Extended reality is finally here, and sports fans are already feeling the benefit

Accenture's Jonathan Restarick takes a look at some of the ways extended reality is going from a futuristic pipe dream to a marketers' reality.

As we reach the end of the FIFA World Cup and Wimbledon comes to a close, we are reminded of the power of digitally-televised sporting events. Millions have attended the World Cup games in person, but hundreds of millions more across the world tuned in via TV, radio, and – in ever-increasing numbers – online streaming.

According to the BBC, a record number of 31.2 million browsers in the UK streamed the World Cup group matches alone and more than 5.5 million concurrent users were registered and streaming the recent IPL cricket game (Chennai v Kolkata) in April.

Extended Reality (XR) technologies, which create virtual digital landscapes, take online streaming to the next level. These immersive technologies are the first to “relocate” people in time and space, and are completely transforming how sporting fans connect with games, experiences and each other.

Take the FIFA Virtual Reality (VR) app. The app allows fans to access full World Cup matches on-demand in high-definition, with extensive access to commentary and – most importantly – the ability to see the game up-close through the VR headset, as if they were physically there. The app shows how XR-based technologies will be a game-changer for the next World Cup and other sports around the world.


Perhaps the greatest potential for XR-based disruption in the sporting industry is through delivering experiences as a service. Live sports are an experience-based industry: we watch events like the FIFA World Cup or Wimbledon for the thrill of the competition, to be with our mates and other fans and to cheer on our teams. XR-based technologies will allow fans to experience the games not from their couch, the pub or their friends place, but from the virtual sidelines.

Sporting teams and stadiums are also finding a competitive edge with the design of memorable customer experiences in a bid to encourage fans to attend live matches. The Sydney Sixers created a virtual reality campaign to let fans step in against a fast bowl from players of the Sixers’ men’s and women’s teams. While the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust (SCGT) delivered an augmented reality app that allows cricket fans, through a HoloLens and a mobile app, to experience Steve Waugh’s ‘Perfect Day’ of cricket where he equalled Sir Donald Bradman’s record.

In addition, NextVR is streaming this year’s Wimbledon matches over free Wi-Fi to fans waiting in line to get onto the grounds. Fans can also point their phones at different areas of the stadium to trigger augmented reality experiences. By offering a unique twist to the sporting experience, the technology empowers fans to tailor their experiences the way they want.

Closing the distance

XR-based technologies can also solve the major pain point that fans and sporting teams experience: distance. For fans, this means that witnessing things up-close will become available through VR using a subscription service. It’ll be like pay-tv, only more immersive. The option to be physically present in a stadium will always be available, but XR-based technologies will allow more fans from around the world to experience the game in any country or stadium they want.

The Telstra AFL VR Lounge enables fans to watch streamed games like never before, and a 360-degree video fan experience allows them to get inside the action. Fans can also select their favourite club and deck out the lounge in their team gear. The Lounge is essentially a virtual stadium, fuelled by passion and excitement, giving fans the chance to be virtually present at some of Australia’s biggest AFL events.

Stadiums are also now being designed to be digitally connected from the start, with the new Perth (Optus) stadium providing intelligent in-stadium apps and plans for enhancing the game day experience with extended reality augmentation to the physical action on the ground.

It is also worth highlighting that the convergence of traditional and esport is also removing the barriers of distance, as esport is starting at a point of virtualising the existing sport and then becoming mainstream enough for a physical audience and stadium of its own. To such a degree that some of the traditional sports teams are now buying esports teams.

Fans in Australia and around the world want more from their teams, their match day experiences and the service they use. XR-based solutions allows sporting fans to have it all, anywhere, in truly immersive methods. Fans no longer have to choose between their time and real-life experience. XR is ready to deliver more.

Jonathan Restarick is the communications, media and technology lead for Accenture in Australia and New Zealand.


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