July 18, 2023
6 mins

An entrepreneur, Chief Brand Officer, and investor on the future of AI and AR in sports

An entrepreneur, Chief Brand Officer, and investor on how AI and AR are revolutionizing the fan experience.

This past June on the steamy beaches of Cannes, Stagwell brought sports and augmented reality (AR) to center stage at Sport Beach, the global marketing network’s home base for the highly anticipated week-long celebration of creativity in marketing. 

Along with pickle ball matches, an AR-powered celebration of the life and career of WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes, and plenty of athlete fraternizing, you could find panel discussions on the future of marketing at Stagwell’s Sport Beach throughout the week. 

And on Thursday morning, Stagwell Marketing Cloud’s CMO Elspeth Rollert spoke with Stagwell CEO and Chairman Mark Penn; Microsoft’s Chief Brand Officer Kathleen Hall; and Josh Beatty, the CEO and founder of shared AR app ARound, to talk about how AI and AR are revolutionizing the fan experience in sport stadiums across the world. 

Let’s dig into some highlights from the conversation. 

(This conversation has been edited for length and clarity)

Elspeth Rollert: What I’m excited about today—and what you’re going to hear from folks up here about—are real world, ambitious applications of AI and AR in sports. You’re going to hear it through the lens of an entrepreneur, a chief brand officer, and an investor in the space. 

Kathleen I’d love to start with you. Can you share a little bit with us about how Microsoft is deploying AI across sports? And as Chief Brand Officer, what type of storytelling does that unlock for you and for the customer experience?

Kathleen Hall: We’re doing a ton; we were kind of early entries in the AI application to sports. 

Some of the things you may have seen up to now are how we’re integrating data into the NBA. A lot of it’s around performance enhancement and fan enhancement through data, so you get a little more involved in the game. 

We’ve also been sponsors to the Alpine Renault (and of Formula One in general), and racing generates about 50 billion pieces of data per race—it’s phenomenal. We have sensors on the cars, we have sensors in the air, we have sensors on the wind. We look at human interaction with the vehicle, and then all of that data is analyzed because with a lot of sports, it’s a nanosecond of difference or a nanosecond of performance delta that makes the difference between win or lose.

When I worked on the PGA, they used to say, “One stroke can be the difference between being in the top 100 or not.” So a lot of our work is around that. 

ER: I want to dig a little bit deeper there. How is the work that you’re doing and the billions of data that you’re collecting changing the experience for the player, fan, and team? And what and what are some of the shifts that you’re seeing?

KH: I think the primary focus in the first instantiation of AI in sports has been around data; it’s been very performance oriented. I think the idea of fans being able to enhance what they’re seeing with AI is going to be the next frontier, but it’s not quite there—it’s too data driven right now.

ER: Well that is a perfect way to tee up Josh and the work that he’s doing for ARound, which is a shared augmented reality platform that Josh has built within Stagwell and is delivering the future of in-game sports entertainment. 

Josh, I know you’ve worked with teams like the LA Rams, the Cavaliers, the Minnesota Twins, and the NBA. First and foremost, tell us about ARound. What is it? How does the fan interact with it?

Josh Beatty: ARound is a first of its kind fan engagement platform that really allows fans to be part of the action. We know that people come to the game to feel closer to the team, to the players, and to other fans, and we’re really trying to remove those barriers and take these passive opportunities and make them highly interactive, immersive, and engaging through content and stats.

ER: Let’s touch on stats a little bit more. I know you’re launching Stats AR with the MLB’s Minnesota Twins. Can you talk a little bit about that and the fan that’s catered to?

JB: Yeah, so that’s all about real-time content. The more you can be relevant and contextual, the more meaningful you’re going to be. What we’ve done is we’ve integrated with sports APIs, and we can drive live stats and live content directly coupled with what’s happening on the field. So when you see a hit, you’re not only going to see where it goes, but you’re also going to see content associated with that. 

It’s really about making the games more entertaining, more engaging, and more educational for all types of fans. 

ER: Tell us a little bit about how folks can engage with ARound, including the activation you’ve created here on Sport Beach. 

JB: It’s a demonstration to show how ARound can take your brand and make it more approachable. We’re really thinking about this form of interactive entertainment where you give some ownership over to your fans and they can start to express themselves within that space. 

Another part of the activation highlights player personalities; we heard across sports that they’re really trying to have these “helmet off moments” where people can create closer connections between player and fans, and one way we’re doing that is by making the player larger than life, expressive, and very interactive with the fan. 

Finally, it’s about how do we tell the player’s story. This is a great expression for players to really allow themselves to be more approachable which allows a new player/fan relationship that hasn’t existed before.

ER: I want to turn to you, Mark. What do you think about the evolving role of AI and AR in sports and where are we heading? 

Mark Penn: What I like about sports and AI is that the athlete is at the center. So much of the way we interface with technology puts the bot at the center, but in sports, AI is helping us understand with data how athletes can be better, what their accomplishments really mean, and what we as fans can understand about what they’ve done.

So I think what Josh is doing—and of course what Microsoft is doing—is really path breaking. We’re just scratching the surface of where this is going to go.

ER: What advice do you all have for brands and marketers who are looking to lean into this space but have been hesitant? How should they think about the power of technology and sports to connect with their customers?

MP: I think Sport Beach was really born to test the marketplace and see what the interest would be among marketers for the combination of sports and technology.

What I can report based on the about 5,000 people that that came to Sport Beach is that this is an incredible frontier for marketers. 

KH: I think the advice I would give is that it’s not about the data. I think people get obsessed with what AI can do with data—and I love it too—but it’s about the speed to insight that AI can give you as a marketer that’s the value. I get a little worried sometimes that we’ve become too about math.

JB:  And I would say to the brands out there that I feel that the future of marketing is interactive storytelling. So what that means is that you really have to start to think about how you bring the consumer into the experience and allow them to contribute it. That’s going to really want to make them share it, and so those experiences—whether powered by augmented, generative, or other—will really drive the future of engagement.

Sarah Dotson

Sarah Dotson is the Editorial Content Manager for Stagwell Marketing Cloud.

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