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Is Sports’ Innovative Use of Virtual Reality Experiences About to Change the Advertising Industry?

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Whether it’s the Premier League, the Ashes or the Rugby World Cup, the reach of the world’s major sporting attractions has never been longer. As a result the digital and creative industries are investing heavily in creating new technologies to exploit the large and loyal audiences these events enjoy.

During the Rugby World Cup a number of virtual reality (VR) technology experiences were used to engage with fans, most notably O2's ‘Wear the Rose’ ad which allowed more than 35,000 fans to get closer to (animated versions) of the players that featured in the ad while AIG employed cutting edge virtual reality to place fans inside the team's famous pre-match Haka.

Gareth Griffiths, O2's head of sports sponsorship, knows VR technology is very much in its infancy but still feels that as it grows in popularity it will “create a wider range of downloadable content and experiences both on and off the pitch”.

Meanwhile by using the Blippar image recognition app, fans could scan their tickets to access exclusive behind-the-scenes material hosted by some of England’s World Cup Winners.

Omaid Hiwaizi, president of global marketing at Blippar, strongly believes this is just the start and predicts “people will quickly reject brands that don’t act a bit like an excited or knowledgeable fan in the next seat – albeit one who knows that they have to shut up at certain points in the game". Mr Hiwaizi added that sport is the perfect platform for VR to gain scale because “the passion and tribalism of sports fans isn’t something that’s replicated in other industries”.

The Premier League is also an early adopter. At the Etihad Manchester City have introduced a 360-degree camera in the Etihad Stadium’s tunnel to drop fans into restricted areas and give them access to players. They have also announced they will soon be launching a new match day app for Android smartwatches which will give stats and commentary during matches.

The US is arguably at the forefront of high tech campaigns for sports’ fans. Mountain Dew already have a history of using the latest technology to encourage their consumers to engage with a range of sports that includes snowboarding and skate boarding. However their most recent campaign created a unique VR experience for motor racing fans by putting a 360-degree camera in the car with NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr so fans could share the feeling of hitting 100 mph.

Meanwhile Mountain Dew’s rival Gatorade has also taken advantage of VR by showing fans the exact perspective of Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper and Nike has put fans of the Brazilian national team into the Hypervenom boots of Brazilian striker Neymar as he skips past defenders during a VR game.

Paul McCormick, associate director at sport marketing specialists Pitch, said the current innovations were just the beginning. His view is the trend will only grow within the sports marketing arena because the strong connection sports fans hold have for their teams “evokes feelings of passion and excitement and fans crave more information on their heroes” which gives brands an unprecedented “opportunity to push the boundaries through engaging content”.

He also added that added that technology like Go-pro or tools like Periscope will allow fans to “feel closer to the action” and “the adrenaline of their heroes”.

All this may sound like a fad but the level of investment being made by digi-giants like Google and Facebook indicates the big boys are taking VR seriously. Moreover the extent to which VR is being embraced by the world’s largest consumer brands means the tech will develop quickly making it more affordable which will only help cement its position as an effective advertising platform.

While sports have been the most popular target for high-tech experiences up to this point – thanks to its patrons’ desire to get closer to the action – its application is poised to broaden. Facebook’s Oculus Rift, scheduled for release early next year, looks set to provide a platform for a wider range of household brands to start generating more immersive experiences for their consumers.

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