VsportR Case Study: Extending the sports content engagement cycle with Virtual Reality

Fancy getting a glimpse of Andy Murray preparing for the match? What if you could enjoy pitchside a virtual reality sports view of Wimbledon from the comfort of your own couch?

VsportR is focused to make realistic virtual spaces for interactive and immersive virtual reality sports content. In other words, bring you on the field, without being physically there! Alex Handy, founder of VsportR, has been passionate about sports all his life. Former professional snowsports instructor and tennis coach with a career in consultancy and tech, has now become a VR advocate eager to explore how innovative technologies like Virtual Reality can transform entire industries.

“Virtual Reality is one of the few technologies which can inspire genuine emotion – it has the unique ability to give people the feeling of physical presence without you actually having to be there.” – Alex Handy

“Despite the rapid growth of VR in the last year, there is still very little virtual reality sports content, particularly outside of gaming, for people to consume.

So I set up VsportR to help make immersive, virtual reality sports content and experiences become an actual reality. I want to see these great sports VR experiences get made – so we are starting to build tools and experiences directly for businesses involved in sports (e.g. teams, leagues, broadcasters, brands and agencies) to make VR accessible.”

What Virtual Reality can do for sports?

At University of Cambridge with Cambridge University Amateur Boxing Club.
At University of Cambridge with Cambridge University Amateur Boxing Club.

For many, the most compelling VR experience is watching a live event as if they were on the front row just by strapping a headset. To determine the “suitability” of a sport for this type of experience, the developers have to take into consideration parameters such as the maturity of the cameras and software required to capture and stream live footage via VR.

“Right now sports which have a small field of view / playing area and can be easily covered from a couple of static cameras provide the best experience. This lends itself best to close combats sports like Boxing and companies such as NextVR have already streamed live fights in VR and the footage looks amazing.”

Alex Handy wants to see more.

“Beyond this, the space is still incredibly nascent and given the infinitely programmability of VR the potential is almost limitless. I’d like to see more experiences where you can play a sport against your favorite athletes – for example playing tennis against Roger Federer or taking a penalty against Joe Hart.”

But there are even more ways to maximise the potential of Virtual Reality in sports to improve athletic performance. STRIVR is working closely with American Football teams, particularly quarterbacks, to improve their performance via re-living their training sessions giving them the opportunity to study from the same vantage point from where they played.

Innovation in the virtual world comes with challenges in reality

Pioneers like Alex are aware of the risks and the difficulties that come with exploring a new technology in its early stages. There are distribution and consumption issues that any startup like VsportR has to overcome in order to bring their vision into life. Alex has mapped some of them.

“Creation challenges come from where to position cameras – VR cameras capture a 360 panoramic and currently aren’t hugely dynamic (though check out some drone footage) so for directors, thinking about where to shoot VR footage is a big challenge. On the consumption side, say you wanted to deliver an in-stadium shared VR experience for 60,000 people using their mobiles, the biggest challenge remains with internet infrastructure. Until sports environments improve this, most event based VR experiences won’t be possible.”

Reaching beyond the gamers: audience interaction and content sharing

So far, VR is mostly accessible among a core gaming community. For Alex Hardy, this is the main goal, to help make sure everyone gets to the chance to experience great VR in sports.

Mainstream audience interaction with VR is quite limited to known video sharing platforms such YouTube and social media outlets like Facebook. Companies like JauntVR, WEVR and Oculus are trying to make it to the finishing line of facilitating launching platforms where people will easily have access to a variety of Virtual Reality experiences. .

“I’m sure you’ll be able to experience full VR from your Facebook feed in the not too distant future!” – Alex Handy

Virtual Reality In Sports Report — Executive Summary

Alex has just published a report on “Virtual Reality in Sports” (for the full report email hello@vsportr.tv or sign-up to vSportR’s newsletter at www.vsportr.tv).

The sports Virtual Reality market has three primary B2B segments — sports content owners (teams, leagues & associations, athletes), broadcasters and brands. Sports organisations need to start thinking about how they will create and manage their virtual reality assets (e.g. a photorealistic virtual space or room) as a distinct part of their digital portfolio, much like websites, social media channels and video content. A common feature across all these B2B segments is that direct merchandising and monetisation tools in VR are extremely nascent. These will emerge as the user base increases and technology platforms mature.

Content Owners

  • Fan engagement — early experimentation with 360 / VR video in one-off experiences needs to evolve into a more regular slate of content to reduce upfront cost and increase ongoing engagement. There is a huge opportunity for this group to develop scalable, repeatable content packages and leverage more from the access and rights they possess to build direct connections to fans. To maximise this potential, content owners should start rethinking their entire content engagement cycle in the context of VR (e.g. event promotion, the matchday experience, highlights etc).
  • Athlete branding — Athlete profile building is very early but has huge potential — imagine being able to return serves from Andy Murray or take penalties against Joe Hart. Athletes can own these experiences if they move early.
  • Training — In the foreseeable future, high-end VR training simulations will likely remain consigned to very specific use-cases (e.g. QBs in American Football). Experimenting with more basic uses of 360 video content in the training work ow could, however, deliver quicker wins.

Broadcasters

  • Live — Live VR streaming means a lot of different things right now (pure VR video, hybrid video and virtual environment, full virtual environment) and there is no one dominant approach that is winning out. In fact, there is room for multiple approaches to co-exist each offering a different core use case.
  • Live — Broadcasters should start simple with live VR streaming focusing on sports where the technology can currently handle the action (e.g. close combat sports) — it’s tempting to shoot straight for the full VR stream of major sporting events but turning consumers off with sub-optimal experiences could prevent the full potential ever being reached
  • Ancillary content — Despite the importance of live, broadcasters need to think more broadly about the full programming slate that VR can offer. The promise of full physical presence in VR can easily be extended to generate powerful sports event promotional tools, behind-the-scenes documentaries and highlights packages.

Brands

  • Analytics — Data and analytics will be central to demonstrating the long term value of VR. Being able to provide insight on how people are engaging with brands within a virtual space (e.g. where looking, how moving around etc) has the potential to be transformative as an input to designing effective marketing campaigns.
  • Native branded experiences — VR offers increased opportunities for native branded experiences and product placement. One can imagine branded virtual rooms, housing a range of relevant media content alongside engaging product placement, becoming a powerful marketing asset in their own right.
  • Interactive engagement — Adding direct interactivity in VR provides huge opportunities to improve engagement. Typically marketing is a reactive experience where the consumer is served an advertisement that they simply watch. VR offers the potential to provide much more agency to the user.

First published at Chimeren Peerbhai’s Versastyle Consulting Blog.

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