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Fan experience key to success of drones, VR in pro sports

Lauren Brousell | June 18, 2015
Drones and virtual reality (VR) both have barriers to overcome before they see widespread adoption in the enterprise and consumer worlds. Professional sports organizations are taking the lead and working hard to overcome those initial challenges. Teams are always looking for any competitive edge, in the stadium and in business, and part of that is to constantly test new technologies. But can drones and VR translate into real value?

Shields says sports organizations need to gauge fan interest and then craft business models accordingly if VR is going to take off. Teams will need to develop content models, such as subscription or pay-per-view options, and decide between direct-to-consumer or media rights partners.

"The possibilities are very exciting," Shields says. "The use case of giving thousands of fans courtside access to their favorite teams and players could very well be a game changer for the industry."

VR has a promising future in the consumer market; Gartner predicts that 25 million head-mounted displays will be sold by 2018. But sports teams should move slowly when it comes to VR, according to Brian Blau, research director at Gartner. Blau says teams should roll out simple VR experiences through mobile or desktop apps, or set up VR test booths at events to introduce fans to the technology. They could also record unique, 360-degree angles during games and feature them on video broadcasts.

With drones, fan engagement is more challenging, according to Blau. Privacy and safety are genuine concerns which have yet to be fleshed out, so it will take time for the devices to become commonplace at sporting events.

Adopting any technology, whether internally or externally, is often a gamble, especially when the tech is new and unproven. Shields says the success of drones and VR in sports, or lack of it, will mostly depend on whether sports organizations can enhance the fan experience and simultaneously drive revenue. "If these technologies can hit both of those goals, we will see more in the future."


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