Riding the wave: why sports brands are embracing VR

Sport gets your heart racing, blood pumping and, at times, boiling.

Just think of the connection we have with our favourite team, or the emotive memories of playing with friends and teammates.

When you combine it with an immersive VR experience, it translates powerfully.

VR is perfect for brands looking for an innovative way to interact with sports fans. These brands attract a high level of loyalty, and it’s not just football clubs or basketball teams (think Under Armour and Nike) that inspire fans globally to engage however they can.

millennials in the aren’t watching as much sport as their predecessors

But these fans are demanding more and more, putting these brands under pressure to do something different, to surprise and delight and give them something that no one else gets.

Take one glance at a Premier League football club’s Twitter feed and you’ll see what I mean. Q&As, consistent streams of high-quality video and artistically-designed images feature. All of which are designed to create strong engagement with followers.

What’s interesting to note is that this is particularly important for the millennial audience. As reported in Bloomberg, millennials in the US and UK aren’t watching as much sport as their predecessors. With an unprecedented cornucopia of entertainment options at their fingertips, many younger consumers aren’t finding live sport as exciting as their older counterparts.

people follow their chosen club on mobile, providing a portal to an often seemingly exclusive world

Social continues to help blend these worlds, and people follow their chosen club on mobile, providing a portal to an often seemingly exclusive world.

VR is now taking this up a notch.

VR is increasingly accessible to wide audiences, with 360 content open to anyone with a smartphone.

Platforms like Facebook pushing it more and more each year means VR is predicted to go from strength to strength; revenues for the augmented reality and virtual reality markets are forecasted to reach $13.9 billion in 2017 and $143.3 billion in 2020, according to IDC.

And as more brands get to grips with it, VR marketing is an evolving field. Sport brands know it.

Instant replays

VR can, and is, tapping into this millennial audience using short-form content that’s mobile, and calls for repeat viewings.

Brands outside of sport can learn from this.

the VR 360 experience provided exclusive access to the players’ changing room

Manchester City FC, recently showcased the innovative ways in which VR can enhance the fan experience, and bring to life the emotion and excitement of the match day at the Etihad to City’s global fan base.

The VR 360 experience provided exclusive access to the players’ changing room and a first-hand look at the players arriving on the famous Blue Carpet. The experience also shines a spotlight on all the people involved in delivering unforgettable football moments at Manchester City.

With over 1m views in the first few days after release, the video has had very high engagement – with thousands of comments and shares on social channels.

Jaguar Land Rover, an automotive brand with a long-established connection to sports and innovation, has recently thrown sailing fans into a frenzy with the release of Above and Beyond. The immersive film that puts you on the Land Rover boat in Bermuda, as Ben Ainslie and his crew gear up for the America’s Cup.

Playing ball

Immersive technology may be helping fans shift gear when it comes to brand engagement, but what isn’t changing is what brand owners want and expect from their content and marketing.

VR puts your users IN your brand story

Smart CMOs tell stories and know that building strong narratives around their brand is central to building awareness, emotional engagement and eyeballs.  

VR puts your users IN your brand story and is showing its value in these real terms.

There’s enough reach and appetite now for brands to bring VR in as a standalone budget line.

But we still need to harness this momentum to show brands how best to maximise that budget; not just create a film and distribute it, but get under the skin of the brand.

“You couldn’t write a script like this”

VR is the new benchmark in storytelling, and plays into sport’s natural narratives.

Team rivalries, transfer window sagas and manager spats only fuel the obsession with sport.

Storytellers and IP-holders on sports franchises can dominate the market because consumers already have a strong interest, and in many cases a fierce loyalty.

Sport VR has kicked off, and will only get better with experience.

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