Innovative technology looks set to open closed doors for brands looking to activate or ignite sports sponsorship opportunities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The use of augmented reality technology to revolutionise pitch side sports advertising is nothing new. Digital overlay companies have been in existence for the past decade or so, and a mix of sports, from football through to F1, have been showcasing this technology for years.
Previously, the National Football League (NFL) has digitally superimposed brands on its playing fields, the National Hockey League (NHL) has virtually inserted sponsors on the rink glass, Barcelona has implemented virtual LED boards, and F1 once plastered Bernie Ecclestone’s face on the track during a race!
Now, however, due to live sport slowly coming back to the fore, conversations around augmented and virtual reality have become more prominent than ever. In a new world of behind-closed-doors entertainment, can AR be the solution to release sponsors from lockdown?
Although the technology is complex, the concept is simple, and the reasoning is clear. There are endless opportunities available for brands via digital overlaying; tailored messaging, targeted advertising and geo-localised marketing to name a few. Branding can be adjusted depending on the market in which it is being broadcast, and the messaging can be made more impactful by integrating it into the sporting architecture.
Virtual branding favours sponsors who are innovative, adventurous and forward thinking. As for sport, it can offer it a new lease of life, providing a fresh viewing experience for fans. Traditionally, AR technology has been somewhat limited by the sporting infrastructures within which it exists. However, one of the outcomes of the global pandemic are the accelerated conversations around AR technology within sporting arenas.
Driven by the concern of silent stadiums – and rightly so given the fallout from last weekend’s Bundesliga ‘ghost games’ – leagues and federations are keen to find a quick solution. Fans put off by the lack of atmosphere is bad news for the sport, the leagues and associated sponsors. Step forward companies like OZ Sports.
The OZ Sports ARena solution, part of the wider OZ Connected Stadium, uses innovative AR technology to bring fans from their homes into live broadcasts. Virtual fans can personalise the experience with their own avatars, club shirts, genuine cheers from home via an app – and even appear in their preferred seat.
“We have a job to be done here, to help the rights holders maintain the integrity of their leagues,” said CEO and Founder Gudjon Gudjonsson. “We’re hearing about new challenges every day, talking to our friends in the industry and understanding their concerns. One of their main worries is around the sponsors and the brand association with behind-closed-doors games. Our aim is to remove these concerns by making games as authentic and realistic as possible.”
That’s the atmosphere sorted then, but perhaps more impressively, and particularly of relevance to sponsors, the solution was driven by the desire to bring an international sporting arena to a lower-league match using AR technology, or as Gudjonsson says, “making a youth game feel like the Champions League final.”
The game-changer here is that current stadium set-ups are not the inhibitor to digital overlays as they may have been in the past. As the video below shows, existing infrastructures can be built upon, opening up even greater branding possibilities through additional LED boards or big screens.
For sports played out in settings where the infrastructure is minimal to none, suddenly via AR it can open up exciting new sponsorship opportunities at a fraction of the cost of installing the real thing.
“The OZ ARena solution is a win-win-win opportunity for the fans, the rights holders and the sponsors. It is not just a solution for now, but also for the future. Beyond the current pandemic, when crowds return, our product can take brands to new places, offering them exciting new opportunities, and as a result turn sport into an even stronger business commodity.”
The current global situation has highlighted the need to find viable technological solutions to fill crowd-less stadiums and arenas. This can only be a good thing for the sponsorship sector, with new and exciting branding opportunities being generated via the power of AR. The next step will be to find the right balance between increased brand exposure and brand oversaturation that reflects negatively on the sponsors.
For now, we’re perhaps going through a technological turning point, one that might dictate the future of sports broadcasting and sponsorship. From the doom and gloom brought about by the current pandemic, there is a ray of light at the end of the sponsorship tunnel.