Premier League ‘RefCam’ to Reveal the Challenge of Reffing Soccer

A bald male referee wearing a black uniform with a premier league logo gestures with his right hand on a football field, with blurred spectators in the background.

The Premier League, the world’s most-watched sports league, will make history today, May 6, as referee Jarred Gillett will don the soccer league’s first “RefCam” during the match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United in London.

Before fans start salivating at the idea of being able to criticize a ref’s performance using first-person footage in real-time, the RefCam will not be broadcast live. However, fans will be able to see the footage captured today later this year as part of a program that the Premier League is making to promote its match officials. There’s a lot of pressure on Gillett to do a good job while donning the FPV camera.

“This footage will not be broadcast live but fans will be able to view it later in the year as part of a program being produced by Premier League Productions (PLP) aimed at offering further insight and education into the demands of officiating in the Premier League,” the Premier League explains in a statement.

The league continues, explaining that the experiment comprises a head-mounted camera integrated into the ref’s typical communications system, which includes an earpiece and microphone.

Given that the camera breaks new ground for the Premier League, using the RefCam required prior approval from the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the Premier League, Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), and the two clubs facing off.

As any sports fan knows, referees and officials face considerable abuse. This Premier League season has been particularly contentious, with teams publicly questioning the integrity of officials and one club, Nottingham Forest, even threatening legal action after it lost a match last month to Everton. Nottingham Forest is in the midst of a grueling relegation battle, which could see the club removed from the Premier League — a significant blow to a club’s financial health.

Nottingham Forest is far from the only club upset with the standard of officiating this season, though. Internationally known clubs like Arsenal and Liverpool have also had issues with match referees.

It is no surprise that the Premier League is taking matters into its own hands. However, it’s not immediately evident that a video promoting officials will do much to prevent soccer fans from blaming officials for their teams losing.

The Premier League says, “We would like to thank Crystal Palace and Manchester United for their support with this project.”

While this is a first for the Premier League, other top leagues have dabbled with putting cameras on officials. For example, a Major League Soccer (MLS) official in the United States wore a camera during the MLS All-Stars versus Arsenal friendly match last year, which should offer a nice preview of what Premier League fans will see later this year when the RefCam footage is shared.

Hockey refs have occasionally worn cameras for a long time, including former NHL referee Wes McCauley during an NHL Stadium Series game a decade ago.

First-person perspectives in sports have grown in popularity in recent years. One of the most prolific examples is Formula 1, a sport long at the cutting-edge of camera tech, where all drivers wear a first-person camera in their helmets for every race.

Perhaps one day, fans at home will be able to experience all their favorite sporting events in first person using VR and AR headsets. One can dream.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.