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How AR can help broadcasters and sponsors gain more value from TV sports rights

Now the much-anticipated summer of sport has kicked off, there’s much that brands can do

With the Premier League choosing to roll over the TV rights for a further three years during a disruptive pandemic, Rosh Singh, managing director of UNIT9, looks at how broadcasters can move to ensure they don’t replicate the 10% drop in value these rights suffered.

Sports sponsors haven’t had the easiest ride of late, with live events canceled and legions of despondent fans to engage. But now that the much-anticipated summer of sport has kicked off, there’s so much more brands can do than just adorn their packaging with a star player or slide TVCs into ad breaks. In fact, there is an unserved opportunity for brands to build rich, engaging and valuable activations around the at-home and in-stadium sports experience.

Until now, broadcasters have controlled the viewing experience at home. But apart from making it more high definition, there’s not been much elevation. If the recent news about BT Sport is anything to go by, broadcasters seem to be struggling with profitability, with the huge investment going into acquiring sports rights.

Experience-driven tech businesses, however, are starting to step up, with Amazon recently securing Premier League rights on its Prime Video platform. And it’s surely only a matter of time before more get involved. There’s huge potential here for sponsors to embrace a new generation of sports viewership and transform the current lackluster living room experience into something magical for fans.

Augmented reality (AR) has an important role in enhancing the viewing experience, especially as it’s becoming more accessible than ever before. Tabletop AR activations allow fans to watch the game play out in 3D right in front of them, creating a unique take on at-home viewing. TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook now all support AR lenses, enabling fans to document and share their mid-match reactions, thus firmly placing sponsors in the center of the conversation. Inter Miami took a similar approach recently with an AR filter that brought the in-stadium experience to viewers at home, allowing them to share in the excitement of the game from their living rooms.

Immersive technology can also be used by sponsors to fuel the future of live sports. And, as fans are slowly welcomed back to stands, we’ll see high demand for interactive experiences that draw them even closer to the action. EE recently hosted the world’s first 5G-powered foosball tournament behind closed doors at Wembley; the activation hints at the future of a shared match-day experience. Wembley’s iconic turf was overlaid with an AR pitch allowing players to battle it out one-on-one in real-time, with participants viewing the same game content as each other, but from their own unique perspective. Imagine the half-time energy levels if a whole stadium of fans were able to play against each other while waiting for the match to restart.

As well as generating excitement, AR overlays can also be used to share information with viewers for a richer sports experience. Verizon and the NFL’s innovations at this year’s Super Bowl allowed fans to view big plays, stats and other key moments of the game in AR from various camera angles, both from the stands and their sofas. Introducing layers of information over the live action in this way helps to draw viewers in and gets them fully invested.

5G isn’t only making activations on this scale possible, but also more seamless than ever before. Phone networks in particular stand to benefit from showcasing their high-speed connection to sports crowds.