Virtual reality, the future of sports broadcasting?

of World Cup football, which started on November 20 and will continue until December 18 in Qatar, calls into question the entire structure of the professional sports sector. If the issues people, environmental AND geopolitical have been mentioned for a long time, the new edition of Mondial also questions the economic functioning of the sector.

For the first time, an international sporting event is not designed to welcome millions of supporters. The organization aims for a “premium” experience where the emphasis is on the quality of supporters rather than on amounts. According to the magazine SoFoottricolor supporters should be for example 12 times less to make the trip alone in 2018 to Russia.

The turning point is significant for the sports entertainment industry. Qatar will not welcome a large international crowd on its soil. The Emirates are counting on the broadcasts to reach the largest number of spectators while limiting the number of tourists in the territory.

The rise of several new technologies provides technical solutions to this unique strategy. Thus, Qatar has bet on virtual reality (VR) for its promotion, as a video presentation of the Lusail Stadium which will host the final broadcast three years ago.

360° experience at Lusail Stadium (Qatar 2022).

Beyond the 2022 World Cup, this tool can solve the difficulties of organizing large-scale sporting events and allow users/audiences to follow these events virtually.

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In the Middle East, this strategy is not new. Earlier this year, the United Arab Emirates hosted FC Barcelona Exhibition in Dubai, which established diving and virtual reality at the heart of the experience. In 2015, the federal state of the Emirates was already linked to such a plan, but this time with FC Barcelona’s arch-enemy: Real Madrid wanted to create a large amusement park s where virtual reality would have been at the center of the project. The ambition for the Spanish sports giant was to create a second sports venue to end the physical limitations of the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

An endless choice of camera angles

In our contribution to collective work International Sports Marketing (Éditions De Boeck Supérieur), we have highlighted new strategies and models of entertainment, among which the issue of distribution has taken an essential place. Therefore, it has become crucial to innovate and reinvent itself in order to succeed in attracting an audience that is less and less passive in front of the screen. Therefore, TV streaming services are interested in new technologies like VR to survive the evolution of uses, but also to justify their prices.

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This is the case, for example, in the NBA, the American basketball championship, whose president, Adam Silver, estimates that a new way to broadcast sports it is inevitable. The Los Angeles Clippers franchise has thus developed CourtVision, a personalized offering that combines broadcast and virtual reality that allows replays to gain added value thanks to a dynamic and autonomous experience.

Introducing ClipperVision (LA Clippers, October 2022).

The added value offered by VR is based on its ability to be immersed in the game from home. Technology brings dynamism to broadcasting, the possibility of interaction with others as well as information allowing a better understanding of the game. The field of possibilities extends from stadiums during matches, to the development of opportunities for sponsors.

This technology also bridges the gap with video games, a particularly popular medium today. The famous developer Unity, for example, is working today on a new technology that will allow the viewer to adopt the point of view of their favorite players and have a infinite choice of camera angles.

A gap between supply and demand

However, the rise of VR in sports sometimes seems to run counter to reality. According to a study by the National Center for Cinema and Moving Image (CNC), while 41% of the French have already tried VR, less than 7% of households are equipped from technology. The ability to watch sports broadcasts in VR becoming more democratic takes a hit.

Especially since in August 2020, the European Club Association revealed a survey on the consumption behavior of sports fans. As a result, the latter take a very negative view of the prices currently charged for broadcasting and access to sports, especially with nearly two-thirds considering the prices too high.

Our research work in the main trends in the sports industry illustrates that sports consumers follow the same logic as other sectors affected by digitization. Regarding musical or audiovisualfans want more flexibility, ease of access, customization and less prohibitive pricing.

of PhD project that we lead questions how new technologies and entertainment affect the structuring and functioning of the professional sports sector. If it has many dimensions, the one that VR carries therefore currently demonstrates a concrete gap between supply and demand in the sports spectacle.

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VR indeed comes with a greater value proposition, but at a cost that follows the same trend. Unless there’s a big change in the price and operation of the technology, VR won’t revolutionize streaming right away.

However, this technology offers a real opportunity for the sports sector. Investments for the expansion of the stadium are not not always profitable and for many, they have now achieved theirs critical size. So will virtual reality be a relay for the development of the sports industry or will it fall into oblivion? The first elements of the response at the end of December 2022.

This article was written in collaboration with Charlie Ziane and Erik Lecamp as part of the Master 2 Sport Leisure and Event Management.

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