Virtual Worlds in Australian Sport

Guest article: Pete Lock is an Australian based digital marketer and freelance sports writer. He can be followed on twitter at @pete_locky.

The brave new world of virtual and augmented reality is upon us. No longer a pipe dream of years gone by, AR and VR is at our fingertips, and sport is an industry that is seeing some of the biggest uptake.

The Australian sporting landscape in particular has seen a six-month explosion of virtual and augmented activations hitting the scene, moving beyond Facebook and YouTube 360-degree videos to fully immersive and engaging experiences coming from some of the country’s innovative brands.

Clubs, sporting bodies and media outlets are all putting their best foot forward to capture the attention of digital savvy and content hungry millennials, and VR and AR is appearing the freshest platform to do so.

Fox Sports Australia and the cricket’s Brisbane Heat were two of the first to delve into the world of AR and VR for mobile in 2016, each launching applications geared around engaging audiences using 360-degree videos and augmented reality functionality.

Fox’s Fox Vision app was released for the Bathurst 1000, Australia’s most celebrated motorsport event, and allowed fans to drive around the famed Mount Panorama track using the app and a printable map.

The Heat’s launch of Heat VR saw playing cards and posters augment in a 2D environment, highlighting the potential that AR technology can have on amplifying any print or digital marketing campaign.

With AR still somewhat of an unknown to a majority of the Australian sporting public, the key for brands is making augmented reality as easy to understand as possible, which includes markers being easily assessable.

With VR headsets, hardware and technology still very much in their infancy, sporting brands have been focused on producing significant match-day activations as opposed to mobile or portable solutions. While VR has the potential to be a game-changer in marketing and fan engagement, brands need to be focused in the short term on producing experiences that excite, absorb and most importantly, are easy to play and consume.

With the eSports industry booming worldwide, there is an opportunity for sports and VR to engage audiences with a thirst for gaming. While there could be still some time before gaming platforms such as PlayStation VR reach mainstream status, when they do, sport will able to take advantage. Sports that require stationary movements such as golf, or batting in cricket and baseball will make a smooth transition into the world of VR gaming, however the question remains as to when game developers will start investing seriously in VR.

It is early days for virtual and augmented reality, but expect sport to lead the way as this technology starts becoming part of the normal fan experience.

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