Augmented… What?

As the world moves along, large parts of the sports industry lag behind. Again.

It’s not exactly, entirely new. Augmented Reality. Some of us have been playing with it for quite a while. Pokemon-Go. Snapchat. Even Facebook and everybody’s favorite ‘girl-next-door’; Instagram have been part of the game. Although those two have only reached that point because of very obvious copycat behavior (Snapchat). But, with the launch of Apple’s AR-kit the market has officially opened up to the ‘grown-ups’.

And that’s good news. Or should be. Take the sports industry for example. And maybe even more specific; soccer. Boy, do they need innovation. There’s no cry as loud as the cry for new technologies within the soccer industry. They don’t seem to move until death is upon them. Even if all the numbers are stacked up against them, they steady continue towards extinction. Like a bunch of dodo’s. Well, that goes a bit far. It’s not just the soccer industry. It’s actually exemplary for almost any other industry out there. But then again; that’s another story. Or more of a book actually. So we are talking about an industry that is in desperate need for change as viewing numbers are in decline, while at the same time generations turns their back on old ways of experiencing sports. While at the same time there’s too much at stake to just change the old ways; sponsor deals, television rights, huge corporate and business incentives etc.

Then there’s this old model where the business is leaning on to; they buy rights, fans buy a shirt, a ticket to a game and watch a game on the telly every now and then. That’s obviously more then than now. But that model can only work when content providers are supported in their view that their content is actually consumed. Otherwise, they’ll have to explain so much towards all those greedy advertisers, who are locating their budgets elsewhere, more lucrative anyway (read: social). But that’s again, another story.

So what about AR?

Back to the importance of new technologies like augmented reality. The youth is viewing sports less and less. And yes, sports as a category is being viewed way less as well. The youth are mostly active in gaming, esports, a bit of Snapchatting, Instagram and the likes. And yes, Facebook indeed has already been taken over by the old. Things move fast!
In short, if want to remain relevant in any way you shall have to move along. Speed up and be dynamic, like the youth is. No big plans or grand visions. But easy to implement, engaging solutions to be able to embrace the fast-moving landscape of the viewer and future fan. And leave behind the old legacy in the process, as much as possible, while at the same time minimizing new.

Nobody has the patience for more far-fetched views or impossible vision. Don’t think four years ahead, but 4 months. And start building straight away.

Especially when it comes to interacting with the youth. Old people tend to die earlier than the young. That’s kind of a given. So the last group is where your focus should be. This group doesn’t care what you believe in or how you’d like to make money. You have to prove your relevance, by offering experiences that can be applied to their perception of the world. And I believe Augmented Reality (AR) could be a fundamental technology in a strategy to re-engage the youth. In another article, I once wrote an for a different medium, I pointed out the importance of taking note of playing youth so that we don’t miss out on new trends like AR. Because now that AR is here, as an industry we seem impassive as don’t know what to do with it.

What follows next is that our world is so fundamentally shaken that entire business models become obsolete before we can even start to anticipate. And that is sort of sad.

For AR this has been truth for the most part. Due to Pokemon Go a little less. But now that it’s here, we barely thought of new applications or of the technology.

I mean, yes there are new players out there, already attracting the young. One-football for example, lets you augment the match selection, directly into your ‘physical’ surroundings. With the Dutch company Beyond Sports it’s the same story. They’ve been on top of their game since they showed a demo within they visualized a real match between Ajax and PSV, displayed in AR, straight on your kitchen table (by means of the Hololens). Following that. FOX Sports now offers (in collaboration with the same Beyond Sports), an application for viewers at home where they can watch soccer highlights in Virtual Reality. These are some great steps on a promising path. But when it comes to engagement, all the traditional players are missing the strategic link with the younger audience. Because once again, they’re famous for not paying for content. The average sixteen-year-old doesn’t have a FOX Sports subscription and lag’s both incentive and financial means to get one. So they don’t get to see all the exciting content behind the paywall.
So what about outside the soccer industry? You might wonder. There are some AR things happening within the sports industry in general. But it’s not much yet. NFL is supposedly experimenting with Apple’s AR kit and has already been offering AR during live games. And then, of course, there’s all the smaller stuff. But nothing fundamental. Yet.

But within the soccer industry, there’s nothing but loud silence. While today’s kids continue to play FIFA. And EA is making money with FIFA. Quite a bit actually. They made over billion dollars just by selling content. The actual amount of games that have been sold is not even counted within those numbers. And of course, it’s not nearly enough to make up for the giant losses that would come from losing television incomes. It’s purely digital. There’s literally zero distribution costs.

It’s just, how could you broaden your mind and see a better future where worlds merge. For example, by offering live AR where you see a players FIFA stats, layered over a real soccer game.

Because the question is, what now?

I don’t know. I don’t know how much an industry with so much legacy is willing to change. If they want to make a chance as an industry, they should join forces with players outside their field. For example FIFA, Playstation, Oculus. Bundle new technology with the experience of a live game and come up with relevant solutions that fit into the world of perception of younger target groups.

My goal was, after a broad introduction, to create a somewhat hopeful scenario. But as I continued writing, I didn’t find very much hope left. Because I’d love to paint you a scenario where within technologies such as AR and VR play a large role in sports and where the old industry can keep its seat as well. But I think the words of the late Steve Jobs can be applied here; “Death is the change agent of life. The old simply has to die to make way for the young and the new.” The rise of esports, FIFA as a much broader percepted game among young then we can imagine. They don’t care about watching lengthy and mostly boring games when they can do the same with their friends while interacting with their favorite players and build the dream team they crave.

And of course, it’s possible that with another drop in viewership, big execs are left almost empty handed and the industry takes to measure. Simply because it will be the only card they have left. They probably need some young daring talents from the technology sector to apply the magic. But it thinks it’s already too late. Because everything is moving faster constantly. The past as a factor plays a too large role in our view the future. The industry is in reverse while driving forward. It’s a matter of time before that leads to a major accident.

Benjamin de Kruijf

Marketing Communications Lead

"‘I share my personal and slightly critical views on the development of technology in the current time frame.'"

Dit artikel is origineel gepubliceerd op SPORTNEXT

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