Every month, we’re rounding up the best of the digital action in sport. Here’s what made the headlines in January.

The Virtual Super Bowl 

Virtual reality has found a secure home within the world of sport, particularly in the US. The NBA (National Basketball Association) recently became the first major sports league in the world to offer a live-streamed game in virtual reality courtesy of NextVR.

Meanwhile, the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl has triggered a flurry of VR activity; although not a confirmed live virtual reality stream of the game...yet. However, the sports and entertainment extravaganza will see a new ‘Fan Energy Zone’ sponsored by SAP at Super Bowl City. This will feature several interactive VR games, including one which will see fans becoming players in a 40 foot Fan Dome, playing as digital avatars on giant screens using motion sensors.

NextVR, meanwhile, is setting up an NFL Experience booth at the game, which will allow visitors to experience already-played matches in virtual reality, choosing from up to five different camera angles on the field.

Executive chairman Brad Allen has emphasised the companies eagerness to soon stream the Super Bowl, declaring: “We’re ready to livestream any event today. If the NFL says yes, we could do it next season.”

...and more Virtual Reality

Other VR developments in January have included the first live virtual reality boxing match, between David Haye and Mark di Mori. A collaboration between Haye and VR company IM360 meant that viewers could watch the fight in ‘immersive 360 degrees’ using an Android app and VR headsets.

PSV Eindhoven, meanwhile, opted to utilise VR to broadcast not actual game-play, but match aftermath: they celebrated winning the championship title last season by launching an immersive VR film, allowing fans to relive victorious scenes of them lifting the trophy, touring the city and celebrating.

Microsoft has released a concept video of its ‘HoloLens’, a holographic computer which showcases how sports (in this case, American Football) might be watched in the future, including a top-down view of the stadium with matches and players appearing on fans tabletops, and player holograms and stats floating round the room. It’s undeniably aspirational for now, but highlights the esteem with which both tech and sports organisations are holding virtual reality.

Footballing highlights

As we’ve entered 2016, engaging fans globally has been the evident focus of several top-flight football clubs.

Liverpool FC has partnered with Skype to ‘connect fans around the world’. Skype will create customised LFC emoticons as well as launching an official Liverpool Skype ID, where users can participate in group chats and activities, as well as getting the chance to chat with past and present players, simply by adding LFCOfficial as a Skype contact.

Manchester United has opted for a different medium in engaging with its international fans; launching a 24 hour TV channel in China in partnership with Chinese digital sports media platform, Sina Sports. The channel will feature team news, match highlights, interviews press conferences and match build-up, and is a first, according to United.

AS Roma is also aiming to infiltrate China; through WeChat, the exceptionally popular messaging app (WeChat has 650 million active users, only 70 million of which are outside China). They launched an official WeChat account in January; stating that “Roma has a very passionate fan base in China and it’s growing every month.”

Social updates

The launch of Facebook’s Sports Stadium, which gathers all content related to a particular game in one place on the platform, has been much lauded. Facebook itself has called it “a dedicated place to experience sports in real-time with your friends and the world”, and claimed that it comes in response to the fact that Facebook is “already the world’s largest stadium”, where fans can discuss and celebrate sport.

Some have suggested that the fact that Sports Stadium aggregates content from a user’s Facebook friends alongside official match content renders the feature more rewarding that dedicated sports apps, such as ESPN. Sports Stadium, however, has only been rolled out for American Football for now, although Facebook has declared plans to use it for “basketball, soccer and so on”, soon.

In terms of social campaigns, #18towin, a global Twitter and Facebook campaign formed through a collaboration with FOX Sports and the Bundesliga, to promote the 2016 return of the German league, combines video content, players from all 18 teams, and the ‘universal language’ of Emoji. Fans can predict the outcomes of inter-team penalty shootouts using Emoji, with exclusive content on Twitter and Facebook available for those who submit predictions.

Other digisport developments:

  • Text tickets: ReplyBuy is revolutionising how American Football fans can purchase match tickets. The tech firm has created a new mobile ticketing purchasing experience, whereby fans need only reply to a text to complete a purchase. Co-founder Tony Saia has explained: “There’s three things people want: speed, simplicity and access.”

  • Tennis analytics: Tech company Infosys has extended its partnership with ATP and used player data and analytics to identify trends and insights about players during the recent Australian Open matches. Infosy’s Vice President called tennis fans “the most passionate and knowledgeable in the world.”

Digital in football - the latest from our FC Business blog series In September, we kicked off (ahem) the first in a series of articles for FC Business discussing the role of digital in football - here’s our re-cap.
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