measuring brainwave data
At the centre of Sharp’s survey is the Fan Labs truck, which has space for 16 fans to be wired up to have their emotions recorded throughout the game. Each fan is given a NeuroSky headset, which measures brainwave output every second. The technology was originally developed for the health industry, but Sharp has implemented the unique technology to measure exactly what a fan really experiences during 90 minutes supporting his country.”
“Every emotion is monitored with Sharp’s unique headsets – measuring attention, stress, relaxation and excitement. We even monitor their cheers and shouts for volume, and pitch. The data is then fed back into the database and compared with fans from each participating European nation,” Richard Dee Creative Technologist, Sharp Fan Labs, told Humans Invent. “At the end of the match, each fan will be rewarded with their fan profile – a cross between a video game profile and a Facebook personality test. The end product will be your very own fan top trump, scoring you against fans from competing nations.”
In order to quantify and examine the data the Fan Labs engineers have to run the brainwave data against a number of different algorithms, in order see what anomalies or extremes crop up. “The headsets measure frequencies generated by your brain – essentially your brain waves. These are then output as raw data to which we apply a number of different algorithims.” Dee explains. “This gives us what the data represents in terms of emotional response.”
“Each headset saves all of that data every second, and it is kept for reference in the raw data, then the graphs are generated from this live data. In addition we also record the volume from the microphones in front of fans on each side of the room, and calculate the pitch from that.”
What is Fan Labs looking for?
Nobody knows exactly what the Fan Labs findings will throw up, or what they could show about fans from different European countries. Testing for the qualifier between Spain and Scotland on October 11th, 2011, showed that Spanish fans were excited throughout the game, no matter what was going on, win, lose, or draw. Although interestingly, despite the fans cheering when Scotland scored, the data actually showed that their mood was negative, as it was when Scotland committed any fouls.
It’s early days, but maybe this goes to prove that Spain could be the most optimistic nation, or, the best at hiding their true emotions? “It is working really well from the testing and launch. I am really happy with it,” Dee explained. “I analysed the data every minute during the Spain vs Scotland game, and what we are getting 500 to 600 entries. Normally if this was random stuff, it would be quite smooth, but it isn’t. Instead there are number of spikes in the data at certain points in the timeline, which is very interesting because it isn’t just a spike in one number, it is a spike in 500 numbers consistently.”
“There is definitely something interesting occurring, and the brainwave activity does increase during major events during the game. However interestingly what we have found thus far is the fans maintain a high level of excitement for the whole game, rather than sporadic bursts. But that is just the Spain fans, it will really become interesting when we start to compare fans next summer, then we will really be able to decipher different trends in emotions from the data. People have never been measured this way before, and the technology in the headsets has certainly never been used before in this way. ”
The debate surrounding technology and football has perennially centered around the rules, with goal line technology and instant video evidence the hot topics for debate. But it is the fans that bring the beautiful game to life, and for the first time we will find out what fans really put themselves through when they support their country – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
As Molyneux hopes, maybe we will break some stereotypes along the way, but, ultimately get to the heart of what it truly means to be a football fan. “Are the German fans really as calm under pressure as their players? And just what does an England fan go through on match-day?” Molyneux asks. “It will make for fascinating viewing, with the data broadcast live online, on mobile, and in commercial breaks on TV and radio. Think you’re a real football fan? Next summer, we’ll find out what that really means.”
Take the test at www.SharpFanLabs.com
Sharp FanLabs survey results ahead of the Euro 2012 draw:-
In the build up to the Euro 2012 draw FanLabs have released the first set of results in their online survey online among fans across all 16 competing nations, with league tables on the ‘Most Committed’, ‘Most Confident’, ‘Most Dedicated’, Most Optimistic’, ‘Most Proud’, and ‘Most Knowledgable’.