How Alan March Sport are bringing the game to life for blind and partially-sighted fans
Back in September, early in the 2018/19 season, Southampton launched the all-new audio-description (ad) commentary service. Provided by Alan March Sport Ltd (AMS) in partnership with Southampton Football Club, this service has been brought in help blind and partially-sighted fans enjoy the game that they love as much as those who can see the action do. The AD commentary service is completely free to use along with a match-day ticket and is also available to away fans in the ground as well as the St Mary’s faithful. This ensures that everyone in the ground has the best possible access to the game, a point that the Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE) prioritises when it comes to audio-description. The fact that most blind and partially-sighted fans don’t travel to matches where there is no service available can potentially exclude them from something that most fans may take for granted.
What is Audio Description and how does it differ to other commentary?
AD commentary is a very descriptive form of commentary that ensures the listener knows what is happening on the pitch and keeps up with the play to the second, with emphasis on where the ball is. This last part is key as if the listener can’t work out where the ball is, they will spend the match disorientated and unable to enjoy their experience, especially if they think the ball is down one end of the pitch and suddenly its down the other, through poor positional description. AD commentary is about more than just what is happening on the pitch, though when the ball is in play the focus has to on that. It also describes to the listener all elements of the game such as what the conditions are like, what kits the teams are in, whether a player has slipped over the advertising boards when trying to keep the ball in or even that Vestergaard has decided to wear orange boots etc. More relevant to Southampton would be the rousing pre-match light and fire shows that have been at St Marys quite regularly this season.
In terms of difference between AD and other forms of commentary, the biggest is that between AD and TV. With TV there is far more time for stats to be talked about, whilst the actual in-play action has snippets of description, whilst AD must describe each movement of the ball and by whom. The vast majority of the TV audience can see the action, hence why there is no need for every move to be talked about. It would just be unnecessary. Radio commentary shouldn’t be too dissimilar from AD, as both audiences can’t see the action, but radio in some cases is slipping into the style of TV commentary where just names are read out and there is more time for discussion of stats.
The Southampton AD service and team
The AD service at Southampton is provided by Alan March Sport Ltd. Based in the midlands, AMS provide a range of services, such as sporting events at Loughborough University, announcements and visual commentary. An area they specialise in however, is AD, having begun when the new Wembley stadium first opened. They provide AD services for clubs all over the EFL, including Leicester City, Nottingham Forest and Crawley Town. All the AD commentary teams are specially trained by AMS in order to deliver the best possible commentary for blind and partially-sighted fans. The commentary team members are also volunteers.
The Southampton AD team is made up myself (Tom Murray), Nick Wilson, Andy Goldman and Callum Wilson. On a rota basis we provide AD commentary for all Southampton home games. On a typical match-day the coverage begins about 45 minutes before kick-off, where we take the listeners through the description of our commentary position, which at every game so far has been at the top of the Kingsland stand, just to the right of where the gantry is for the TV coverage. Our commentary position is repeated throughout the build-up to the game so that come kick-off every listener is completely aware of what our view of the match will be and so they can easily watch the game through our eyes. During the pre-match build-up, we also talk through the teams and have a discussion about both sides, providing background for listeners as well as implications on the table depending on the result of the game. Once the teams are in the tunnel and everyone is in position for the game, the focus returns to the pitch. As soon as the whistle goes we concentrate on what is happening in-play and will describe exactly where the ball is as it moves round the pitch. We provide the service until a couple of minutes after the final whistle with a short break during half-time.
Fans using the service are given a receiver, which is taken their seat by a member of staff. They can choose to use their own headphones or use the ear-pieces provided by the club. The receiver is very simple to use, with the volume dial on the top also being the on/off switch. At the end of the game the receivers are handed back to a steward.
So far the feedback from listeners has been really positive and if you or anyone you know could benefit from using the service and would like to book one for one of the remaining home games then please call the supporter relations team at Southampton on 02380711980 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also you can follow the Southampton AD service on twitter @Saints_AD as well as myself @t214murray and Andy Goldman @AndyGoldman10