Fox Looks To Tap Into Communal Nature of Sports

LOS ANGELES—Football is a communal experience with tens of thousands of fans gathering in stadiums across the country every weekend to take in the spectacle, whether it’s college or NFL games.

Ditto for thousands of sports bars, living rooms and dens scattered across the country.

Now Fox Sports is hoping to capitalize on the communal nature of watching sports by leveraging virtual reality and the social media experience.

This Saturday night when the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame take on the Michigan State Spartans in Lansing, Mich., users of the Fox Sports VR app will be able to experience the game with friend and family members—whether they are in the next room or thousands of miles away—in a virtual VIP suite in cyberspace.

“This is something we care deeply about,” says Miheer Walavalkar, co-founder and chief business officer of live VR specialist LiveLike.

“More and more people are watching games on their phones, and we want to give them the communal experience of watching games like they had in the past.”

Jeb Terry, Fox Sports VP Partner & Program Management and a former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman, echoes Walavalkar’s thoughts.

“Sports and fandom are inherently social,” he says. “You talk about them at the watercooler at work. You go to games with friends. You go to watch parties and you interact. That’s part of the fun of sports.”

Fox Sports is hoping its social VR coverage will enable that element of fan comradery, he says.

Once inside the Fox Sports VR app, users can invite friends and family members to watch the game via Facebook, access game data and replays, create avatars—complete with fan accoutrements—watch 2-D coverage of the game on a virtual Jumbotron and experience the game in a way that’s not even possible for those in attendance.

VR fans can choose the perspective of several on-field cameras, such as a camera at the line of scrimmage or one in the end zone, for up-close views.

The social VR experience Fox Sports is deploying this weekend is a follow-on to its debut of the experience for coverage of the Gold Cup in July. But for the Notre Dame-Michigan State game there’s a new addition: the sports network’s c360 Skycam streaming coverage that will capture a 360-degree game view.

“You’ve seen linear broadcasts integrate Skycam into production,” says Terry.

“Full, all-game coverage from Skycam hasn’t really been provided in the past—especially in 360 where you can tilt, pan, zoom and really explore that angle.”

However, if VR users choose to watch only the c360 Skycam during the entire game, they can, says Terry, adding that individual users have the ability to control the camera as they wish.

The 360-degree Skycam view of live game action will only be available to users of the Fox Sports VR app. The camera also will be used selectively throughout the broadcast.

A c360 Skycam view of pre-game, team warmups, halftime band performances and post-game celebrations will also be available via the app as well as at @CFBonFOX on Twitter, Fox College Football (CFBonFOX) on Facebook and the Fox Sports YouTube channel.

While The Notre Dame-Michigan State game is expected to be a great game between two storied teams, the reason Fox Sports is deploying social VR and c360 Skycam for the game has more to do with its continuous effort of improve game coverage, says Terry.

“This is a continued iteration of our product offering,” says Terry.

“We don’t want to be static. We want to learn from the past, add features and continue to bring the fans the best coverage we can provide. This is the next step in doing that.”

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.