There are many reasons to regard Abba’s Abbatars with caution, not least for the threat they might pose to the future of football.
First, consider the nature of the event. People are paying more than £150 a head to listen to an assortment of session musicians – an ad hoc tribute act – play Best Of tracks behind an unusually sophisticated lights show. That’s all. Interaction? With what? Yet the enthusiasm of ‘concert’-goers seems unfeigned and they call it an ‘experience’. Tellingly, they say it has to be seen to be believed.
Second, the ‘concert’ marks a new high-water mark in the encroachment of digital trickery on reality. Arthur C Clarke’s famous observation comes to mind: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Reviewers have quibbled over whether the figures on stage are holograms, avatars or something else. They miss the point. Whatever the figures on stage are, they are not musicians.
Third, the age of the music itself is troubling. Abba split up 40 years ago. What does it say for contemporary music, or for the output of the past two score years, that people will spend so much on a night’s nostalgia and make-believe?
Fourth and not least, what kind of precedent might the apparent success of the Abba experience establish?
This is where football needs to take note. Several developments might converge on the Abba model. The people who thought a European Super League was a good idea will surely have noticed the potential.
Football is already a game played largely for television audiences. Meanwhile, video games as spectator sports appear to be growing in popularity. If it can be done with ‘musicians’ in a purpose-built arena, why not ‘footballers’ on a ready-made screen?
Apparently the Abba avatars are least convincing when at rest. That makes the technology sound ideally suited to modern footballers, whose movement varies between languid and frenzied but is rarely static. Not so the greats of the past, but there would be no need to restrict teams of avatars to current squads; as Abba demonstrate, players well past their prime could be drawn out of retirement. The teams might represent Best Of XIs.
Could teams of avatars play out 90-minute competitive matches? No injuries, no refereeing controversies, no massive wage bills (once image rights are resolved), just tireless footballers scurrying around in perpetuity.
- Last night I saw a French film called La Famille Bélier, the charming if slightly heavy-handed drama of which the award-winning Coda is an English-language remake. At the end of the film, a number of people – a good proportion of a thin audience – applauded. La Famille Bélier was made eight years ago. Nobody involved was present. People were applauding flickering coloured lights.