Feb 16th 2018

AR can take the baton of fan engagement…and run with it!

Sports track

Augmented Reality, or AR, is mobile tech’s cool kid. It’s a technology that once seemed to only exist in superhero or sci-fi movies, but now is so widely used that everyone and their dog (filter) is familiar with how it works.

Brands have been trying to capitalise on the technology for a while, sponsoring Snaps and developing apps with the goal of building familiarity, identity and going viral. Yet one of the markets that could capitalise most on AR – sports – is only just beginning to wake up to the true power of the technology.

Sports broadcasting has been using AR elements in its presentation for some time now. Fans are accustomed to the use of Hawkeye and other similar technologies in tennis and cricket to help explain or review decisions, and football has seen some especially snazzy AR graphics used for team line-ups. In fact, just this month AR was used extensively by NBC Sports during its broadcast of Super Bowl 52, beaming giant-scale animations of Nick Fowles and Tom Brady onto the field in real time.

Something I learned while over in America is that our transatlantic cousins do sporting events far better than we do. Say what you want about how long their matches take, but they have ‘gameday experience’ down to a fine art. Part of the reason for this is their ready embrace of new technology, in everything from stadium design to mobile apps, and yes that includes AR.

Major League Baseball has been at the forefront of AR development with its ‘At Bat’ app allowing fans in the stadium to instantly obtain a comprehensive picture of each player’s statistics right there on their phone.

By simply opening the app and pointing their device toward the field, the app populates the user’s mobile screen with individual player profiles, including arm strength and catch probability in addition to staples, like on-base percentage and batting averages.

Then, for a further ‘wow’ experience, the app allows users to follow the speed and trajectory of every single hit. Essentially, ‘At Bat’ empowers baseball fans to serve as analysts, fuelling the debates sports fans love in the stands and bars.

Away from the stadium, sport has managed to thrive in a dying TV industry because of its live nature. It’s exciting, it’s now, it’s full of those “I was there” moments that get people talking… but what if you weren’t there? How can you still be involved in these moments of history?

No matter how big and impressive modern stadiums are, major clubs and event organisers can’t pack every spectator into a game. Enter AR technology, which enables those same clubs and organisers to extend a sense of community from the stadium to any fan, anywhere they want.

One club making strides in this area is the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. The team has utilised AR face painting tech in its own app, courtesy of a partnership with AR firm Faceware Interactive, to allow fans to select any one of 13 different looks. Like Snapchat filters, the images appear virtually on the user’s face and are shareable on social media.

One criticism you could throw at all this from a business perspective is that, is it really worth it? Is there a notable ROI to investing time and money into AR? Will a fan sat at home and not in the stadium, who uses an AR app to paint their face, be more inclined to go online and buy some merchandise because they felt more involved? Who knows, but ultimately does that matter?

Sport is inherently tribal. Whether it’s an individual, a club, or a country, we all have favourites that we love to follow, and we want them to succeed. If AR can further a sense of belonging, a sense of community, and increase social interactions around a common great experience, then I’m all for it! Plus, washing face paint off is a pain anyway…


Declan Bradshaw
Declan Bradshaw CAMPAIGN MANAGER