If you’ve ever watched a football match at a stadium, be it at your local club or to the likes of Camp Nou or Wembley, one thing becomes immediately apparent when the match begins: something’s missing.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing like the atmosphere and experience of watching a football match live, but as football fans become so accustomed to the wealth of information on our television screens, the lack of data, statistics, goal replays, slow-mo analysis and football commentary becomes immediately apparent at a stadium.
Now, in-stadium fans make up a small segment of the entire football watching community. Afterall, how can 60,000 fans in a stadium beat the hundreds of millions watching at home.
However, with the coming of age of Augmented Reality and the growing ubiquity of 5G, we may finally get the solution we need in stadiums to elevate the match-going experience altogether.
Interactivity and immersion: the power of AR
For some people, the fan experience in stadiums shouldn’t be meddled with. To purists, fans should experience a match completely unadulterated. This viewpoint is especially apparent on Twitter when local fans call out tourists for posting moments they filmed on their phones because they weren’t experiencing the game with their own eyes.
While there are certainly merits in that viewpoint, the reality is that the sport needs to continually evolve both on-field and off-field to continually appeal to newer generations.
And a possible answer to elevating the match-going experience is immersiveness through AR.
AR isn’t new in football. In fact, it has already been implemented at some stadiums to help with navigation, particularly to help visitors locate food stands, accessibility points or first aid.
On-field AR, however, is where things get a lot more interesting.
Let’s say you’re a fan of statistics, pre-match information or last minute updates. That’s perfectly accessible for someone who is watching football from home. However, it’s not that easy for those at the stadium. With AR, fans who are interested would be able to pull up their smartphone or smart glasses, turn on a camera and experience the game like never before. Imagine combining the atmospheric euphoria of 70,000 fans cheering alongside with the richness of information, data and replays that you get from broadcasters right in front of you.
That’s why football clubs that are committed with fan engagement strategies are using AR to improve their fan experience initiatives, even in ways much more beyond the game. Before, during and after the match, it is becoming more common to see interactive mini-games around the stadium. An interesting initiative between football-focused AR company immersiv.io, alongside Deutsche Telekom and FC Bayern München, was to allow fans at halftime to play a mini-game using their favourite players, access fun facts and information, and more.
A day in the life of AR
So, let’s paint what a typical match-going experience could look like with AR.
12pm. Old Trafford. It’s half an hour before the lunchtime kickoff. You and your mates finally made the voyage to Manchester all the way from Hong Kong to watch the team you grew up loving. You’re finding it hard to navigate to your seats, so you pull out your phone and tap on an app. Your camera is on, and the app has an overlay on it telling you exactly where you need to go.
12.15pm. You’re thinking of grabbing a quick bite and a beverage before the match begins. The app shows you via your camera where the food stands are and what the average wait time is for each stand. As you walk towards the food stand, you notice the app highlighting key points of interests such as on-site defibrillators.
12.30pm. Kick-off! Off we go.
12.45pm. Bruno Fernandes scores an unbelievable goal from outside the 18-yard box. You pull up your app and it tells you his scoring record overlayed on top the field, while prompting whether you would like to watch a replay of the goal. You happily oblige.
1pm. Man United seem to be dominating the match thus far. You pull up the app again and it shows you an overlay of possession stats overlayed over the match, chances created, passes so far and each team’s xG. Your intuition was right, they are dominating.
AR benefits more than just the fans
While AR will elevate the match-going experience for fans, its benefits go beyond the spectators.
Through immersion and added levels of interactivity, fans will also be engaging more often with club sponsors, either passively through product and logo placements, and also via specific brand-specific games or info-packs.
Further adoption of AR in stadiums could also pave the way for more technological acceptance amongst football fans, the leagues and club owners.
La Liga, for instance, is working with Microsoft to implement new plans that involve the use of strategically placed cameras and drones which provide more enhanced and specific vantage points of the game.
More and more tech giants are entering the football space and it’s only going to get more exciting from here.