For an industry with such advanced media and marketing materials, UK sports brands have generally been quite behind in terms of digital adoption, especially with AR. Here are three powerful ways Augmented Reality can be deployed in the sports industry.

For an industry with such advanced media and marketing materials, UK sports brands have generally been quite behind in terms of digital adoption, especially with AR. Here are three powerful ways Augmented Reality can be deployed in the sports industry.



The rise of Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality technology has been technically feasible for around 40 years, it is only in the past six years that it has evolved to be considered as mainstream and this journey is still going. Last year, we saw Pokemon Go provide a ‘tipping point’ of sorts for AR, as it awoke global  brands and businesses to the potential appeal of this technology at a mass market level. We’ve already seen AR start to revolutionise a number of industries, and now we’re focusing our attention on what the sports industry is trying to achieve – and how AR can make it happen.


Augmented Reality in sports

For an industry with such advanced media and marketing materials, UK sports brands have generally been quite behind in terms of digital adoption, especially with AR. Augmented reality tech is starting to be used in the US by sports franchises like the NBA and NFL and now the UK is starting to follow suit. Liberty media, the conglomerate behind Formula One are also keen to push sport into digital channels and drive sponsorship, engagement and broadcast deals.

At Zappar we primarily use our AR technology to bring physical objects to digital life on our smartphones – in the sports industry, these objects could consist of fan mail, match day programmes, tickets, kits and any other form of merchandise.

Sat on an immense fan base, sports clubs, organising bodies and sponsors are constantly looking to add value and find ways to connect with their fans, this can happen in three key ways:


1. Enhancing fan experience and consumer loyalty

Behind every great sports team is a group of dedicated fans, sticking by them through thick and thin – they deserve a lot of recognition for their team’s success. By creating a sense of community and sharing the highs and lows on match day, fans will keep coming back.

AR can be utilised across all merchandise and physical objects can be made zappable – for instance, we partnered with Manchester City FC to implement AR into the match-day programmes their fans pick up at every game, creating entertaining content for supporters. It really was awesome watching Man City be able to bring fans closer to their idols through AR and the digitising of the humble match day programme.

This type of content can be tailored to each individual sport or team, for instance; clubs can incorporate a fun mobile mini-game involving their key players, take their fans on an exclusive video tour of the stadium or even provide the chance to enter a competition to meet their favourite stars. These augmented experiences enable teams to create a personal touch and a feeling of community, increasing retention of fan loyalty.




2. Driving primary engagement

Outside of match-day, it’s crucial to keep the conversation with fans going. Another key part of Zappar’s partnership with Man City was zappable fan-mail – we initially ran a pilot programme  with Man City’s most written-to player: Sergio Aguero. ‘Citizens’ were able to zap his fan mail and unlock a wealth of content, including player stats, video content and also access a selfie feature with different poses and sharing options.

The trial achieved over 100% engagement over 11 months – resulting in tens of thousands of zaps and around 2,500 virtual selfies taken with Aguero – one of the best adoption rates we have seen at Zappar. Following this success, we are now working with the rest of the Man City squad, embedding interactive experiences into their personal fan mail. This partnership allowed Man City to provide even more entertaining and engaging content for supporters – who wouldn’t want to take a selfie with their favourite player?

A really important part of this tactic was to engage the millions of global fans that can’t make it to the ground and help them feel connected to the club.

Elsewhere in football (and in selfies), we’ve seen Snapchat jump on board – providing tailored face-tracking filters for specific clubs when big events are on, again driving huge engagement for the match from both football fans and avid snapchatters!




3. Boosting retail and optimising sponsorship

AR gives sports teams and their sponsors the potential to monitor customers in real-time and use this to drive retail sales collect data, stats and information on fans.

While ticket sales yield a great database for stadium customers, teams’ fan bases tend to spread much further around the country as well as globally and teams are increasingly turning to the power of data to boost their customer knowledge and add value to sponsorship packages.  Through creating great content that brings fans closer (in a digital sense) to the team and players teams and sponsors can build an emotional connection that then leads the fan to a more natural desire to connect and share their email addresses / personal information.

This doesn’t have to be limited to in-venue or data capture opportunities either; sales driving campaigns can be taken to fans away from their beloved stadium. We previously partnered with Panini and Belgium Carrefour supermarket chain to create a new wave of collectable football stickers with an interactive AR campaign during the Euro 2016.

Zappar ramped up the footy-fun with an AR face-filter campaign – fans were able to collect stickers from Carrefour stores, download the free Panini Carrefour BRD 2016 app and unveil a range of different AR selfie-styled filter experiences, including: “Red Devil” fire-breathing and trying out a Fellaini-esque hair style. This campaign had the impact of driving engagement, amplifying the EURO 16 fan experience and driving retail sales for corporate partners – a triple whammy.

These three examples(or AR hat-trick if you will) are just some of the ways the sports industry can use Augmented Reality to increase engagement and up-sell to fans. The potential of AR, VR and mixed realities in general is endless, and brands need to jump on board to ensure they are ‘staying smart’ and keeping up with their increasingly tech-savvy fans.


The future of Augmented Reality in sports

Looking to the future, there are so many ways we can see AR being incorporated into all areas of the sports industry. As adoption in the US increases, the application of AR gets more innovative. The NFL are looking to implement the technology in their coaching tactics through methods like integrating AR and VR in players helmets, so coaches can see first-hand the make of play and have an in-person experience of the game – imagine if we could invite fans to be in the player's head!

This method of coaching makes total sense and allows invaluable insight into sports player’s performances, in real-time. The amount of data that both AR and VR can capture presents a new and incredibly detailed way of coaching and training. We’re very excited to see where AR takes the sports industry – it is already revolutionising and enhancing so many markets and we’re sure it will have a grand slam impact in sports too. 



Related Links

Pokemon Go changes everything (and nothing) for AR/VR

Liberty Media plans Formula One revamp

Augmented reality direct mail and match day programmes from Manchester City

Try out face paint and footballer’s hairstyles with the Panini Carrefour BRD 2016 app

How augmented reality will change sports...and build empathy