Virtual Reality or VR stepped into the sports and live streaming industry in the year 2015 when the opening match of the Golden State Warriors against the New Orleans Pelicans became the first ever match in the history of sporting events to be streamed in Virtual Reality for the public. The event was organized in a small room in the Oracle arenas. Some journalists took turns watching the pre-game championship ceremony and the match itself using a VR headset. The reviews described how VR will transform the live-streaming industry and provide users with an interactive experience. During this event, virtual reality was at an infant stage and needed a lot of improvements. Now cut to 2023, with technology becoming bigger and better than ever, virtual reality can be seen everywhere in the streaming industry.
Today, you can experience the crowd roaring and jumping in excitement during the final moments of a game when your favorite team has nearly lost it but then the underdog player comes in and clutches the game out of the opposition’s hand. All of this is possible because of the premier source of gambling and live streaming. Today you have more choices compared to what you used to get a decade ago on your cable connection.
The main reason investors and broadcasters are relying on and investing so heavily in virtual Reality is because of its ability to attract viewers and let the audience watch the game from different views. It is also the major reason for the uncertain attendance in the MLS, MLB, NFL, NHL, and NBA, the five major professional leagues in the US. The broadcasters are taking this opportunity and trying to capture more viewers. In 2019, according to the 13th edition of the ‘Digital Media Trends Survey’ the number of sports fans who owned a VR headset was 14%, but the percentage has increased fairly in the last couple of years. In 2019, the number of VR headsets sold was 7 million and it is expected to reach 36.7 million by the end of this year.
The prospect of being able to experience the courtside view at a basketball game or the sideline views in a football game while sitting at your home has interested the customers. It has also created a different market space but currently, it is not a significant market. Although it has the potential to overcome the flat-screen viewing market and even defeat it, the experience of being physically present in a sporting arena is unparalleled. Also with VR, due to the small market size, the number of cameras placed is limited resulting in lesser viewing angles. Also, the ability to zoom in and picture and production quality is still somewhat inferior to the traditional broadcasters.
The biggest issue here is the incentivization mismatch. Viewers have been watching games on screens for decades and all of a sudden, with VR, they expect more than what it is already able to provide. It is difficult for anyone to replace the experience of waiting in the queue, paying for tickets and seats and getting snacks. For what it’s worth, tabletop projection systems are in their development stage and are expected to be released in the next football season. Virtual reality has been seeing increased demand and also a certain group of customers. This makes way for its increase in market share and development in technology as well.
Along with Broadcasters, major sporting leagues have been exploring the market since its developmental phase. NHL and NBL, the biggest sporting events in the USA have agreements and partnerships with NextVR, the biggest live VR producer and broadcaster. This partnership allowed the fans to watch live NBA games and highlights, the Stanley Cup Final and some specific portions of the NHL All-Star game. Also, 6 games for the 2019-2020 NBA season were streamed in 3D stereoscopic VR for free and more games were made available in the same high-tech streaming experience for the premium subscribers.
There is a lot of potential in VR technology but it will come out in the front only when it can improve the overall experience of the viewers. The broadcasters and the major sporting leagues have to work on it together and create an experience unique from viewing a game on a television set or visiting a sporting arena. Only then they can exploit the market to their advantage.