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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Five Things We Learned About VR/AR Technology In San Francisco

The industry is only going to continue to explode.

VR rendering of the SWAG shop (Image via the Atlanta Hawks)


In mid-November Front Office Sports was invited to the World Virtual & Augmented Reality Sports Innovation Summit in Northern California. The two-day event brought industry leaders from around the world of sports and technology to the Bay Area.

A plethora of executives from the big four sports leagues in America were on hand, in addition to companies debuting innovative services. Here is our breakdown and takeaways from the #sportsbiz tech conference.

1. Build scale and build an audience.

The barrier to entry in the sports business realm is education. People who are new to virtual reality and augmented reality need to learn how the technology is used, where to obtain these devices, and when to implement them.

Richard Oleff, Chief Marketing Officer for Unofficial Cardboard expressed how wearables currently are too bulky, and that newer models need to be smaller, lighter and less costly.

His company offers a basic cardboard cutout that transforms into a viewer using your smartphone and he says this is how to scale. While not sexy, it’s an effective a way for the masses to get into VR.

“Content is the key, from 2 to 3 minute videos. That is the window for your audience,” Oleff proclaimed.

2. Applying immersive technology to build and develop stronger relationships with fans.

One league in particular, the National Basketball Association, is the fastest growing brand in the sports space.

Meg Ryan, Vice President of Marketing Strategy for the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena was on hand and told us how technology is the gateway to storytelling. Her basketball team’s arena is currently undergoing a facelift and with the season underway, selling corporate sponsors with VR is one way they can demonstrate the completed renovations down the road.

She mentioned the emergence of video games and their role with the franchise.

“The eLeague is important to growing fans and scaling to a young audience,” Ryan said.

This new sports division within the NBA has young fans adapting their video game skills and each team in the league is encouraged to create friendly competition.

Also noteworthy for its uniqueness is the future opening of the SWAG shop, a barber-style space created by Atlanta hip-hop artist Killer Mike. Over looking the court, fans will be able to enjoy the game from a different perspective while getting a fresh haircut and shave coming in the 2018–19 season.

3. Using big data to understand the virtual fan experience.

Similar to “Money Ball,” executives and digital directors are starting to use analytics to better grasp how fans engage with teams in a live sports setting.

Michael Downey, Director of Sports Technology Engineering for Microsoft was adamant proclaiming, “VR won’t succeed without the social component. Twitch for example is about micro-communities and that’s the goal, to drive new conversations.”

Fans are being encouraged more than before to tweet, post to Instagram, use snapchat filters and check-in using Facebook. These types of engagements may unlock special services and exclusive merchandise. The next step is to integrate VR & AR so everyone feels involved and can create sharable content.

4. The world’s most advanced video game console is right in your hand.

Xperiel offers new innovations for in stadium experiences

NFL stadiums are taking steps into the VR and AR markets with new technology that gives fans more incentives.

Alexander Hertel, CEO of Xperiel gave us a personal demonstration of how NFL, NBA and MLB teams are utilizing his company’s expertise in this field.

According to Hertel, a team’s app is the most valuable and entertaining way for fans to be engaged while sitting in the stands.

“The T-Shirt cannon is a staple of in-house promotions for any team. Now with AR we’re allowing every person in the stadium a chance to win prizes,” Hertel proclaimed.

With an iPhone in hand, I was able to swipe at the digital shirt flying my way. When aiming at a jumbotron, the camera from your phone opens up to an augmented version of a shirt (or beer can, etc.) soaring towards me. When caught, you can then redeem your prize at a nearby kiosk.

Professional teams already on board using Xperiel’s interactive stadium technology include the Los Angeles Dodgers, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, and New York Jets.

5. There is a lot of uncertainty in where the next big trend will lead for virtual and augmented reality.

The two-day panel had an overabundance of information and statistics that either blew you away, or made you dizzy trying to comprehend it all.

What we know is this: smartphones are in our hands each day and using them as a portal to escape real life while watching sports has become routine. How paying customers choose to use these advanced options is the challenge. After the conference concluded, it’s safe to say there are smart and dedicated people around the planet working to make our sporting experiences more memorable.


This piece has been presented you by AudienceView.


Front Office Sports is a leading multi-platform publication and industry resource that covers the intersection of business and sports.

Want to learn more, or have a story featured about you or your organization? Contact us today.

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