Augmented Reality & Sports
Updated: Apr 11
When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver kicked off the 2023 All-Star Weekend with a demonstration of the league’s augmented reality (AR) integration into their live streaming services, we knew there would be a lot of slam dunk and also airball metaphors around the technology. Whether you see the value or not, we’re just happy that people are talking about how AR can be used to elevate the fan experience!
AR is becoming more mainstream every day and is transforming how sports are enjoyed by fans, both at home, and in the stadium or arena. AR technology has been embraced by sports teams, leagues, and venues to provide fans with immersive and interactive experiences.
In simple terms, augmented reality combines computer graphics with a view of the real world to (ideally) create a more engaging and informative experience. One of the most common examples of this is the virtual first-down line in American football, dating back to 1998.
Here are the ways we’ve used AR in sports and how we see the technology transforming in the future.
Fan Engagement - At the Game:
Over the last few years, Balti Virtual has focused on creating AR photo booths, so fans can have the opportunity to take a photo with their favorite player. These booths have been tremendously popular for a few key reasons:
The concept is easy to understand quickly - “take a selfie with a player”
There is a low barrier to entry - no app to download or even QR code to scan
The resulting content is personalized, fun, and shareable!
Having AR at the game doesn’t always require a physical installation like a photo booth, especially now that everyone has a smartphone in their pocket. In 2022, the LA Rams allowed their fans to compete with one another across the stadium in a series of AR games.
AR and video games will continue to become more of a norm at in-stadium events, as teams work to make the smartphone experience complement the game experience rather than compete with it.
Fan Engagement - At Home:
Fan engagement shouldn’t stop on gameday or even in the stadium. Many fans can’t make the in-person experience, and interactive tech is a great way to connect them with their favorite team.
This led Balti Virtual to create our web-based AR Fan Foto experience - the same as our in-person photo booths but accessible on fans’ phones. This still gives teams the ability to highlight a sponsor, entertain their fans, and collect data without needing a physical unit within the stadium. People these days love to get their photo taken, so this mobile-based version has been a hit with teams, sponsors, and fans.
The Balti Virtual team has been creating AR experiences for years that sports fans can experience from anywhere in the world. These campaigns are extremely useful to the teams and sponsors while also being well-received by fans for the following reasons:
Augmented reality campaigns create easily sharable moments (who doesn’t want to share a photo of you and your favorite player?!) so more eyes will see the campaign and want to try it for themselves.
Teams/sponsors can showcase (and track) the digital campaign in many ways, whether it’s a link that fans click on via social media/newsletters or a QR code printed on signage or packaging. Teams can leverage the campaign in more ways than having an experience only in stadium.
If, for some reason, a fan can’t attend the game in-person, having an interactive experience that they can access on their phone makes it easy for fans to continue to feel tied to their team.
Where it’s going
As a new generation of sports fans enters the mainstream, teams will need to meet this generation of “digital natives” where they are with well-executed mobile experiences. Instead of seeing fans' smartphones as distractions from real-world action, the most successful organizations will create mobile experiences that augment the live event experience.
As computer vision tech advances, in-stadium augmented reality experiences will expand to encompass entire venues, using technology like Niantic’s Lightship VPS for Web on a larger and larger scale.
Eventually, as the adoption of Mixed-Reality headsets grows (fueled by Apple’s eventual entry
into the market), the at-home fan experience will be supercharged to allow for friends across
the world to sit side-by-side virtually to cheer for their favorite teams.
It’s hard to say exactly when these shifts will happen, but as the average sports fan shifts from being raised on Gilligan's Island and the Munsters to Fortnite and Roblox, a more digital and interactive approach seems inevitable.