Augmented reality has been quickly gaining traction in the sports world. AR is being used across the board to improve broadcast coverage, enhance the fan experience, promote sports events and sponsors’ products and even train athletes.
At this time, AR is particularly powerful for marketing use cases, due to the fact that there are currently almost 3 billion AR-enabled smartphones on the planet. The incorporation of AR into mass-consumer apps such as Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok has also made the technology available on a massive scale. On Snapchat alone, there are 210 million daily active users. Campaigns to promote major events, sponsors’ products and merchandise are becoming commonplace due to the sheer size of the audience as well and the engaging nature of AR experiences.
In this article we cover some of the top use cases and examples of AR in sport, from broadcasting to training.
At a broadcasting level, AR can really help attract and retain first-time sports viewers by making it clearer what the rules are, identifying who the players are and highlighting key aspects of a game that might otherwise be overlooked. For more seasoned fans, it can help them understand more about the game they’re watching with deeper stats and comparisons between players. By enabling interactivity this also allows viewers of different levels of understanding to enjoy the experience with the relevant enhancements they’d individually like to see.
While there have been visual overlays in sports for many years, as well as the blending of refereeing systems such as hawk-eye and goal-line technology into broadcast footage, we’re starting to see more natural integration of AR into sports coverage. A recent example is TV 2’s cycling coverage, featuring 3D models on the table in front of the presenters.
However, where this becomes particularly interesting is in putting more controls in the hands of the viewer – something that online broadcasters in particular could capitalise on to make their coverage stand out. Both the NHL and MLB have been experimenting with player tracking, the former on TV and the latter in-stadium.
2. In-stadium experiences
This recent project from Scape Technologies and Nexus Studios shows the exciting potential of AR for in-stadium experiences. The project leveraged the AR cloud and 5G technology to map the AT&T Stadium in Dallas and bring it to life during a football game.
The experience brought 80ft football players to life and, throughout the game, player statistics were highlighted with text over the field. It could be accessed by fans using 5G-enabled smartphones.
This is a great example of what the future might hold for physically activated AR experiences in the sports world.
3. Social media
Social media continues to be the most popular ground for AR-enabled experiences.
One of the campaigns we have produced at Poplar was for the promotion of the McGregor v Khabib Ultimate Fighting Championship in October 2018. The effect allowed users to don the golden UFC belt.
These kinds of lenses generally garner huge engagement due to their realism and by placing the user at the centre of the experience. This makes it a more fun and interactive way of engaging with a brand than static ad formats.
One example of AR gaming in sports is this AR experience from the NBA. They added a virtual hoop game into their existing app, which allowed users to take shots against any real-world wall. They also incorporated a portal experience that allowed users to walk into a 360º video of a previously recorded game.
We have also produced a few AR mini-games, such as this one that was used to promote the Fury v Wilder boxing match in December 2018. In the mini-game, players have to dodge jabs from a boxing globe.
This other mini-game we created is also a great example of the level of interaction you can achieve with an AR experience. It’s a keepy uppy challenge for football fans that keeps tabs on your total touch count.
Print is a great avenue to explore with AR by augmenting media such as magazines, catalogues and billboards. This brings AR into users’ real-world environments, rather than simply within the boundaries of a social media app.
A great example is this AR programme from the Minnesota Vikings, which was embedded within their existing app. The Vikings used their successful programme sales to prompt users to download the app in order to engage with the AR content. Scanning the programme unlocked extra things such as interviews and gameday videos.
On a broader note, one particular area of interest is the use of AR in e-sports, competitive multiplayer video games tournaments played by professional gamers. This is because there is a lot of ready-made 3D content in such games that can be incorporated into coverage to great effect.
One great example of this comes from Street Fighter, the best-selling one-on-one fighting video game. A recent broadcast of the Street Fighter V Invitational event included AR characters inserted into the TV coverage in real time (that is, live). Characters appeared throughout the show, whether striking different fighting poses or hanging over the broadcasters. This is just one example of the fun way AR can be incorporated into broadcasting.
Sports retailers are also turning to AR – and for good reason. Virtual try-on is increasingly becoming a mainstay for retailers who want to increase online and in-store sales.
We recently worked with Speedo to develop an in-store try-on experience for their swimming goggles. This allows swimming enthusiasts to easily discover the best goggles for them based on their face shape – by comparing against other swimmers’ fittings – and to see how they look in an instant.
Finally, AR for sports coaching and training is still at an early stage but has huge potential for the future – particularly once there’s a proliferation of consumer headsets. In these scenarios, combining computer vision with AI will deliver some amazing enhancements – it’s easy to imagine a headset that identifies the flight, speed and spin of a tennis ball and guides a player through the correct technique to return it.
There are plenty other potential use cases across sports. For example, this AR tool allows you to analyse the direction and power to putt a golf ball by accounting for terrain, angle and spin. This kind of tool can be very effective in other sports such as snooker and football. For example, AR might be able to show the most effective curl for a free kick.
It is also worth noting that the use of AR could have a profound impact on people with visual impairments enjoying sports.
Into the future
From a very futuristic perspective, the way we consume sports could be revolutionised through the use of AR. However, it’s important that it fits into people’s habits and expectations, as opposed to forcing an undesirable experience on them.
One interesting concept from Immersiv allows users to place a live 3D F1 track on a surface in front of them. Another example from Zappar shows how consumers can use smartphone-based headsets to bring a new dimension to data visualisation.
Have you come across other interesting use cases? Let us know in the comments.