As the technology develops and becomes more widespread, many have already written about the potential impact of virtual reality in sports. Be it in the training of athletes or in the fan experience of watching games, the technology’s potential applications have not yet been fully realised, the problem being that the technology remains relatively niche. As its price drops and its users grow, virtual reality will become a priority medium for brands to exploit, and in sports you could argue the explosion is well underway.
We’ve already seen the technology’s potential to influence training sessions, with decision-moment simulators being developed by the likes of Beyond Sport and Strivr. Players are able to revisit real moments from games - simulated with the use of cameras around the pitch and data about player physiques - and reconsider their decision making as a training exercise. There’s no doubt that coaching teams will jump at the chance to utilize the new technology given that every manager is looking for that slight edge over the competition. It’s in the fan experience, though, that those exploiting VR will look to make their serious money.
Major deals with the NBA and the NFL have already been struck. NextVR - an industry leader in terms of sports VR production - announced this November that they would be partnering with the NFL to bring postgame highlights to VR headsets. ‘Adding the NFL to our growing portfolio of content partnerships further validates our unmatched technology and our ability to deliver an incredible virtual reality experience to sports fans,’ NextVR Executive Chairman Brad Allen said. ‘NFL fans are constantly craving more football and this partnership will meet this demand by delivering an unprecedented virtual reality experience to fans both in the US and around the globe.’
The NFL has also grown its partnership with Google to bring an ‘exclusive nine-part NFL Films virtual reality series’ that will give fans intimate insight into the game through the use of VR, according to SportTechie. Kicking off on Thanksgiving, the series will attempt to harness VR’s power to immerse the wearer in the experience and offer a unique perspective. This perspective isn’t just limited to the NFL, though. According to SportTechie, the Big Ten Network recently announced a partnership with VR company VOKE to make college football games available in VR. ‘Four 180-degree HD cameras will capture the game while augmented graphics and live audio will funnel through the TrueVR experience.’ Highlights of the games will also be posted in the GearVR app in near-real-time.
In this respect, US sport is some distance ahead of the European offerings. Very few European soccer bodies are creating content anywhere near as polished as the NFL or NBA, for example, and VR has so far been all but ignored. Championship soccer club Brighton & Hove Albion is looking to change that, though, by debuting VR in the family stand following the November international break. Aimed at the younger audience, those at the game will be given a close up experience in the tunnel, in a player warm up session and even inside a goal celebration. The move represents English soccer dipping its toes into VR albeit on a one-off basis.
The NBA is also working to offer fans one game a week in VR - the sport is particularly suited given the size of the court and the intimacy with the players afforded by court-side seats. US sport in particular - especially basketball and football - is catching on to the potential of virtual reality in the world of broadcasting, and as the technology develops that potential will only become more apparent.