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The New Front Row: How VR Sports Change the Game for Fans

For those of us without a SAG membership or platinum album plaques on the wall, sitting courtside at Madison Square Garden seems like a dream.

Thanks to VR, the dream is virtually real.

Sports leagues such as the NBA, NFL and MLB have embraced VR technology. NBC broadcasted several events of the Rio Olympics in VR. College football teams and conferences are bringing fans closer to the game.

With a fanbase continually hungry for more access, VR is a perfect fit for sports. Virtual reality is enabling fans to watch their favorite teams from the point-of-view previously only reserved for Spike Lee, Jack Nicholson, or the coaches.

Instead of an all-access badge for this kind of experience, you just need a VR headset. Instead of battling endless lines and high prices inside the stadium, fans can get a premium view from the comfort of their home—one that even has advantages over being courtside.

Fortune’s Sean Gregory described the experience:

From the camera behind a basket, you can see a whole offensive play develop in front of you. It’s catnip for hoops nerds, and explains why some sports teams are turning to VR for training their players. The NextVR broadcast has its own announcers, who share directional commands you don’t typically hear on ESPN: look to your right to see a player set a screen, to your left to see a fight for a loose ball.”

NextVR is powering virtual reality broadcasts in the NBA and highlights in the NFL (Roger Goodell’s NFL is notoriously strict about content). If you have the Samsung Gear VR, one of the hottest holiday gifts, you can get closer to the action right now; NextVR is producing one NBA game per week.

NextVR David Cole

NextVR CEO David Cole shows off the pre-game interview cameras before the LA Clippers live-stream at Staples Center.

Situated as they are in Silicon Valley, it’s no surprise that the Golden State Warriors—one of the NBA’s most popular teams—has also been a fierce proponent of VR technology. At a game earlier this season, all fans in attendance received their own viewer as part of Fannovate, a partnership between the Warriors and Accenture. Warriors fans can see exclusive VR content via the team’s mobile app.

Interestingly enough, NextVR also played a significant role in drawing Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder to form the Warriors superteam.

Not to be left out, the MLB is also dipping into the VR well. At the MLB All-Star Fanfest this summer in San Diego, T-Mobile sponsored a popular VR home run derby experience for fans, and earlier this month the MLB released a home run derby video game exclusively for Google Daydream. In addition to fan immersion in the baseball experience, several teams use VR technology to train players.

One of the more interesting use cases of VR in sports comes through the NCAA. With fans and alumni all over the country, popular college football teams such as Penn State, Notre Dame and the University of Miami are just a few who are jumping into this new arena.

EON Sports powers the fan experience behind Penn State and Miami sports, selling affordable hardware to bring audiences closer to the game.

I put the headset on and I look around and I’m in a custom University of Miami lobby that allows me to interact with the various content streams that I would be interested in as a University of Miami fan,” Brendan Reilly, CEO and founder of EON Sports VR, told the Miami Sun-Sentinel. “So it’s kind of Netflix meets virtual reality meets the University of Miami. If you are a [UM] fan, all those things equal a pretty fun experience.”

If you’re looking for a perfect holiday or birthday gift for the sports fanatic in your life, a VR headset might be just as good as a pair of tickets—maybe even better.

About the Scout

Justin Lafferty

Justin Lafferty covers sports and VR for VRScout. He's a San Diego-based writer and founder of On Base Marketing, a content marketing consulting firm. Justin has written for Adweek, the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Oakland Tribune.

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