How Virtual Reality Impacts Live Sports
The exponential growth of people streaming in virtual reality (VR) is impacting major industries including professional sports and the way we watch live games. In recent years, the major associations have invested heavily in VR research to assess their particular needs from this technology.
- During the 2016-2017 season, the NBA became the first professional sports league to offer regularly scheduled opportunities for fans to watch VR broadcasts of live games.
- That same year, the NHL and NASCAR also started live broadcasting VR options to fans.
- MLB later followed when it introduced its app At Bat VR in the summer of 2017.
- For the first time in Olympic history, VR capabilities formed part of the 2016 Rio games, though these were not available live.
- By the 2018 Winter Games from PyeongChang, global viewers could live stream content in VR.
By 2021, the International Data Corporation estimates that the headset market will grow to 81.2 million units in comparison to the estimated 13.7 million units sold in 2017. As the number of people using VR headsets sky rockets, content producers will vie for our attention on those devices.
During the 2017 GeekWire Sports Tech Summit, guest speaker Dr. Uma Jayaram spoke about her experience leading a sports VR company. While discussing VR in relationship to traditional broadcast and live events, Dr. Jayaram draws an interesting parallel to “Platform Nine and Three-quarters from the Harry Potter series.” It’s the magical train platform where students board the Hogwarts Express. It is not Platform nine or 10, but rather a distinct location between those other two mediums and it creates a totally different experience.
While an overarching intention of VR in sports attempts to make one feel that they are attending a true-to-life game, it also presents opportunities for creative content and vantage points that do not exist in reality. VR will enable fans to experience behind-the-scenes perspectives from on the bench, locker rooms, training sessions, right behind the goal post or on the field alongside athletes in action. In Dr. Jayaram’s view, this technology will help excite fans for live events.
The draw of a live game will never be replaced by VR. The same is true for traditional broadcast. However, the broader evolution of virtual reality will become a seamless part of everyday life, similar to the ubiquity of smartphones. Headsets will become easier to use and more visually appealing. Brands, companies and sports teams will also think of new ways to bring VR to the general consumer. Already, a few sources envision a future in which VR devices will even be used by sports fans in stadiums. This would be the best of both worlds where fans can experience the benefits that technology like VR brings while still being able to experience the event live.
At StubHub, we also value the advantages of virtual reality and have introduced 360-degree Virtual View into our buying experience for certain special events like Super Bowl LII. Keep checking back to Concourse for more posts on immersive technology. Later, we’ll dive into live concerts, augmented reality, and upcoming evolutions in the VR industry.