Buffalo Wild Wings, an active esports participant recently with Turner’s ELeague, has jumped into the virtual reality sports game. The brand is the first to experiment with social VR with Fox Sports and VR company LiveLike, where users will be able to order Buffalo Wild Wings food inside from VR for real-world home delivery—all while watching the game with friends and a fellow community of fans.
Buffalo Wild Wings is sponsoring a virtual suite experience across three CONCACAF Gold Cup matches, which are available free on the Fox Sports VR app. The soccer games kick off July 8 for United States-Panama match and will continue with a still-to-be-determined contest on July 22 or 23 and culminate with the Gold Cup championship on July 26.
Michael Davies, Fox Sports’ senior vice president of field and technical operations, told AListDaily that VR opens up a more immersive and interactive element to the viewing experience.
“One thing that we’re working on with Buffalo Wild Wings is to directly connect the immersive experience with the kind of experience that they would like to convey,” said Davies. “In addition to the normal banners of Buffalo Wild Wings signage, we can also allow some interaction within the virtual suite. And we are just scratching the surface with VR and the kind of interactivity we can provide within the medium—it makes for a very creative sandbox of possibilities.”
Davies said this sponsorship with Buffalo Wild Wings is the latest in a line of “lean-forward campaigns.” Fox and LiveLike updated and revamped the VR suite for the brand. Social VR also opens up new opportunities for ad sales teams to create more targeted sports integrations. All of the Fox Sports VR activations are available on Samsung Gear VR, Cardboard VR and other mobile devices.
The virtual suite for these soccer games will allow four people to congregate in VR and engage with the brand, as well as take in the action on the pitch. Fans will be able to customize their VR avatar, but in the future more customization options will be added.
When entering the experience, users will be able to select a “social” tab and a “join friends” button that connects to Facebook. At that point, friends who have done the same will pop up on your friends list, creating the opportunity to view the experience in a social environment. Additionally, the experience can automatically select a viewing partner at random, with viewers having the ability to seamlessly switch social VR “on” or “off.”
Davies said this first activation is an experiment, so additional friends could be added to future games for a larger social experience.
“We find that the people who have engaged with us in the past are people that like to be a part of the cutting-edge rollout of these kinds of things, so I would expect that we will change a few things based upon what we learn,” Davies said. “The cool thing is that this experience stands on its own with or without social, but there’s no doubt that this is a seismic event in terms of VR and the possibilities of engaging people with a medium that has been criticized as being insular can open up in this way is truly exciting.”
Users will be able to watch the soccer games from four angles, including one positioned behind each goal and one that puts fans in the stands. Fans can choose from any of these views on the fly, or watch the produced “director’s cut” and allow Fox to switch camera angles for them. Davies said this option has been the most popular with past VR sports broadcasts.
“We understand that people aren’t going to watch the whole game in VR—that’s ok,” Davies said. “We want to supply an experience that they can dip in and dip out of. It’s something different and complementary to the game they’re watching on television.”
Fox Sports is working with CONCACAF to deliver additional 360-degree video content that can be viewed inside the virtual suite.
“Over the last year and a half, we have gotten better and better at shooting it, and CONCACAF has been great to work with—they’ve submitted a lot of the ideas and supplied the access for the kinds of things we are doing,” Davies said.
Introducing a social aspect to sports in VR replicates the experience fans would have watching soccer or other games inside a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant.
“It potentially allows friends who are rooting for the US to get together from across the country to watch together in a whole different way,” Davies said.
Over the last 18 months, Fox Sports has offered more than a dozen major events in VR, including Super Bowl LI, the 2016 and 2017 Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament, the 2017 UEFA Champions League final, the 2016 US Open Championship, the 2016 MLS Cup, the 2016 Bundesliga season opener, the 2016 Daytona 500, the 2016 Big Ten Football Championship and a PBC heavyweight title fight.
“Any sport is a good opportunity for social VR,” Davies said. “But the Gold Cup is particularly exciting due to its international appeal. Sports are tribal—we’re hoping this is a good opportunity to allow people to be with the people that they would otherwise want to be with. In the end—sports are meant to be enjoyed with a group—we hope this ends up being a tool to allow people to do just that.”
Davies hopes to extend social VR to other sports as an offering that can go to any of our VR activations.
“It’s truly exciting what this could mean for social viewing, and this will be the first step in figuring this out,” Davies said.