A lot has been said about the impact of VR and AR technology on viewing sport. However, while millions of people might not yet be donning Oculus Rift headsets on centre court, the tech is gaining traction.

At the start of this year’s Wimbledon, a 360° mixed reality view of the practice courts will be available for the first time via the Wimbledon app. While these games are open to the public, they haven’t previously been made available to viewers at home.

Previously, one of the most common issues with these practice games was that spectators in the stadium might not know who the player is, or who they’re practising with. However, thanks to changes to the official Wimbledon app, an AR overlay will now fill in these details, with detailed graphics available for each player.

While this isn’t a giant technological leap, it’s quite possibly a glance into where Wimbledon sees its future. In a recent interview, Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content & digital at the All English Lawn Tennis Club, revealed: “AR is very compelling as it can sit within the mobile experience and give somebody the freedom to cultivate their own experience during a match.”

This thinking could have big ramifications for Wimbledon sponsors and consumer brands looking for a slice of the action. If somebody in the crowd, for example, wants to find out what tennis racket Roger Federer is using, an AR overlay could potentially tell them in an instant and facilitate a click-through for a purchase. This technology already exists and would be simple to enable.

When it comes to VR, it’s still far earlier days than AR in terms of adoption. In the same interview, Willis conceded: “The appetite for people wearing a VR headset for an entire match of tennis isn’t particularly high, whereas every smartphone can already do AR. We are waiting for VR technology to evolve and catch up.”

But that doesn’t mean VR can’t still be a success at Wimbledon. After all, tennis is a sport that lends itself perfectly to VR gaming. In fact, some brands have already taken note of this.

Last year, Jaguar launched the #FeelWimbledon VR campaign, which placed users donning their headsets onto Centre Court to experience the atmosphere while hitting the winning shot as Andy Murray. The campaign placed Google Cardboard headsets in dealerships across the country and put Oculus Rift headsets with the game at pop-ups at places such as London Waterloo train station.

It’s probably good to heed Willis’ advice to prioritise a mixed reality strategy for the moment and wait for VR to catch-up and become a more mainstream device. Yet, that doesn’t mean businesses shouldn’t start planning for the latter’s arrival.

There are hundreds of millions, if not billions, of passionate sports fans around the world. However, according to Intel, no more than 1% of those people will ever get to see their favorite team in person. You can see where this is going, can’t you?

In the US, Intel has already announced a three-year partnership with Major League Baseball to live stream one baseball game a week in VR, which will give viewers a pitch-side view of the action. This will also give brands and sponsors the opportunity to engage with sports fans in a far more immersive way.

VR will become a $38 billion industry by 2026 so planning ahead, while making the most of the more established smartphone AR tech that’s already available, looks like the right strategy for brands that are looking to connect the online and real world effectively. As these two channels continue to converge, watching sport will never be the same again – and neither should your marketing strategy.

 

By Matt Phelan, CEO of 4Ps, part of NetBooster Group


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