Through new research, analyst firm Magid found that 10 percent of virtual reality owners and users had watched live NBA games and 16 percent watched live NFL action. More people may be watching basketball in VR since the NBA increased their broadcast frequency.
According to Magid, virtual reality sports broadcasts are opening opportunities for teams and major sports leagues to engage and immerse fervent fans anywhere in the world.
Two years ago, the NBA partnered with NextVR to broadcast games directly to user headsets and is now making the entire 2017-2018 season available in VR for League Pass subscribers. Whether it’s live broadcasts or packaged highlight reels, the NFL, MLB, NHL, soccer clubs from around the globe, and even boxing have all offered consumers a variation of VR.
Debby Ruth, senior vice president of global media and entertainment at Magid, told AListDaily that sporting events in VR is an effective way to reach fans, but not being able to interact socially may be holding it back.
“I think it will really take off when they start building in some degree of social interaction, whether it be voice, chat or avatars,” said Ruth.
Magid is conducting what they call the “Acceleration Study” over the period of eight months to explore consumer sentiment about VR. The study will cover each stage of ownership from choosing which VR unit to buy, initial first months of ownership and beyond to see if the novelty wears off.
“What we’re learning [with the study] is that while VR users love how immersive it is, there’s also a disconnection from others and the world that is also anxiety-creating,” said Ruth. “This applies to VR sports at this point.”
Less than one percent of the NBA’s 155 million core basketball fans experience live games, so technology has become an important part of keeping fans engaged. In addition to VR, the NBA has launched a free mobile AR app called Pop-A-Shot.
Facebook and Microsoft are both heavily pushing social VR, allowing users to witness live events such as sports and concerts—good news for other sports leagues who might consider following the NBA’s lead. In addition to basketball, NextVR offers a number of sports broadcasts in VR from the NFL and NHL.
As more fans engage with VR sports, marketers will need to find engaging ways to reach them on the platform.
“I see VR as a fantastic tool for experiential marketing,” said Ruth. “As it relates to basketball and sports, I think the lessons that can be drawn are that sponsorship opportunities would work really well, as well as branding within that space like product placement. In addition, marketers would learn from how people are reacting to [the campaigns] . . . One thing is clear—the interruption model that we’re so used to cannot be what people do in VR.”
Ruth warned that an interruptive model would lead to resentment more than anything, noting that the issue surfaced in the research they’ve been conducting.
“Users can see how VR would be an amazing platform for advertisers and they’re open to seeing how creative advertisers can get in it, but they’re also completely terrified that they’re going to be trapped into watching ads against their will and have to take off their headsets,” Ruth said. “That, to them, is the worst possible scenario that could happen.”