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Volume 20 No. 41
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Pro Football HOF eyes hologram technology

Want to ask Johnny Unitas about his top plays? Query Vince Lombardi about his coaching wizardry? Have Walter Payton tell you about the origin of his nickname, Sweetness?

It may not be far-fetched. The Pro Football Hall of Fame wants to use holograms to depict deceased players and coaches in interactive displays in the museum, as well as in traveling shows. If implemented, it is believed that the hall would become the first entity in sports to use the technology, one that captured great attention at the Billboard Music Awards in May when a hologram of Michael Jackson appeared on stage and performed.

“It is an opportunity to engage our audience with a realistic yet entertaining way of telling our story,” said Joe Horrigan, the hall’s executive vice president of museums, selection process and chief communications officer. “It brings a wow factor.”

A holographic image of Michael Jackson performs during the Billboard Music Awards in May.

Whether holograms of deceased players elicit “wows” or “ewws” is a subjective reaction. Frank Vuono, partner at 16W Marketing, the hall’s new marketing agency, said he saw a concert with a hologram of Frank Sinatra singing and called it great, not creepy.

Google the Michael Jackson Billboard Music Awards performance, or a Tupac Shakur hologram appearance in 2012, and responses are all over the map — from those who found it spooky, to others who found it awe-inspiring.

What is certain is that hologram technology is quickly becoming a market reality in various sectors. Hologram USA, which provided the technology for the Jackson appearance, opened a Washington, D.C., office last week to offer its services to politicians to allow them to appear remotely. The new prime minister of India in his election effort often campaigned simultaneously in different locations through the use of holograms.

Holograms can be used each way: to resurrect the dead or to depict a live person talking in one place in another location. Country music star Keith Urban actually performed a concert as a hologram in Australia while still in the United States.

The hall wants to do both. The holograms the hall envisions would largely use live actors playing out the roles and not footage of the featured individuals. That image could then be used live somewhere or programmed as a display at the museum.

The hall might use some actual footage, Horrigan said, but he did not reply to a follow-up question about whether the hall had also begun talks with the estates of deceased players about what is legally required for their permission.

The hall is talking to two vendors that license the technology from British company Musion, which worked with the Indian prime minister on his campaign.

In the next year, the hall expects to raise the necessary funds for the effort, Horrigan said, and would deploy the technology soon after. He declined to comment on what the endeavor costs.