Sports arenas

Virtual sports arenas are the latest investment for fan experiences

Google and the National Basketball League (NBA) recently launched “Pixel Arena”, a virtual space with immersive experiences, tied to the 2022 NBA playoffs. Available in the NBA mobile app for all fans, it’s of the first immersive experience created by Google and the NBA.

Virtual immersive sports arenas are gaining ground. In February 2022, Manchester City Football Club announced plans to build a virtual stadium in the metaverse. Google and the NBA haven’t mentioned the Metaverse, but the companies are using currently available AR and VR technologies to bring fans closer to the action virtually.

The metaverse is still years away, but virtual immersive fan experiences, made in partnership with tech companies, will become increasingly popular in the near term with sports teams and federations.

Virtual Space: How the NBA Pixel Arena Brings Fans Home to the Action

The Pixel Arena is a virtual space in the NBA mobile app with immersive experiences based on real-time information and basketball game statistics. Fans can create custom avatars wearing the team kit of their choice, recap key match photos in a virtual space, and answer trivial questions during halftime. The in-app virtual arena brings fans closer to the action, with Daryl Butler, vice president of U.S. device and service marketing at Google, saying “the experience brings a whole new meaning to the short”.

Fan experiences on mobile devices offer the most lucrative and accessible opportunities for AR and VR integration. AR and VR graphics create a more engaging and insightful analysis of events and the integration of AR into personal devices is a new marketing introduction, increasing fan engagement. And it’s a growing market; GlobalData predicts that the AR market will be worth $152 billion in 2030, up from $7 billion in 2020.

Sports clubs and federations must partner with Big Tech

The landscape of sports sponsorship is changing and technology companies are at the forefront of this change. In 2021, telecom operators accounted for $420.6 million in sports sponsorship deals and IT services companies spent $205.9 million. Partnership or sponsorship agreements with Big Tech companies can improve infrastructure, connectivity, and technology capabilities for product development.

There are many examples of Big Tech partnerships and sponsorship deals with sports teams and federations. For example, Google is an NBA playoff sponsor and Google Pixel is the official NBA fan phone. Verizon is the official 5G sponsor of the National Hockey League (NHL) and follows its 5G network for in-stadium AR experiences on mobile. Similarly, TikTok has partnered with sports federations (such as the Confederation of African Football and Six Nations Rugby) and created AR social media filters for fan engagement. Large-scale technology partnerships and sponsorships advance the technological capabilities of sports teams and federations.

The sports arenas of the metaverse are still years away

In February 2022, Manchester City Football Club announced plans to build a digital recreation of the Etihad Stadium in the Metaverse. MCFC partnered with Sony subsidiary Hawk-Eye Innovations to create a proof of concept for the stadium. The aim is to widen accessibility, allowing fans from all over the world to virtually visit the stadium.

However, no one knows yet what the metaverse will look like. The Metaverse is attracting media attention, including predictions that it will form the next incarnation of the Internet, but it may not be realized in its true form for several years. The MCFC’s virtual stadium is an investment in the future, while the NBA’s Pixel Arena now offers fans the “courtside” experience, using readily available AR and VR technology. Virtual stadiums and arenas offer fans immersive and engaging experiences, and the investment will become increasingly popular while the metaverse is still in the development phase.