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AR and VR Bring New Engagement Opportunities to Sports

As more sponsorships move away from traditional buys and focus their efforts on engaging consumers, AR and VR will play larger roles in the overall activation mix.

Adam White

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Outside of the rise of social media, AR and VR technology are some of the more influential factors the sports industry has seen over the course of the last 3-5 years.

With leagues such as the NBA dedicating Summer League games to testing AR capabilities and Major League Baseball offering fans the opportunity to compete in a VR Home Run Derby, that of course was won by a nine-year-old, the two technologies have created the immense opportunity for teams to create new experiences that fans won’t be able to find anywhere else.

“What we have experienced so far with the sports properties on the VR and AR side is the opportunity to provide their fans access and information that is generally unavailable outside of the in-venue experience,” said James Giglio, CEO and founder of MVP Interactive, a leader in creating AR and VR activations for brands such as Coca-Cola, Bud Light, and Chase.

It’s no secret that one of the biggest challenges facing the sports industry is finding ways to get fans to the park, arena, or stadium in an era when the in-home experience is cheaper and more convenient than having to pile into a car and go to a game.

Giglio sees AR and VR as having the opportunity to provide fans an extra reason to want to attend a game.

“When teams leverage trending technology and sort of promote that to their fans as a way of drawing people into their game day experience, it’s pretty valuable.”

While many may get AR and VR confused, Giglio is quick to point out the unique differences in what each technology can provide and how the properties can leverage them to accomplish specific purposes.

“On the VR side, it’s integrating unprecedented access, whether it’s being on the field or in a locker room, you can really get fans engaged in something that they wouldn’t normally have access to,” Giglio said. “On the AR side, it’s really providing cool technology in an informative piece where, whether it’s a mobile engagement that triggers some type of overlay or a 3D image that kind of tells the story or informs the user of the brand, the overall story of what you’re looking to accomplish is pretty valuable.”

The best part about these types of experiences is that they can be packaged as new inventory for current and potential partners, giving teams a sellable asset that is dynamic rather than static.

As more and more sponsorships move away from traditional buys and focus their efforts on engaging consumers, Giglio believes that AR and VR will play larger roles in the overall activation mix.

“Sponsorships are really moving away from traditional engagements. Teams and brands now want to create experiences for fans and create a recognition and a memory for consumers.”

Where this all comes full circle is the fact that the physical AR and VR activations can be amplified via social media, providing a holistic experience for both brand and consumer.

“When you are looking at a static sign, that’s basically your engagement,” Giglio said. “When you kind of interact with these types of technology, there’s some type of opt-in where information is traded. You then participate and it creates a valuable memory and experience that can be shared across social media.”

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Despite all of the recent advancements and investments in the technology, Giglio thinks the surface is just being scratched not only for the applications, but for the activations.

“On the sponsorship side, the sky’s the limit, really. I think being able to take that in-venue experience, memory, and technology and have it be transcended outside with the mobile engagement too, you can’t ask for anything better than that.”

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

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A Look at the First Fifty Sports Tech Tokyo Participants

Sports Tech Tokyo has announced 50 of the 150 slots for the program meant to be a “gateway” to Asia for the sports tech community.

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Photo via Unsplash

The first third of the Sports Tech Tokyo incubator class has been announced. Venture capital firm Scrum Ventures, via its innovation arm Scrum Studios, and Japanese firm Dentsu released 36 companies (see the full list below), along with a previously announced 14 companies.

With 15 countries represented among program applicants, Scrum Managing Director Michael Proman said the program so far is achieving its goal to help bring an eclectic group of sports technology to Japan.

“It’s about bringing the world together,” Proman said. “It’s really gratifying to see the response. The sports technology community is very vibrant, but also very fragmented, and our goal is to unite that community in the same way Tokyo will be bringing the world together in the coming years.”

Tokyo is just the starting point for the mission, largely because of the upcoming Rugby World Cup and 2020 Summer Olympics.

Eventually, Proman said the format could be stretched across Asia, including China (host of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games) and Korea (the host of last year’s Winter Olympics), as it has “broad-based application throughout the region.” The program is also meant to act as a gateway for the sports tech community into Asia.

READ MORE: Inside Sports Tech Tokyo’s Aspirations to Be Gateway to Asia for Sports Tech Businesses

The kickoff event for Sports Tech Tokyo will be in April with 10 to 20 “finalists”  being announced after the initial event in Tokyo. From there, the finalists will work with partner companies and participate in a virtual incubator of sorts, with periodical opportunities to connect in-person with relevant audiences.

“We want to be an arrow in a quiver,” Proman said. “We don’t want to be the quiver. That’s why I think it’s attractive to mid- and late-stage companies. It doesn’t require them to reprioritize business objectives like many accelerator programs.

“It’s not a distraction, but an incremental value add. It’s about supporting their business development efforts in APAC — particularly Japan — because of the partners we’re bringing to the table.”

The selection process of the Sports Tech Tokyo participants is being aided by a mentor community of nearly 60 professionals, with executives coming from teams, leagues, brands, technology companies, and venture capital firms.

“We are able to engage that community in the selection and understand their pain points and what tech excites them,” Proman said. “That’s hugely beneficial.”

Another 100 companies will be announced later this winter, as the application deadline passes at the end of the month. Proman said the application is designed to take less than 20 minutes as its heavily influenced by outbound recruitment.

READ MORE: USOC Continues Turn to Tech to Increase Medal Counts in Tokyo

The initial 50 announced companies are meant to showcase the diversity of the program, not only in regionality and focus, but also stage. Proman said the hopes are to help develop a new idea of technology accelerators. There is no equity investment in the companies.

“These are companies that would not traditionally apply to an accelerator in a classic sense,” he said. “These are companies that see value in the themes of community, relationship building, and revenue generation. We want to make sure the first 50 and next 100 are representative of all stages and multiple countries.”

The Sports Tech Tokyo companies are as follows (listed alphabetically by category):

Athlete Performance

Drivn Coaching Platform (Boston, United States)

KINDUCT Technologies (Halifax, Canada)

Kitman Labs (Palo Alto, United States)

Omegawave OY (Espoo, Finland)

PlayerMaker (London, United Kingdom)

Vision Pursue (Chicago, United States)

Zone7 (Tel Aviv, Israel)

Stadium Experience

IdealSeat (Seattle, United States)

Maestro Interactive (Culver City, United States)

Miro AI (Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

Motionloft (San Francisco, United States)

MVP Interactive (Philadelphia, United States)

Partake (Dallas, United States)

Snapify (London, United Kingdom)

Fan Engagement

Alive5 (Houston, United States)

BCaster USA (Palo Alto, United States)

DataPOWA (London, United Kingdom)

Influencer(INFLCR) (Birmingham, United States)

InSoundz (Tel Aviv, Israel)

Lea (Live Event Assistant) (San Francisco, United States)

Locomizer (London, United Kingdom)

Matcherino (Seattle, United States)

Mimic XR (London, United Kingdom)

Monsterful (New York City, United States)

OpenSponsorship (New York City, United States)

Pixellot (Tel Aviv, Israel)

Play Impossible Corp (Seattle, United States)

Rival.ai Esports Technologies (Toronto, Canada)

Sport50.com (Luxembourg, Luxembourg)

SportsCastr (New York City, United States)

SportsMe (Boston, United States)

The Relish Media Group (San Francisco, United States)

Thuuz Sports (Palo Alto, United States)

WePlayed (Boston, United States)

WHAM Network (Los Angeles, United States)

WSC Sports Technologies (Tel Aviv, Israel)

The first wave of 14 companies are: Halo Neuroscience, Nix Biosensors, Prevent Biometrics, MaxOne, Baseline Vision, D-ID, WaitTime, Spalk, Jebbit, Pico, ActionStreamer, TicketStreet, ookami and Paranoid Fan.

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USOC Continues Turn to Tech to Increase Medal Counts in Tokyo

The U.S. Olympic Committee is careful in the technologies its sports use, but overall technology is now an important tool in helping train athletes.

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Photo via USOC

Phil Cheetham is careful to avoid analysis paralysis.

The term was used to describe providing athletes with too much information from the variety of ways data can be collected today. Cheetham, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s director of sport technology and innovation, said the TMI condition is possible, but easily maneuvered around by allowing coaches to be the gatekeeper.

“We’ll feed coaches as much as we can,” Cheetham said. “They’re the filter, they have to take the data and filter it into coach speak and into the drills and exercises.”

Cheetham’s role is largely to interact and advise with the various National Governing Bodies that make up the U.S. Olympic teams as they enter into the final training stretch of Tokyo 2020.

READ MORE: Inside Sports Tech Tokyo’s Aspirations to Be Gateway to Asia for Sports Tech Businesses

His main goal is to help the various teams, coaches and technical directors select technology that is simple to use and helps understand and improve athletes more rapidly and to avoid injuries.

“If tech can help an athlete be quicker and better, then we’re for it,” Cheetham said.

That said, Cheetham said the technology used within the U.S. teams across the sports spectrum have to not be too intrusive. The equipment — like wearables – must be simple and easily integrated into a piece of clothing or shoes, without impeding the athletic performance. They also need to be accurate, and accuracy is improving regularly, but still can be a problem.

Cheetham, a former Olympic gymnast for Australia, also has a passion for diving and has several pet projects working with those two sports at the USOC.

The technology within the U.S. Olympic community is greatly helped by a fund created by philanthropists from Silicon Valley. Cheetham said the fund is made up of entrepreneurs and billionaires from V.C. firms and tech companies, to provide an advisory board.

“It’s not just money, but expertise and networking,” Cheetham said. “These guys are the top of Silicon Valley, so they know everybody. If we want to know what’s best in motion capture, artificial intelligence or virtual reality, we can go to them first.”

The Olympic organizations often have a chance to be among the first users for a lot of technologies in sports — and while it can be great to be on the cutting edge of the innovation, Cheetham said it’s important not to let the athletes be guinea pigs.

“A lot of times, we get prototypes, and that’s good and bad,” he said. “A lot of times, a weekend warrior or high school and college athletes can do the basic testing and when the tech is close to ready, that’s when it comes to the Olympics.”

That’s because if the data doesn’t work, it can’t help the teams improve. Technology, like one of his pet projects in motion capture, has increasingly gotten better and faster, collecting so much more data and more efficiently without disrupting athletes. Now the statistical models created can be much more useful in following trends and designing training around how long to train and when to take breaks.

READ MORE: Why Alibaba’s Push Into Sports Is a Natural Fit for the Chinese E-Commerce Company

“We’re really interested in tech that helps us track training length and intensity, and if we can do that, we can periodize training sessions better and taper perfectly for a competition,” Cheetham said. “When you’re training at an elite level, you’re walking a tight-rope of performance and injury. You can’t win a competition if you’re not in it, and the tech is helping us avoid injuries.”

The data collected can also provide coaches with more accurate information for better coaching, like if a shot put throw is off six degrees. It’s no longer “I think you were.” Now, it’s “I know you were.”

When it comes down to the technology used, Cheetham said the USOC takes yearly solicitations and ranks projects and budgets based on which ones will have the best chance to improve medal count. Often, the projects are easily transferable from one sport to another.

One example he provided was a radar technology used to track shot put, javelin, discus and hammer throws. The USOC technology was originally developed to track golf balls.

“We’ll do some blue sky projects, but most are good sells and no-brainers.”

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In Changing Media Landscape, Intel Sports is Focused on One Major Goal in 2019

Intel Sports will focus on demonstrating volumetric video in 2019, hoping to alter the future of sports viewing for everyone.

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Photo via Intel

The way sports is consumed hasn’t yet fundamentally changed, but it could in the near future.

Only two years old, Intel Sports is starting to hit its stride. The legacy and importance of its half-century-old parent company provides a lot of opportunities, but being a new vertical helps approach sports with a fresh mind.

“When you look at Intel’s background with data, it’s great,” said James Carwana, vice president and general manager of Intel Sports. “But we can approach things with a blank sheet of paper and not worry about how things have been done.”

Carwana said technology has brought a lot of new ideas to the sports media industry, but there’s still a large gap between consumer demand and the supply in what media is offered. There’s the demand that’s growing and a shift in consumer expectations, which is where the opportunity lies for companies that figure out the gap.

READ MORE: Executives: Competitive Pressure Forcing Industry to Adopt New Technology

“Tech hasn’t fundamentally changed the way we experience the game,” he said. “The supply is the opportunity we’re chasing after. What are fans looking for in an experience, and what would it take to give them an experience that satisfies?”

That supply is where the idea of immersive media comes in as a supplement to general sports media, a subject addressed heavily at this year’s CES in Las Vegas. Companies such as Intel believe fans are looking for an increase in interaction, personalization and data-rich environments in their sports-viewing experiences of the future.

For some, this idea of extra content is about an ego play, Carwana said.

“There is a level of ego in a sports fan,” he said. “You want to prove to your friends and social media that you see things better. That’s how betting works. I know better, I’ll bet against the odds.”

Immersive media is a strange concept, Carwana further expressed with his ego concept. For some, today’s sports media options are more than plenty, even essentially at a linear, one-sided production with highlights. Others want more. If a fan loves the defensive aspect of a game, maybe choosing views that highlight defensive parts of a sport will provide a more immersive viewing experience to that fan than the general public.

At the heart of Intel Sports’ mission to help solve that supply issue is where the company’s 2019 goal lies. By the end of the year, Carwana said his main objective is to demonstrate volumetric video at 30 frames per second.

Volumetric video is an array of 2D cameras compiled into a 3D model.

In sports, those videos can allow broadcasters to look at a play in any view they’d like, as well as additional uses on the team, league and officiating perspective. Intel’s position in sports media is not about owning content or broadcasting rights, but how that content can be delivered.

READ MORE: Why Alibaba’s Push Into Sports Is a Natural Fit for the Chinese E-Commerce Company

“Tech for tech’s sake is a recipe for an unsuccessful business,” Carwana said. “But from a tech standpoint, that’s fundamentally it. It will be an eye-opening moment many thought wasn’t possible — volumetric content at a stadium scale and produced at that rate.”

Intel has partnerships with LaLiga, MLB, NBA on TNT, NFL, NCAA, as well as esports, and they all bring their own unique goals and aspirations. In addition, Intel and Chinese e-commerce and cloud giant Alibaba formed a partnership for the 2020 Olympics to 3D-map athletes. Carwana said even more partnerships will be announced through the first quarter of 2019.

In the meantime, don’t be surprised if sports technology continues to speed up. 

“One of the big surprises in 2018 was how fast fans moved into different types of different experiences,” he said. “How quickly ESPN+ achieved a million subscribers, four times faster than some industry analysts expected.”

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