EPL

Haptic shirt to help boost St James’ Park atmosphere for deaf Newcastle fans

By Sports Desk April 12, 2024

Newcastle have launched a new initiative which will allow deaf supporters to “feel” the atmosphere of games at St James’ Park.

The Premier League club have brought out a new haptic replica shirt which, when worn at matches, will vibrate in response to crowd noises.

The technology, which utilises microphones placed around the ground, will be used for the first time as the Magpies host Tottenham in the Premier League on Saturday.

It is a world first in sport but similar systems have been used successfully in other areas of entertainment, particularly classical music concerts.

Former Newcastle midfielder Rob Lee, who is an ambassador for the project, told the PA news agency: “It’s very difficult as someone who can hear to imagine what it’s like going to a game when you’re deaf.

“Football is an experience of sound really. It’s the crowd cheering, singing songs. When I was playing, you’d run out at St James’ Park and the hairs on the back of your neck would stand up.

“For these guys to be able to experience that through feel is amazing. It’s great technology.”

The shirts have numerous sensors integrated throughout the garment, with each responding in different ways to the different sounds captured by the microphones.

The noises are transformed into digital signals by specialised software and then transmitted wirelessly to the shirts, creating a tactile sensory experience for the wearer.

Newcastle sponsor Sela, the Saudi events company, has been the driving force behind the initiative as part of its “Unsilence the Crowd” campaign.

To mark the system’s launch, Sela has gifted its sponsorship rights for the Spurs game – including its logo space on the front of the shirt – to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) charity.

The system will be available at all Newcastle home matches from then onwards.

Lee, who made 381 appearances for the Magpies between 1992 and 2002, said: “St James’ Park is an amazing stadium. It’s always full, the atmosphere is always electric.

“Ask any player what’s their favourite ground. I guarantee St James’ will be in the top three because of the atmosphere, because of the sound.

“If we can get that experience out to the deaf and the hard-of-hearing, then it can only be a good thing.

“I think it’ll be a showstopper and every club should get it.”

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