NBA and Bayern Munich’s innovative apps show why sport should explore AR more

This week, the NBA launched their first augmented reality (AR) app, allowing basketball fans to shoot hoops anywhere, anytime using their phone screen.

The app projects a hoop and a ball onto whatever your phone’s camera can capture, and allows the user to play against friends or just for fun. This launch comes ahead of the NBA regular season, which starts this week, and is another use of AR for fan engagement.

This is, clearly, a bit of a gimmick and a little bit of fun designed to engage with a fanbase already excited at the prospect of a new season. But it’s also an interesting move as the app has been developed for iOS using Apple’s ARKit, a tool which the company has developed to allow publishers to create their own AR apps.

The NBA aren’t the only organisation venturing into AR this week, though. German Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich have also launched an iOS AR app, giving their fans the chance to take a selfie with current iconic Bayern players Arjen Robben and Manuel Neuer. The hashtag #FCBayARn then allows fans to share their selfie with the wider fanbase on social media.

That means we might see a spate of these sorts of apps at some point, perhaps with more effective uses than what we’re seeing currently.

We’ve already seen AR used as a means to enhance the matchday programmes at sporting institutions as diverse as Blackpool in League One, to the Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks in NFL, as well as sponsorship activations like that of the Kansas City Chiefs and Coca-Cola, who used an AR app to bring to life historic Chiefs moments when a can of Coke was scanned.

There are multiple uses for AR in the matchday context, of course, but whilst the NBA or Bayern Munich apps don’t really seem to add much beyond a fleeting chance for fans to feel closer to the action or their fellow fans, it’s interesting to see more and more leagues and clubs experiment with different uses for the technology.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen European football clubs like Bayern Munich make great efforts to grow their clubs in other regions like the US and Asia, whilst American sports leagues like the NFL and NBA are making strides to grow their product in Europe, too. One of the big challenges, though, will always be fostering the sense of fan community and culture that helped grow these leagues and teams in the first place. Passionate Bayern Munich fans now exist all over the world, for example, but bringing those in the US closer to the club and the players is important, as is creating a link with those Bavarian fans whose families have followed the club for generations and who have felt its presence in their local area for years.

AR apps alone won’t do this, of course, and the apps we’re talking about probably aren’t going to make much of a dent in that problem, but they are a first step and they further the progress of innovation in fan engagement. With each new idea, the tech gets more and more useful. Surely it’s only a matter of time before it becomes normal for sports teams to use it more regularly?

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 831 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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