Virtual Reality Will Improve Thanksgiving Football (Soon)

Virtual reality (VR) will be bigger than ever in 2016. Spotlighted as one of the top five trends for businesses to watch, I’m jumping on the prediction bandwagon by wagering that one of the biggest places it will play out is in the sports arena.

VR gives fans the ability to enjoy a live experience from the comfort of home, and have a richer, deeper more engaged experience with their favorite teams. For stadiums and clubs, it provides an extended revenue opportunity and helps form deeper connections between the brand and its audiences. Thanksgiving weekend—one of the biggest weekends for football fans—is a great time to examine how technology will revolutionize the fan experience and the game itself in the very near future.

Analysts at Digi-Capital estimate that the augmented and virtual reality market will hit $150 billion in revenue by 2020, with sports representing a particularly interesting use case. In October, the NBA kicked off the season by live-streaming its opening night in VR, providing a courtside experience to fans at home with Samsung Gear VR headsets.

When you consider the combination of fan engagement and commercial opportunities, it’s not hard to see the appeal of VR for sports franchises or fans. Some 70 percent of the world’s population tuned in to the Beijing Olympics, while 14 percent of the world’s population watched the Cricket World Cup quarter final between India and Pakistan. VR provides an opportunity to bring these fans closer to the action – even from their own sofa – while simultaneously increasing match day revenues which have, up until now, been limited by the size of the stadium.

In Europe, Avaya recently teamed up with VR experts Yellowbird, to produce immersive digital fan experiences. Avaya’s experience providing networks for major sporting events like the Sochi and Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, the Ashes, the Super Bowl, and the San Jose Earthquakes, coupled with Yellowbird’s award winning VR productions, created a real buzz at IP Expo when we demonstrated our joint capabilities there last month.

With Yellowbird and Avaya, fans in the stadium and at home benefit from an enhanced viewing experience.  For example, a fan could watch the match live at the stadium and use their smartphone to view the on-pitch action from different angles, such as the corner flag, the cross-bar or even the ref’s label cam.

At home, fans could view the event as if they were sitting in the best seat in the house, using virtual reality to soak up the atmosphere, pan to the goal posts, the fans in the stadium, and more. Of course, that’s not possible without the network backbone to support it, which is why Avaya SDN Fx is the best choice for virtual reality applications. It’s secure, robust, flexible, and easy to configure remotely. Adding and removing services like VR is simple.

Away from the pitch, VR is already being successfully used in sport with the Stanford University football team and a number of NFL teams using VR as part of their training sessions with key athletes.

Consumer trends quickly permeate into the enterprise, and it’s only a matter of time before companies start experimenting with the technology to improve their bottom line.

“The big step is to get consumers in,” Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe said in a recent Wired interview. “Whatever comes next in the future, whatever great innovations we unlock, if we don’t establish a great consumer market and user base around [it], then we’re not going to have a runway to use in future. … Over the next few years those thresholds and breakthroughs will happen until we reach the point where VR is as ubiquitous as smartphones.”

To do that, enterprises—whether they are sports stadiums or traditional businesses—will require a robust, solid network to handle the traffic from these applications.

As you sit down to watch Thanksgiving football this weekend, use the breaks in play to think about how to leverage virtual reality to boost your business’ bottom line, whether by creating employee efficiencies or monetizing an experience. As we’ve seen with so many other consumer technologies, enterprise applications are just a short step away, and those that make the early adoption curve can really help define new industry trends and opportunities.

Happy Thanksgiving!