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Live Sports and the Augmented Reality Conundrum

Can the additive experience of AR be enough to push fans to use it often?



MLB At Bat has AR built in, but will it be a hit? (Photo via USA Today)

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have both been on the radar for sports fans and industry professionals for several years. From apps that complement live fan experiences, to VR applications which substitute for events, a wide range of products have been proposed and/or developed.

Though for consumers, a clear use case for mixed reality is yet unclear, sports is the one place where fans could feasibly use the technology today. That said, mixed reality is still in its early stages — and as such, the variance in expected outcomes is large. It could either fade in our collective conscience, or become the industry-shifter many are predicting.

AR Applications

Virtual reality can clearly be used as a substitute for TV — which, if broadcast numbers decline at any point, could become the medium of choice for leagues. While this is unlikely to happy anytime soon, given fans’ inelasticity of demand, it is foreseeable that, as the marginal benefit of the cable bundle continues to decline as the internet continues to progress, the set of sports fans who are willing to pay for a cable bundle will be limited to only those in the upper echelon of fandom.

For that reason, leagues must prepare for a future in which traditional broadcast rights are not a core revenue stream. Maintaining the status quo could lead to precipitous and unsalvageable losses.

Augmented reality is much different, in that it is mostly an additive product. A full dispersion of AR likely won’t drastically affect the way the industry will operate, much in the way that a change in the broadcasting model may.

The MLB, NBA, and NFL have all released smartphone apps exploiting some form of AR, but thus far, only the MLB seems to have made a concerted effort to make this a part of their business. Indeed, MLB At Bat’s new features were one of the AR apps teased during Apple’s most recent keynote.

Third-party developers are trying their hand as well. Virtex Apps is one such example — through AR competitions at sporting events and concerts, Virtex’s goal is to fill the “empty spaces” during the game.

“Right now during these breaks, the team or league will have entertainment that they’ve arranged… Even though there is something simple, fans will get really into it. The idea of this is taking it to the next level… you’re participating with everyone in the arena.” — Jeff Green, Founder of Virtex Apps

Apps like this may provide fans with an experience that comes close to actually attending games — meaning that if they reach widespread usage, teams could leverage the app as additional real estate to sell sponsorships.

What AR Apps Need to do to Succeed

Apps like Virtex compete against apps such as Facebook and Twitter — whose value is predicated on filling the empty spaces of life. And, as the defaults, they will have an inherent advantage — especially if they decide to enter the AR space.

In addition, for third-party apps which rely on AR as their core competency, they will need to answer two questions:

  1. What can be done when fans don’t come to games? There will be less of a compelling reason to use, let alone download, the app. An overwhelming majority of fans only attend a few games a year. How can they convince them to continue using the app when they are watching from home?
  2. In addition to this, how would an app solve the issue of upfront costs? That is: even if an app is free, usage will rely on fans’ willingness to download it onto their phones – creating friction before they even take part.

In other words, the success and adoption of an AR app will be predicated on a perceived marginal benefit of using the app that exceeds the marginal costs of using it.

For this reason, I fear that, in today’s tech landscape, the outcome in AR could simply be one where the defaults succeed (a good reason to be bullish on At Bat). It will certainly be difficult to develop a successful AR-only app – that is, the benefit to fans will likely be too limited for it to succeed (this is a question of volume, rather than value per usage).

Rather, an orthogonal business model, where sports is complementary to a business, rather than its driving ambition, might be the best way to structure an AR startup. Social AR apps may find this particularly difficult to overcome. If a business relies on network effects to succeed, and reaching critical mass is exceedingly difficult due to its capped market, it is also unlikely to ever reach that point.

That said – for Virtex Apps, whose expectation is high churn rates, succeeding with the best fans: that is, those who are most willing to pay, and will therefore willing to attend the most games, is paramount. If they are able to reach casual fans, as well hardcore fans, they have an opportunity to succeed. If first mover advantages hold, they have the chance to become the default before any competitors can obtain a foothold.

Daniel is a writer at Front Office Sports, primarily covering sponsorship marketing and technology trends in the sports industry. Currently a Data Scientist at Bell Canada, Daniel has also worked at IMG and Wasserman in both strategy and consulting capacities.


What Bull Riding Can Teach You About Real Time Visual Storytelling

How a lightning-fast photo workflow helps Professional Bull Riders increase fan engagement online.

Libris Insights



© Andy Watson / Bull Stock Media

*This post is part of the brand new FOS Insights program. Libris is a proud launch partner of the program. 

As the official photographer for Professional Bull Riders (PBR), Andy Watson has captured every major moment in the sport’s 25-year history.

“It’s an edge of the seat sport,” says Andy. “You pay for the whole seat, but you only need the edge. It’s a very visual sport, too. You can really freeze and zoom on every little detail — the dirt flying, the expression in the bull’s face, the expression in the cowboy’s face. The photos are just powerful.”

Working directly with his wife Jacey, the duo, who also run Bull Stock Media, has mastered getting compelling photography up online in mere seconds to increase audience engagement and excitement around the sport.   

Watch the video to see how Andy and Jacey bring bull riding to life through stunning visuals and fast image delivery:  

Behind the Scenes with the Storytellers

Over the years, Andy and Jacey have built a massive archive of 1.5 million images. While Andy’s on the road shooting 40+ PBR events a year, Jacey manages the archive from their home in Bozeman, Montana. She crops and edits, tags all of the images with relevant metadata, and adds them to Libris to make them available to everyone who needs them.

© Andy Watson / Bull Stock Media

Thanks to Andy and Jacey’s workflow, people across the PBR organization can get the photos they need, whether they’re posting shots on Instagram seconds after a great ride or digging deep into the archive for a celebration of the brand’s 25th anniversary.

Here’s a look at how they get PBR images published online so quickly:

  1. Andy takes photos inside and around the PBR arena.
  2. He uses a wireless transmitter to send them straight to a laptop at the edge of the arena.
  3. Jacey is logged into that laptop remotely from where she lives in Montana.
  4. Jacey crops and edits the photos, then pushes them out to the social media team using WhatsApp, and to others members of the team using Libris.
  5. Team members then immediately distribute those photos across social media platforms and PBR’s website.  

© Bull Stock Media

“They’re being used for everything,” says Andy. “There’s social media, there’s the website, media, marketing, they’re up and down billboards, they’re in all the papers, they’re on TVs, and all the sponsors use them.”

© Andy Watson / Bull Stock Media

Today, Andy and Jacey have nearly 150 people on their Libris account who need access to PBR photos on a daily basis. On top of that, 400 people float in and out of the system when they need a particular asset.

“Of those people, we need to make sure everyone has the right image permissions,” says Jacey. “Some departments within PBR need access to the entire archive, while others don’t. Proper permission settings ensures you’re not allowing access to old images or old logos, for example. It’s important for PBR that the photos being pulled are always being used in the right context.”

© Andy Watson / Bull Stock Media

“The evidence is strong when you also look at the huge following that PBR has on their social media platforms,” says Jacey. “Fans are being driven to consume PBR news and content solely on the PBR properties online, rather than seeking it out elsewhere. We’re an integral part of providing that content for those channels.”

And as the team uses these images across platforms, they have a powerful ripple effect on this fast-paced, fast-growing sport. Andy says photography is crucial to drawing people into the arena for the first time.

“Their curiosity gets the best of them,” he says. “And once you get them here, they’re hooked.”

For more tips on how to maximize the impact of your events, listen to the full webinar featuring PBR’s photo team.

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Why Orlando City is Turning to Alexa to Deliver News to Fans

The soccer club has rolled out one of the first uses of an Alexa Skill at a team level.

Adam White



Orlando City is using Alexa to deliver news directly to its fans via voice-enabled updates on the Amazon Echo family of products. (FOS Illustration)

With one in six Americans owning a smart speaker according to research from NPR and Edison Research, the battle is on to find a way to deliver timely and relevant content to users who also have an affinity for sports teams.

While leagues such as the NBA have had Alexa Skills since late 2017, Orlando City’s foray into the voice space, specifically with their new Alexa Skill, marks one of the first uses of the platform at a team level.

Although there won’t be a massive marketing push behind the new skill, Ed Cahill, Senior Director of Content for Orlando City, is excited about the potential opportunities Alexa presents.

“We’ll continue to invest our time into voice,” said Cahill. ”Our target market is constantly on the move. If our fans are driving, working, or at the gym, voice is potentially our only option to reach them. In terms of creating content for smart speakers, the turnaround is actually pretty quick and we expect to be able to get regular updates out to fans without sacrificing too many man-hours.”

Making a decision to explore the voice space was easy for Cahill and his team based on the sheer fact that the market growth and adoption rate for smart speakers are booming.

“The most convincing research for us when it came to the decision to enter this space was the mass adoption rate of smart speakers,” said Cahill. “With over 20 million Amazon Echo’s already in the market, and a smart speaker install base of 244 million expected by 2022, it just made sense for us to start to explore the space.”

“I think we’ll take a laid-back approach in driving users to the platform. We’ve listed our skill on our website under news and will do social media push as well as in-stadium on gamedays. As this is only a news briefing skill, we’ll push this as a convenience factor for fans. If we look into a full-fledged skill in the future that strategy may change.” – Ed Cahill, Senior Director of Content for Orlando City

Although a first for Orlando City on the Amazon Echo, Cahill and his team have been using voice-based content in the form of weekly podcasts for the past three years. The success of these, coupled with the aforementioned growth of the smart speaker market, led Cahill to believe that being creating an Alexa Skill would only add another level of convenience for fans.

“We’ve been running ‘Orlando City Soccercast’ for over three years now. It’s a weekly podcast that helps fans stay in the know. We’ve had positive results from the podcast and expect fans to enjoy the convince of Orlando City news via smart speakers in their kitchens, bedrooms, or anywhere in their homes.”

For those worried about the skills it requires to put together an Alexa Skill, the process is actually rather simple. Luckily, besides the product being extremely easy to use, the platform makes the creation and approval process for an Alexa Skill quite seamless.

Not only is the process of creating a skill simple, the process to upload content and sound bites might be even easier. With all the cool features and possibilities of the platform, the ease of use was the one that surprised and delighted Cahill the most.

“I assigned the task of creating the skill to my Director of Video, Eric Thompson. With no experience in the space, he was able to create and send the skill in for approval in the space of two days. Training for creating and uploading sound bites for our entire team took only about 10 minutes.”

As with any content and platform, the first question after debuting it usually turns toward monetization and a club’s thoughts on how they will do that. While not the primary plan as of yet, Cahill sees the opportunity for Orlando City’s partners to get involved at some point.

“Our partners are just as much on the cutting edge as we are. Many are taking the same path into voice and we’ll look to collaborate and learn together.”

With voice platforms still in relative infancy compared to other platforms, the ability to get even closer to the consumer in a way that is easy to consume, and without much friction, is a tantalizing opportunity for sports teams around the world.

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Cut the Cord: How Ticketing Professionals are Shifting with the Times

Not only do traditional broadcast companies have to compete with streaming services, so do live events.

Owen Sanborn



Image result for apple tv menu

Photo via:

I have an Apple TV in my apartment. Two in fact — one for the living room and one for my bedroom. (It’s such a great experience that I had to take it to the bedroom.)

Its library of apps and interfaces gives me access to every NBA game (thanks, NBA league pass!), MLB game (thanks,!), NFL game (thanks, NFL Sunday Ticket Max!), and more college football and basketball games than I can handle (thanks, ESPN!). And I didn’t even include the onslaught of TV and movie options I have at my disposal because one of my friends has a friend that knows a friend whose cousin has a login hookup for HBO GO, Netflix, and Hulu.

Have you ever searched for your favorite sports talking head’s studio show on YouTube? I assure you that you will find each segment from that day’s episode cut up into separate videos so that you can pick and choose which one is worth your time. If the video is not straight from the source (ESPN, Fox Sports 1, etc.), then some ambitious YouTuber out there felt the desire to share it just for you. You are a search bar and a click away.

And people wonder why us millennials stretch a mile wide and about a half of an inch in with our brains?

Pretty soon it may not be necessary for me to summon the courage to leave the couch. What’s the point? Everything I’ll ever need can be found in this little black box provided by Apple, Amazon, or Roku — along with a second and third screen to boot.

That last part has a hint of hyperbole sprinkled in — I will relinquish the throne of my couch. I do not consume sports on three screens at once … at least not ALL the time. But the point of my prelude is: the in-arena experience has stiff competition on its hands. Professionals in the ticketing business are well-aware of this fact and are readying themselves to shift with the times.

Like an NBA wing switching along the perimeter, sales staffs have to be ready to cater to a myriad of fan desires. Some may be looking for a single-game ticket or traditional season ticket membership, others want a flex pack, and a new wave of buyers may seek a monthly payment for the right to obtain tickets to every game. As a ticketing professional, you have to be quick on your feet and ready to supply an experience worth paying for.

“I think it speaks to how the consumer is coming to the realization that they really only HAVE to pay for the things they REALLY want,” Mike Hinson, VP College Athletics Sales at AudienceView told Front Office Sports. “Unless you have something compelling and personalized to each type of fan, you run the risk of alienating a large percentage of your fan base with “one size fits all” products (such as season tickets). That shift is why the memberships and experiences become not just compelling, but critical.”

Memberships and flexible ticketing plans are two areas where I could see the future of the industry going. I may not be willing to dish out fifty dollars per ticket to go see a Phoenix Suns game, but would I be willing to pay fifty dollars a month for the right to have a ticket to each home game (with the location of my seat shifting based on supply) that month? That idea at least makes me raise a brow.

In that case, the Suns would already be making fifty dollars more per month from a fan of my ilk than they would have been previously, and that doesn’t even account for the ancillary revenue (parking, concessions, merchandise, etc.) that comes along with me merely entering the building.

It makes sense for some teams more than others — the Dallas Cowboys are going to find no trouble selling out their venue on Sundays. However, what the Pittsburgh Pirates are trying to implement with their monthly payment program is an admirable pursuit. It should serve as a trailblazer for other franchises or college programs to follow.

“Consumers are so smart and adept at getting discounts,” Brent Jones, Deputy AD of External Operations at Troy University told Front Office Sports. “We have to add value with our ticket packages — promotional items, bobbleheads, vouchers, fan experiences and affinity-building items are all things that we consider.”

For the time being, the opportunity cost of missing the at-arena experience is too low compared to manning the fort in your living room, three screens on hand, monitoring the downfall of your fantasy team with each passing quarter. Millennials are conditioned to control what they consume.

As Hinson puts it, “They still want to consume content and experiences, just on their terms.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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