Virtual reality has now become a reality in the way we consume and play sports. It has come a long way since Nintendo’s foray into it, albeit briefly, during the 90’s with the release of their Virtual Boy console. Despite the name, there is one thing that Virtual Boy was not, and that’s virtual reality. The system was conceived during a period of fascination with VR and although being a failure, it could be said that Nintendo were the pioneers of VR… credit where credit is due.
The ATP Tour Finals staged at The O2 in London 2 weeks ago is the sport’s biggest indication yet that they are taking necessary steps to prepare themselves for the future, with tennis fans given an introduction to the future of sports spectating. Virtual reality pods stood alongside a multifaceted broadcast operation and taken note of the mass of cameras including, the Spidercam and ultra-slow motion cameras capable of capturing the flex and movement of each muscle. Inside the pods, fans were able to use the newly-launched PlayStation VR and its tracking camera and handheld controller to give fans a deeper look inside tennis and reinventing the sport spectating experience.
Sponsors jump on this technology as they can provide fans with never before seen experiences, such as becoming their favourite athlete with POV or taking them into the middle of the action from the comfort of their own home While it is early days, we expect to see sponsored messaging tailored specifically to the individual wearing the headset, allowing for much more targeted marketing that current networks cannot achieve broadcasting to the masses.
The use of VR has seen brands open up a whole new channel of engagement. In 2014 Jaguar partnered with IBM to develop a VR experience allowing consumers to choose the model, make, colour and features of their favourite Jaguar. Consumers were even able to hope inside the car to check out interior features with a 360-degree view, and to make real-time changes all through the use of a headset. Jaguar have had such success with the use of VR, that they built on their technology with Andy Murray as part of the #FeelWimbledon Campaign, providing a Centre Court experience to feel the atmosphere while hitting the winning shot as Andy Murray.
The biggest asset VR has is its story telling power, taking users on a journey to breathe life into the brand is one of the main components of a content marketing approach and encourages the target market to develop a personal connection with a brand. The opportunities are endless for platforms to provide an immersive experience for users to gain a life-like experience, Moto GP could use this approach providing fans the thrill of riding a race spec bike in excess of 300 Kilometres per hour around Silverstone. It is this type of experience that engages someone on a deeper level, something that product distribution or branding simply can’t tap into.
While it is impossible to predict the future and whether VR will play a vital role in our daily lives, one thing can be said for sure, brands will continue to deliver unique and innovative experiences to engage with consumers and connect with them in ways never seen before.