Could VR & AR Technology Change the Way Consumers Watch Wimbledon?

It’s an understatement to say that smartphone use is growing at an exponential rate, which is making the convergence between the physical and online worlds easier and more seamless than ever before. The already-established AR tech available on smartphones is ripe for brands to build immersive apps that will capitalise on this shift. In this piece, Matt Phelan (pictured below), CEO of 4Ps, proposes that VR will catch up sooner than you think – and when it does, Wimbledon’s coverage is like to change forever.

Last year, Wimbledon grew its mobile users threefold, with the Wimbledon app downloaded an additional 1.5 million times. In fact, 21 million unique devices accessed Wimbledon highlights (up from 21.1 million in 2015), while its social media videos were viewed 106 million times (up from 85 million in 2015).

This rise in mobile users has coincided with the rise of augmented reality (AR), which looks set to become something you might associate more with Andy Murray hitting a drop shot than your kids desperately trying to catch a Pokémon.

This year, for example, a 360° mixed-reality view of the practice courts was available for the first time via the Wimbledon mobile app. While these games are open to the public, they haven’t previously been made available to viewers at home.

Matthew Phelan, CEO, 4Ps

Previously, one of the most common issues with these practice games was that spectators in the stadium might not know who the player is, or who they’re practicing with. However, thanks to changes to the official Wimbledon app, an AR overlay now fills in these details, with detailed graphics available for each player.

While this may only be baby steps for Wimbledon, it gives a glimpse into how AR mobile tech could soon shape its future. When it comes to live sporting events, AR could, say, allow everybody in the crowd to see a virtual replay on their mobile device and help the umpire decide on controversial decisions. Viewed in this context, crowdsourcing could start to mean something entirely different.

AR also has huge potential in terms of how sports fans interact with a tournament such as Wimbledon. Do you like what Roger Federer is wearing out on centre court? Well, an AR overlay could let you try on his outfit digitally, before purchasing it on an e-commerce site on your iPhone.

VR is making serious inroads too. In the US, Intel recently announced a three-year partnership with Major League Baseball to live stream one baseball game a week in VR, which will give viewers a more intense view of the action. This will also give brands and sponsors the opportunity to engage with sports fans in a far more immersive way.

As a result, it really isn’t a stretch to imagine that Wimbledon could soon see VR dominate its own coverage. Just imagine, for example, everyone sitting on Henman Hill wearing VR headsets. Missing out on tickets could soon be a lot more fun.

Unlike football or cricket, which feature mainly male-dominated audiences, Wimbledon gives brands far wider, gender-diverse, demographics to target. So, reaching tennis fans with the added immersion of AR or VR makes great business sense. However, while this all sounds simple, launching a successful campaign takes time.

In a recent interview, Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content & digital at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, said: “AR is very compelling as it can sit within the mobile experience and give somebody the freedom to cultivate their own experience during a match.”

However, she added that VR will take a little longer to meet its potential. “The appetite for people wearing a VR headset for an entire match of tennis isn’t particularly high, whereas every smartphone can already do AR”, she explained. “We are waiting for VR technology to evolve and catch up.”

Even if Oculus Rift headsets aren’t selling at the rate Willis or Facebook would have hoped for, the industry is still determined to make VR a success. There were a lot of lessons learned from the high-profile failures of products such as Google Glass; and you’d expect developers to use these failings to perfect and simplify VR as quickly as possible.

As any professional marketer knows, it’s an understatement to say that smartphone use is growing at an exponential rate, which is making the convergence between the physical and online worlds easier and more seamless than ever before. The already-established AR tech available on smartphones is ripe for brands to build immersive apps that will capitalise on this shift.

However, VR will catch up sooner than you think – and when it does, Wimbledon’s coverage is like to change forever. As long as consumers continue to jump between the digital and the real world, there will be demand for marketers to bring these two channels together.

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