Newcastle to use groundbreaking shirts which allow deaf fans to feel stadium atmosphere

Newcastle's new groundbreaking haptic shirt
The idea comes from the club's front-of-shirt sponsor Sela

Newcastle United are introducing groundbreaking haptic shirts that will allow deaf fans and those with hearing loss to experience the atmosphere at St James’ Park for the first time at a live match.

The haptic technology transforms the noise of the stadium into real-time touch sensation and will be debuted at the Tottenham game on Saturday. Fans and the matchday mascots, who are deaf or have hearing loss, will be wearing the shirts in the stands.

The idea comes from the club’s front-of-shirt sponsor Sela, a Saudi Arabian events company. Sela is paying around £25 million a year to the club, which is majority owned by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund.

As part of its ‘Unsilence the Crowd’’ campaign, Sela has donated its player shirt and pitch-side branding to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) during this weekend’s Premier League clash at St James’ Park. They will also be making a cash donation to the charity.

The idea is to improve fan accessibility to football through the new technology, as well as showcase the work done by the RNID.

“One in five adults in the UK are deaf or have hearing loss,” explained Teri Devine, Director for Inclusion at the RNID. “But people often face barriers in everyday life – including in live sports events.

“It’s fantastic to see Sela and Newcastle United leading the way in championing this technology which has the potential to have a real and lasting impact on how people who are deaf and have hearing loss experience live sports.”

“We’re excited to be part of this collaboration and we hope this exposure opens up conversations amongst football fans about hearing loss and encourages other football clubs to raise their game and make sure deaf fans are fully included.”

There has been criticism of Newcastle United’s ownership, with accusations of sportswashing levelled at the takeover back in October 2021.

Sela were brought in as shirt sponsors at the start of this season, with Newcastle having to prove the deal represented fair market value to satisfy Premier League rules on related party sponsorship because of the link up with another Saudi Arabian company.

Some will react with similar cynicism to this initiative, although it is potentially game-changing for thousands of fans who cannot usually hear the action at live games.

“St. James’ Park is renowned for its noise and passion,” said Ibrahim Mohtaseb, senior vice-president of Sela. “Through this initiative we hope to enable deaf fans and fans with hearing loss to feel a part of this.

“We would welcome the whole football family to join us by adopting the technology. By acting now, we can collectively make watching live football matches an incredible experience for everyone who loves the game.”

The initiative has been warmly embraced by the Newcastle hierarchy, and chief commercial officer Peter Silverstone added: “Newcastle United’s partnership with Sela continues to provide spectacular experiences for our fans.

“When Sela shared the idea and technology behind the haptic shirts, we supported the concept immediately. We knew it would have a profound and lasting impact on supporters who are deaf or have hearing loss.

“The atmosphere our supporters generate at St. James’ Park is famously powerful and being able to bring that experience to life in such an accessible way, is very special. We look forward to playing our part in this initiative and hope it inspires fans of other clubs, sports and entertainment properties.”

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