Transforming Sports and Culture With Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality

JUN 05, 2017

The time for virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality is arriving quickly. In many ways, it’s already here.

Phones will give way to glasses, which will give us the ability to watch video and read text with little to no wasted motion, and even to know in detail something as simple as where a public bathroom is, how to get there, and how long you’ll have to wait to use it.

In the first episode of the Tech Hero podcast, host Todd Gallina highlighted this and so much more with Bill Schlough, Senior Vice President and CIO of the San Francisco Giants and Robert Scoble, technical evangelist, blogger, and co-author of The Fourth Transformation.

They talked about how the Giants and other teams around the nation are transforming their product on and off the field with AR, VR, and Mixed Reality.

A Day When Everyone’s Going to Wear Glasses

Robert is convinced that glasses will take the place of phones in the not-too-distant future. This of course leads to exciting possibilities, but also more than a few kinks will need to be worked out.

Remember the early days of bluetooth, when people started wearing earpieces? The joke of many advertisers was that you’d think someone was talking to you when they were actually talking to the earpiece. Would we get to the same place visually with glasses, where people are looking not at you but through you?

Maybe so. But we’ve got a few years yet to work out the safety and implications of all this. That’s plenty of time.

Keep in mind, technology being used for self-driving cars is very similar to the technology that will run the mixed reality glasses. The glasses might actually tell you somebody’s trying to talk to you, maybe even warn you if you’re about to run into something. In extreme cases, they may even turn off what you’re viewing.

The first iterations, though, are probably going to be battery and bandwidth constrained. We’ll see blue lines on floors taking us places. So if I’m at a Giants game and need to go to the bathroom, a blue line will appear to take me there, and I’ll know how many steps it will take to get there and how busy it is.

How the San Francisco Giants Are Using VR

Because of where they’re located and who their fans are, the Giants often dip their toes into the water of emerging technology. So VR has been on their radar for a long time.

Last year, the franchise took their first step into VR. What did they do? What did they learn?

First they found a partner they liked, Jaunt, and invited them  down for spring training to create a VR experience for their fans. They created a theme park-like scenario of what it would be like to be a player on the field. When the season started, they debuted the VR experience in the ballpark at a cafe, setting up an Oculus and a big screen so everyone could watch what the person was seeing.

The goal was to get fans closer to the player experience on the field, although there were obvious constraints. The trouble wasn’t with the quality of the footage, but the viewing experience itself. As cool as it is, you’re not physically there: it’s a little like looking through a window.

Still, overall it went pretty well. They learned  that they wanted to scale the tech and expose it to a broader amount of fans beyond just one cafe.

Last year they did a couple of 3-5 minute high-quality pieces. But this year, the philosophy has changed. They decided to increase their reach and quantity, so they focused on 360 behind-the-scenes clips available through Facebook so they could touch more fans.

As far as what’s coming, Bill thinks the most compelling use for VR in baseball is replays. You’ll be able to see them from any spot on the field, as many times as you want, which will be incredible for fans.

For baseball, it’s an exciting way to keep young people engaged throughout a three-hour game, including the millions around the globe who can’t come to the park.

VR in Other Sports

Robert shared some ways that VR is taking off in other sports.

The PGA Tour has taken a 3D scan of every course they play, and they do their scoring electronically. The ball is tracked digitally as it goes through the air and eventually into the cup.

More changes may be coming, too. Soon if you hear a roar on a different hole, you won’t have to walk there. You can just say, “Siri, take me to hole 13,” and you’ll have an immediate view of the green.

The NFL is putting sensors in the ball and on players to get “next-gen” stats—how hard the player was hit, how fast they were going, etc. Right now, that’s not something baseball teams are looking at. There’s an unspoken sacred line in baseball regarding putting things on players, although the Giants have done plenty with baseball players in training.

The Warriors and Kings are also doing things. It’s not surprising given their proximity to the bay area. Really, though, any new sports venue anywhere wants to boast about the experience it offers, so VR, AR, and the like are taking off everywhere.

Of course some teams are certainly more disposed than others to push tech boundaries.

How the Giants Organization Chooses to Invest in Tech

When the Giants are thinking about stadium experience every year for the fans, they have a definitive decision process on what investments the organization is willing to make and why.

They divide their business into three categories when reviewing technology:

1) Technology that enhances the product on the field.

2) Technology that enhances the fan experience.

3) Technology that helps drive the business forward in other ways.

For example, for number one, let’s say there’s something that helps the team better evaluate talent or the competition, or to enhance their existing talent. They’re absolutely going to give it serious thought.

When you’re on the leading edge, a lot of stuff you try doesn’t work. But because you’re experimenting, you’re several years ahead of your competition when the technology becomes widely adopted.

“We’re predisposed to innovate because of where we are,” Bill said.

A big thing separating the Giants from other organizations is when it comes to fan experience, they’re not looking for direct revenue drivers. The Giants invested over 25 million dollars in connectivity And competitors  asked how the investment was monetized.   The Giants simply say that fans show up at the park.

Because fans can stay connected while at the game, they share that experience with others. That’s better than any advertising: it’s basically a marketing budget.

Building a great fan experience monetizes itself.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Bill Schlough from the San Francisco Giants and Robert Scoble, author of The Fourth Transformation. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Tech Hero.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.

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