In our new book Strategic Digital Transformation, we write a lot about people, technology and events as part of a way to innovate and educate internally to an organisation and to the outside world. The 4.0 suffix is derived from the phrase industry 4.0, relating to the 4th industrial revolution of data exchange in manufacturing, technologies and processes. This article explores this idea and how digital transformations such as Virtual Reality (VR) apply to sporting events.
Accelerating Events 4.0
In our paper ‘Recognizing events 4.0: the digital maturity of events’ – we attempt to define Events 4.0 as
“events that are frequently iterating, digitally managed, fully integrated in their data and digital systems with dedicated technology engagement. Furthermore, they optimize communication at all levels in order to inform other sections of the delivery operation to maximise marketing opportunities and enhance the experience of attendees.”
The current global lockdown has seen events cancelled indefinitely online from high profile sporting events to business events across the world. Annual events have been postponed until next year or cancelled completely. Other events have taken to using video events software such as Zoom, MS teams, Google Meet and other innovative virtual and augmented approaches. Switching meetings and events to Zoom does not equal digital transformation on its own, but it does present some interesting opportunities to accelerate the transformation process and event integration with data and digital systems as above. Whilst it’s been said that you are 34 times more likely to get something done in person face to face, the current audio and video calls can be described as the ‘digital twin’ of the face to face meeting or event, but replacing a face to face experience with a 2D video call is not without its challenges.
Sporting events in lockdown
We have seen some other interesting and innovative examples of how events driven companies are trying to innovate beyond the video call. Denmark was the second country in Western Europe to restart their football season with Danish team bringing fans to the stadium using a Zoom video call.
In the opening fixture AGF Aarhus welcome local rivals Randers but it is on the sidelines where history will really be made. In front of one stand a giant screen, 40 metres long and 3m high, will be filled with fans watching via video link.
Sports clubs in lockdown for example have had to cancel their matches and are starved of the content that drives them. We have seen some innovative examples of new digital and social media content from sports clubs. Sports clubs are increasingly interested in the massive rise in esports and fan engagement. So for example, in the #UltimateQuaranTeam cup, famous soccer players from sports clubs competed against each other, representing their teams using FIFA2020 and this is live streamed on Twitch. It’s interesting then to see the clubs and players posting on social media like it’s a real match and result.
— Blackburn Rovers (@Rovers) March 26, 2020
Facebook and VR
We have also seen a rise in virtual worlds and sales of VR content and headsets. Facebook have invested heavily into VR headsets with their purchase of Oculus Rift and this appears to be progressing well. Facebook 80% year-over-year quarterly growth of its quarterly “Other” revenue [$297 million] was driven primarily by Oculus products.
”The Oculus Quest headset has just surpassed $100 million in content sales in its first year. – Tech Crunch
Whilst people may be prepared to pay for the VR headset hardware and gaming content, it is less clear if people will invest time and money in VR events and sport events. Sky and Netflix are offering VR experiences and sometimes this is a value added that you get with a subscription rather than paying for a standalone match.
VR Vs HDTV
I tried an experiment this week – I watched a classic match on my big high definition TV. It was fun, I checked my phone periodically (2nd screen viewing), nipped out for a drink and back. I tried the same thing with my low end Oculus Go VR headset. Whilst this is only a cheaper headset – it just didn’t have the clarity of picture and to do anything else (like speak to a member of the family that enters the room or answer the phone), you have to take the headset off, which creates a really disjointed experience. Higher end, higher resolution VR headsets cost considerably more and are therefore at present, more of a niche audience. We know that sporting content is also of interest to Facebook – but the money in VR content currently seems to be with the gaming interactive experiences rather than more passive watching sport, fans want to be playing and interacting with other fans and the game.
But sales of VR equipment are up, so people are definitely using things like Oculus with Facebook, Playstation VR etc. but primarily for gaming at present. Whilst there are a smaller number of examples of individual clubs creating 3D content , the experience would be more likely to be set up by the league or the rights holder, so in England, the Premier League or Sky. Creating basic 3D content behind the goal isn’t expensive, but creating multi-camera views, apps and virtual fan experiences with physical venues for virtual fan experiences would carry more investment. One of our partners Spark Compass has also been working with sporting brands on these types of sporting AR and VR experiences such as the one below.
The NCCA also worked with Intel on a VR app, so you could watch basketball in VR from 5 camera angles for around $8 for six games – they also built in social interactions with other fans, which is also seen as an important aspect of VR in sport, same tech from Intel was also used on the Winter games. They didn’t release the exact figures but it was hailed as a success in the media
The future of sports events
We are starting to see sport resuming in different countries now – the Bundesliga in Germany has resumed behind closed doors and as it stands, fans are happy to watch these games on TV or through social media in bigger numbers than they would with VR – however, there is a niche audience for VR sporting content early adopters and as the tech improves, this could become the new normal. Certainly the pandemic has encouraged more people to try VR and purchase equipment like headsets, games and other content.
Oculus Quest and Facebook’s backing of VR as the future of social media is a great step forward. Oculus GO provides a nice cheap headset, but the resolution isn’t really good enough for sport. Even Quest, there are some major barriers to overcome the majority of fans would prefer to put on a headset rather than watching on TV or another device or at a live event. Sports clubs and other commentators are saying that the VR tech isn’t quite there yet. The NFL is a good example, they’ve been playing with VR since around 2015 – it might become a reality in the future but it’s currently underwhelming.
Immersive video and experiences have great potential as they retain a lot of what fans like about the sporting experience including second screening and social interactions (virtual and in person). In the future, VR or XR (Extended Reality) will play a bigger part in consuming sport, but for now, headsets aren’t quite there in terms of the technology and content, but they are improving all the time. The future may also rest in AR glasses or holograms rather than immersive headsets. I end here with an example of ‘micro science fiction’ from a new book I contributed to called You’re on Mute, which is now an Amazon best seller. I hope you enjoyed this post – please drop me a line if you have any thoughts/questions or feel free to share it.
“Summer was ready for the World Cup Final. She could hear the roar of fans from the tunnel of the Rose Bowl stadium. As she walked down the tunnel with her team mates, she adjusted her headset and wondered what the fans on the pitch would make of her avatar’s new pink hair.” https://t.co/Etm7WqFaXW
— Dr. Alex Fenton (@alexfenton) July 6, 2020