From the virtual audience to the “scavenger hunt”.

Extended Reality in the major US sports leagues

So far, the Major Leagues have mainly relied on the possibilities of augmented reality. In the future, the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS would like to increase their efforts in the area of virtual reality.

National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) – the five major sports leagues in the USA have also long since begun to address the topic of extended reality and to break new ground when it comes to creating a new sports experience for fans in and outside the stadiums and arenas.

In 2020, the first year of the Corona pandemic, empty stadium stands dominated the sports landscape. To counteract this, the Fox TV channel presented a surprise during its baseball broadcasts: instead of empty rows of seats, the viewers in front of the screens got to see and hear packed stands and a matching audio track. With a virtual audience, the baseball experience should at least retain a little of its original atmosphere. A similar approach was taken by the NBA, which continued its 2020 season in a so-called bubble after a long break and placed several hundred spectators in the stands using virtual reality.

But the possibilities of extended reality were and are of course not solely used in US sport to counter pandemic-related changes. The NHL and MLS have recently been working hard on improved virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) offerings, and MLB has been improving its statistics collection to prepare more AR offerings for the future.

Augmented Reality at the NBA All-Star Game and Super Bowl

In the NBA, for example, the Sacramento Kings offer AR scavenger hunts and AR photos with digital players. With “NBA Chasedown”, the league created a geocaching game on the occasion of its 75th birthday, in which players are supposed to find a limited number of virtual NBA objects hidden in their area. As part of the All-Star Weekend, the NBA brought virtual diamonds to the screen in collaboration with “The Famous Group” to add augmented reality glamour to the tribute to the 75 best basketball players of all time.

Extended Reality is, of course, not to be missed at the biggest sporting event of all. At the Super Bowl in Los Angeles in mid-February, it was once again “The Famous Group” – this time in cooperation with the NFL – that dropped a virtual curtain from the roof of the SoFi Stadium and reminded us of the first Super Bowl in 1967, which was also held in Los Angeles, with corresponding images in this augmented reality installation.

To sum up: The sports leagues in the USA see the AR possibilities so far as nice offers to keep the fans engaged. The goal, however, is to make decent money with the possibilities of extended reality, especially virtual reality. “There are still a few things missing to be successful here,” says Nicolas Avila, chief technology officer at information technology and services company Globant, about the technical requirements in VR. In addition, the major leagues in the US also expect fans to continue to flock to the stadiums and halls because they will (still) prefer the live experience to VR. Therefore, AR offerings are likely to be more popular than VR offerings in the US for the time being. But in 2019, no one could have imagined consuming a baseball game with a virtual audience in front of a TV screen either. . .

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