Key takeaways

  • Live television audiences are decreasing when it comes to today’s sports games.
  • Increasingly, audiences are going digital, consuming sports via social media and online streaming.
  • Virtual reality will continue this trend, affecting fan experiences, sponsorship and athlete training.

PwC’s latest sports survey, Sports: the most disrupted of all industries?, makes one thing very clear: the industry is undergoing more disruption than ever. Despite this certainty, just which disruptive forces will dominate and at what speed is difficult to pin down.

There are number of factors threatening the seemingly constant growth of the industry. These include:

  • shifts in consumer behaviour, particularly among younger generations,
  • a lack of trust in governing bodies and the impact of match fixing,
  • technological change,
  • increasing pressure from non-sports entertainment.

On the up are soccer/football, basketball and the meteoric growth of eSports. Established drawcards such as the Olympics, however, face falling audiences and competition from other viewing formats.

A decline in watching live sports coincides with a rise in new ways of viewing. Sports bodies, sporting codes and teams are increasingly experimenting with emerging technologies in line with this trend. For instance, in the use of virtual reality (VR).

Here are three ways VR and sports are intersecting.

The fan experience
goes digital

Traditionally, sports has been consumed in very specific ways. The ultimate experience: being at the game and, for those lucky enough, in a front row seat. For those without the means to be at a game, television or radio commentary would do the job.

In a more global age, where it isn’t uncommon to follow teams or types of sport that aren’t local, watching a game from the 50-yard line is even more unlikely for the average sports fan.

Enter VR.

Stefan Schuster, managing director of marketing agency mm sports, believes that “While complementary to broadcast at first, [VR] has the potential to become a new standard for everybody.” For fans, it will offer the ability to take that coveted pitch-side seat.

This not only allows clubs to potentially sell virtual reality tickets (and virtual season passes) but also to expand upon the sports-viewing experience in ways not possible for current ticket holders. For instance, hanging out with the players in the changing rooms before the game, or from the point of view of a favourite player or even the umpire.

According to the National Basketball Association, VR technology is only five or six years away from allowing fans to sit not only in the front row, but from wherever they want within the entire stadium.

This could also be augmented with additional information such as player stats, or information from players utilising wearable technology.

Show me
the money!

Sport wouldn’t be sport without the sponsorship dollars it generates, and VR will also impact on this.

As fans move away from live television viewing towards social media and streaming platforms, the opportunities for advertising are shifting. Given the nature of digital, with its ability to provide custom and changing ads, there’s huge potential for revenue.

Most of us remember the period when sports sponsorship went from fixed panels around the stadium to messaging on the field itself. Then to the ads that were painted in such a way as to appear three-dimensional to television audiences.

Virtual sponsorship takes this even further, with the ability to show different ads to different VR users during the same game. The report shows that “technical progress and analytical tools have made it possible to reach a mass audience with individualised, targeted and localised content.”

Presumably, this advertising content will not only be more effective for advertisers but, given its targeted nature, also more useful and less obtrusive to viewers.

Donning the
goggles to train

Industry professionals in the survey indicated that augmented and virtual reality would become a must-have for training purposes. Indeed, it is already being used by various sports teams to improve training sessions.

Not only can players analyse their own performance, entire games can be recreated and studied for identification of critical errors or gaps in strategy. Imagine a world where before a final, a team can summon a game (or amalgamation of games) that they’ve played against their rival in order to fine tune their approach?

Wearable technology is also beginning to have an impact on professional team sports. Video and sensor technology is providing teams with positional and biomedical data.

This means coaches and captains can “facilitate critical decision-making, both on and off the pitch.” Its use is not only helpful during the game or training but can help prevent injury due to player behaviour and also, in the event of an injury, offer greater visibility over the recovery process.

When combined with virtual reality, this information could also serve to enhance the fan experience, though before that happens issues around athlete data ownership, privacy, commercialisation and its influence on match-fixing and the betting industry need to be thought through and appropriately regulated.

As the goalposts

Like VR in the non-sporting world, the technology is reaching a point where its use as a serious addition to everyday experiences has become realistic.

As prices continue to reduce and become affordable to the general public, its use will no doubt increase. There are already many use-cases and trials that have proven the desirability of VR as an add-on to the fan experience as well as to teams themselves.

Keeping your eye on the ball just became a whole lot more digital.

Download the PwC Sports Survey 2017 – Sports: the most disrupted of all industries? for further insights into the industry’s disruption.


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Hugh Gaukroger

Hugh Gaukroger is PwC Australia’s Virtual and Augmented Reality Team Lead.


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