7 MINS

What's the future of interactive sports?

Unpacking the potentials of AR and VR at Sport Beach.
Media

At Sport Beach 2024, Stagwell Marketing Cloud CEO Elspeth Rollert led a lively panel discussion on how new AR and VR technologies are helping “level up” the experience for live sports fans.

She was joined by Josh Beatty, CEO of ARound; TKTK; Shachar Scott, VP of Global Marketing at Reality Labs, Meta; and Los Angeles Rams’ CCO Jennifer Prince. 

Here are some highlights from their wide-ranging chat; the full conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Elspeth Rollert: We're about to have a great conversation around interactive sport, and how new platforms are leveling up the fan experience. So let's dive into it. 

I want to ask Jen, the chief commercial officer at the Los Angeles Rams, about the voice of the customer. The fan. When we talk about leveling up the fan experience in live sports, what actually needs leveling up?

Jennifer Prince: Listen, live sports is everything: the passion, the fandom. When Angelenos walk into SoFi stadium they are expecting this convergence of football and sport as well as culture and technology and innovation and music and Hollywood.

When we think about ‘leveling up’ it's really about bringing this tech-forward experience, layering each season with expectations of new platforms and new technologies.

It's really that push and that pull of what technological innovation—AR specifically—can bring to our many fan personas.

So you have that hardcore football fan, and they’re “football first,” right? As coach says, “let's make the main thing the main thing.” 

But then you have the power of entertainment, a full sensory experience, and we tap into all of the tools and platforms—from the infinity screen, which is massive and really takes over when you have content on it—to getting people on their phones to interact for that deeper experience and engagement. 

Jennifer Prince, CCO of the Los Angeles Rams

ER: What are you hearing from Rams fans specifically about what they’re looking for, going forward?

JP: Yeah, so the expectations are high, right? We're in a state-of-the-art building. It's really fun to think about the creative opportunities from season to season and how we can layer stats on top of football moments. 

How can we use ARound’s technology, for instance? How do we bring some of these co-branded moments with brands to that big screen where it's not just content, but it's also interactive in terms of holding your phone up?

For our future fans and that younger demo, they're used to being in this multitasking world while watching football. 

When there's a timeout, if there's a TV break, why not entertain with all different technologies and content and experience and AR to surprise and delight fans?

ER: Exactly: how do we turn that downtime into uptime and really engage fans in the experience? Shachar, can you talk a bit about how Meta is building the future of connection across sports?

Shachar Scott: So the glasses that I'm wearing right now are Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses, a partnership with Ferrari that we launched just last month. And I'm going to talk a little bit about that. 

I was out at F1 in Miami. And when I was there, it allowed me to experience the entire race hands-free. I didn't have to have my phone as a barrier between me and the drivers, the race, the qualifying lap. I got to do a hot lap, which was incredible. And the entire time I'm able to be more present. I can take photos. I can take videos. 

As a fan, you can also ask Meta questions about the drivers, how fast someone was going, things that you normally can't do without looking at your phone or a computer,. Now you can, completely hands-free.

We also have Meta Quest which has a number of different experiences, including our partnership with the NBA and Xstadium where we have 52 games every, single year where you can sit “courtside” on your own couch—so, courtside to couchside.

Shachar Scott, VP of Global Marketing at Reality Labs, Meta.

ER: Turning to Josh—you are the founder and CEO of ARound, which is a shared augmented reality platform delivering the future of in-game sports entertainment for teams like the LA Rams, the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers, and MLB's Minnesota Twins. 

In a few words can you share what ARound is and how you’re uniquely leveling up the fan experience.

Josh Beatty: Jen was mentioning that Rams’ fans come to the SoFi stadium to feel closer to the action. So imagine turning fans in the stadium, or even at home, from spectators to actual participants.

This is actually the new reality of fan engagement with ARound. We can localize fans with just their smartphone and then bring them into a shared experience where they can interact with other fans as well as the game itself.

Imagine new forms of gamification, socialization, data visualization, and massive marketing moments that really bring fans in, that let them take ownership of the content.

ER: Once again, ARound is the official AR partner for the LA Rams this season. Can you talk to us a little bit about what it means for the fans, the team, and the brands you work with?

JB: I mean, everybody should go to the SoFi Stadium, it is really one of the most remarkable spaces on this planet. So to really turn the stadium into a stage, and the audience into actors—for marketers, it allows them to make their brand larger than life, and lead fans through a journey where they can engage, interact, be rewarded, and hopefully convert. 

JP: ARound wanted us to think of what’s possible in the building. We had a virtual “snowball fight” on the big screen a few seasons ago. Working with Nickelodeon, we had the fans and stands with [augmented reality] “slime” all over them. 

We worked with Princess Cruises and did this whole AR experience: you saw this one-minute piece of creative that looked like the ocean essentially went into SoFi Stadium, and you then got to see players like Aaron Donald surfing.

Next year, with other brands and partners like Disney, we have a few surprises coming. We're excited to see this next iteration of what AR looks like, and getting it to the fans who want to interact and engage.

Josh Beatty, CEO of ARound.

ER: How should brands be leaning into this AR, VR, and mixed-reality technology in a way that truly does surprise and delight? 

SS: With mixed reality, you've got pass-through, so you can have a game in front of you like you're watching it. But you're still seeing your kids walk in the background, or you're seeing the football ricochet off your own fridge, for example. 

So with pass-through again, your hands are free, so you can be watching anything YouTube to Netflix’s “Three Body Problem” while you're cleaning your kitchen. People are multitasking. It's incredible.

ER: Jen, you mentioned working with brands like Disney and Princess Cruises using ARound and other technology platforms. What type of conversations are you having during the ideation stage, and what ideas do AR and VR open up?

JP: We're constantly meeting with partners and prospective partners about the art of what's possible. And I would say that every brand, in every category, is thinking about AR, VR, mixed reality, storytelling, and creative. It's at the center of every conversation. 

In that discovery and exploration phase is where we tap into our technology partners and platforms. And it's up to my team to stay ahead of the curve, to know what's out there, to know what's possible. 

We also need to make sure that we're delivering not only in the stadium on game day to 70,000 people, but to those at home. We need to meet them where they are. 

ER: When consumers think about leaning into these technologies, how can AR, VR, and MR democratize access to live sports? For instance, not everyone has the money to sit game side at an event, or to get invited to VIP events with the players (like we have here at Sport Beach).

SS: At Meta we do believe that everyone should have access to it. So not only can you experience it in headset, but we also offer a lot of the same experiences in 2D, using cross-screen technology on Instagram and Facebook. 

Our goal is to make it accessible, free for everyone—the four billion people that use our products every single day. So we're going to constantly be launching more devices, at different price points for different use cases. 

JB: I think most of sports is thinking about, How do you bring on the younger generation? You know, we look to access them by meeting them at their level. How do you gamify This experience? How do you make it an interactive, immersive path for them to become more educated, more engaged, and more involved within the sport for the casual fan? 

ER: If we're here five years from now and having a similar panel like this, what are we going to be talking about in this space when we think about interactive sport and the power of technology? 

JB: The future is all about interactive storytelling. It's about bringing the audience into the experience and letting them be a part of that. But in the future, that means that's not just in stadium. It's really at home, creating this two-way TV where everybody is feeling like they’re a part of it and is able to express themselves.

JP: If we do our jobs right, we will have 1% of our global fan base at our games in a venue and we need to get to the other 99% globally. So we are continuing to build our audiences not only in the LA market, but globally. 

We have been a part of the NFL's international expansion. So whether it's Japan and Korea or Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, China, we are not just centered and focused around the US and LA, but we are thinking about our global audiences. 

[The future is about] meeting global consumers and fans where they are and being able to interact with them, to communicate with them, to make sure they're getting football and entertainment at any moment of the day.

SS: We believe the next part of the computing platform won't just live in your pocket, but will actually be something that you wear. 

It'll be something that allows you to be more interactive, more immersive, and to experience things in a very exciting and new way.

ER: Amazing. Well, you heard the future here first, ladies and gentlemen. It's all about interactive storytelling. It's not going anywhere. 

And really what you're gonna see is more democratization of access to these sports, to these players, to these experiences, globally. So get ready. 

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