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Volume 21 No. 42
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A peek at the future of augmented reality in live events

Thanks to smartphones, augmented reality (AR) is now an essential part of our world. A natural fit with entertainment, AR has already begun its integration into the world of sports — adding a personalized new layer of interaction to fan mail, match-day programs, tickets, kits and any other form of merchandise, while giving sports teams and their sponsors the potential to drive retail sales and collect data on fans.

As such, more sports businesses and teams are beginning to look to AR for driving deeper engagement and creating more memorable experiences for fans. Let’s indulge in the potential of AR’s future in sports by taking a quick look at its current state, and speculating on just how incredible it could get in the far future.

Enhanced fan interaction

AR is already changing the fan experience right in the stadium — mostly in the form of small experiences such as computer-generated face paint, messages from various players that are accessed via souvenir cups, and pointing their phones at the field for advanced stats and replays. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to speculate on just how deep the experience can go. Eventually, fans might be able to “sit” at midfield with highlights of other games, or a sportscaster might pop into view in front of them during replay, speaking directly to them about the details of a play. With many sporting events featuring amazing light shows, AR users may begin to have access to a whole different digital light show, projected before their very eyes in the stadium.

Bringing the stadium home

With the explosion of connectivity and smartphones, sports teams are recognizing that AR (and VR, too) can be used for bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds, creating a feeling of community regardless of location. For the thousands of sports fans who aren’t able to be in the stadium, this is a major opportunity. Imagine simply putting a headset on and seeing your living room deliver you courtside instantly. What if you could have much of the game play out right in your entertainment space without ever leaving your home, or entering a stadium? Sports businesses are looking toward AR to give their fans and customers as many chances to interact with the game as possible, from anywhere. We can potentially look forward to major advances in experiencing the game from the comfort of our armchair, but with the thrill of front row seats at the game.

Who gets to participate?

Here’s the big question. The more advanced AR becomes in the sports world, the more expensive things might get. Is AR some kind of special tech designed for an elite group of sports fans? Is there a barrier to entry for sports fans who don’t make big bucks? Though it is hard to speculate on this, one thing we can turn to is smartphones. Nearly everyone has one, and dozens of AR developers are aware of this, deciding to develop for the hardware that most people have to make it as inclusive as possible. We may not quite be at the science fiction point where people gather in an empty room, don headsets or glasses, and all see the game come alive before their very eyes — but who is to say that isn’t far off? For now, smartphones act as the entry point for most people interested in AR experiences.

The realm of possibility for the future relationship between AR and sports is massive and, as AR becomes more common, there will be newer and excited audiences likely participating.

Jeff Ridgeway is senior vice president of business development, North America, at Zappar, dealing with AR-enabled product and infotainment experiences on mobile.