On Thursday, December 1st, hosted its first conference at the Hyatt regency hotel in Santa Clara, CA. In this conference, over 80 professionals representing the top virtual reality technologies along with players and representatives from eight different professional sports teams converged together to speak on virtual reality, its use in performance training, fan experience enhancement and necessities for improvement in the future.
During the first hour, a panel consisting of executive leaders from Immersv, Virtually Live, Voke VR, Laduma VR & Wowza discussed with Chelsea FC's, Head of Digital Innovations, David Rose on how VR will change the sports fan experience. Moderating this first panel was Jennifer Jolly, Personal Technology Columnist for both USA Today and the New York Times.
The conversation began with the current state of VR technology is very immersive while professional sports continues to be social. On the challenge of merging the two worlds, Tom Impallomeni, CEO of Virtually Live stated that while VR can make a person feel present within a sports stadium like in the stands or perhaps courtside, "VR needs to be made more social to be sticky. The challenge for sports is to make it engaging enough so they can stay engaged for over an hour". David Aufhauser, Chief strategy and Product officer from Voke VR pointed out that for VR to be part of the fan experience it needs to provide a unique value proposition for those who want a better experience than watching the game on television but unable to attend the sports match in person. David stated, "I want to feel like I am sitting at courtside, in the locker room, the executive suit, etc. All of this is possible with current VR technology, in fact, you can even watch the linear feed into the VR experience starting in January 2017. The highlight thing we are doing along with replay functionality. It all comes down to evolving people to embrace a different experience than the TV". Additionally, the concept of advertisements was of concern as the advertisements itself for these events whether through the banner, side-scroll or periodic commercials needs to adapt. Brian Roth, the VP of sales from Immersv noted on current advertisements within VR, "What ads look like in there is what we are very focused on, with overlaying data, figuring out what people are interested in is also what we must do." Alex Kunawicz, the VP of strategy at Laduma VR added that from his experience and apparent need for development, "It is ultimately about how we get content into people's regular routine. With VR, we are where we were with mobile phones 20 years ago." Towards the end of the first panel's duration, David Rose from Chelsea FC sounded off on his perception from the sports team's perspective noting VR needs to be part of the regular sports experience, mentioning from a team ownership perspective, the key concern is what can be done to transcend the current experience? "We had used second screen data for years. If we focus on what is the absolute core experience, that will drive people. The social experience is key. Chelsea, for example, has four million football (soccer) fans at the games annually in the UK. That's where the application of AR or VR can bring that space to life to the Chelsea fans across the world."
Ultimately, when the panel was asked by the audience on what needs to be improved for a greater mainstream conversion, the near unanimous outlook was the need to have a greater social aspect among fellow fans and audiences in which they can interact with one another during these events. The level of streaming content was a concern to ensure all viewers are watching the same point of the game so as to not spoil the watching experience for others with inferior connections. Julien Blin, CEO and co-founder of SportsCouncil SV noted, "Additionally, the major problem exists that you cannot see other people as the audience faces are obstructed by the headset. Currently the solution involves avatars, gestures, and voices, however when AR becomes commonplace with headgear that is opaque to transparent, this could be a solution somewhere down the road, but again, the question remains how much bandwidth is needed and would there be a limit to the number of people that can interact."
The second panel was focused on the use of virtual reality as a training tool for athletes. The panel moderated by Forbes' John Baptiste Su, consisting of executives from STRVR Labs, LeEco, Lucidcam along with Dallas FC's Skylar Richards. In the discussion, the immediate value of VR for athletes was apparent as key benefits were training the athlete's mind without exerting physical fatigue. Derek Belch, CEO of STRIVR Labs, provided a relevant example stating, "In February, I sat down with Kevin Hogan, the quarterback for the Stanford Cardinals. Kevin used our product every Friday to experience every play to enhance his visualization. When they played Notre Dame that year, his completion rate was 17-21, 274 yards, 4 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Because he could immerse himself into the footage, he said post-game it was a joke how easy it was to see blitzes coming before it happened." This example illustrates the utilization of VR has proven itself as a useful tool for quarterback performance as mental preparation drills through technology have been beneficial in reading scenarios during actual games.
Skylar Richards, the Director of Sports Science and head ATC for the Dallas FC. mentioned its frequent use during the soccer season, "Let's say we are playing the Quakes this weekend. We could play them four games earlier with the same situations and look at the body language of the person you are going against next time, which is vital. You are going to analyze the exact defender's cadence of his body." In other words, how quickly they can look in the right place in terms of reactions, measuring cerebral and ocular response.
While VR has proven its benefits with professional athletes, there still are concerns that need to be improved in the future. One of the greatest concerns is the duration an athlete can wear a headset device. Athletes cannot spend 45 minutes on a virtual reality headset as he can risk headaches, nausea and motion sickness. Otherwise known as cybersickness. Thus, the typical period a player is immersed in VR drills can range between 2-12 minutes. Additionally, VR was perceived as limiting as a training tool as a user cannot simultaneously see themselves real-time in a VR instructional video to correct/observe things like movement or posture.
Please see below the TV segment that aired on NBC San Francisco and featured several startups Voke VR, Wowza,Laduma VR, Sphericam..) and their speakers at our SportsCouncil SV VR sports event on December 1st at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Santa Clara, CA. Thank you NBC for spotting by! We are looking forward to seeing you all at our next event set to be hosed on March 2, 2017 in Los Angeles at the Stubhub center, the home of the LA Galaxy.