Seattle, WA - October 4, 2015 - CenturyLink Field: Fans of the Seattle Sounders during a regular season game (Photo by Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)
This Saturday, the 2016 MLS Cup between the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC will be broadcast live in virtual reality. FOX Sports and LiveLike are partnering once again to deliver the experience on both iOS and Android and through a fully immersive viewing on Samsung Gear VR and cardboard.
According to LiveLike Chief Business Officer, Miheer Walavalkar, soccer has been the company’s “most-well tested sport” in virtual reality, having experimented around games overseas, which have included Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and others.
“FOX has seen all of those, and virtual reality works very seamlessly when it comes to soccer. … Soccer, we’ve done so much so it was a no-brainer to do this,” added Walavalkar.
Available through the FOX Sports VR app, the virtual reality experience will have a sponsor for the first time ever on FOX as Audi — also a current MLS league sponsor — will have branded integration throughout the experience, including an in-suite Audi car.
“FOX Sports has been a great partner for us. … Their broadcast expertise combined with our VR capabilities have allowed us create one-of-a-kind, tailored VR experiences that have delighted today’s sports fan,” said Andre Lorenceau, co-founder and CEO of LiveLike in statement. “With the support of MLS and Audi, we are making huge headway into bringing VR into more and more households.”
As opposed to prior virtual reality broadcasts on FOX, such as the recent Big Ten Football Championship, a replay feature will now be integrated into this weekend’s soccer broadcast, arguably the biggest difference from previous experiences. With five separate camera angles capturing footage, fans will be able to toggle back-and-forth between different vantage points as they rewind game action in 30-second increments up to 30 minutes. However, the added component will only be available on iOS, with rollouts for Android and Gear VR coming at a later date.
The virtual production will also include additional statistics, such as passing accuracy and shots on goal, along with access to other virtual content pieces for fans to choose from beyond just watching Seattle and Toronto on the pitch. Within the highlight suite, users will have the ability to watch on-demand videos from both college football and the UFC, among other sports.
Broadcast executives, like Michael Davies (SVP, Field and Technical Operations) of FOX Sports, are still deciphering the role of virtual reality in sports, on what seems to be a varying basis month-to-month. He along with others have started the shift in thinking that maybe virtual reality isn’t a two- or three-hour viewing experience; it might not even be a half hour ‘live’ look-in. Instead, its classification as potentially another second screen, as Davies recently alluded to, has forced rights holders like FOX and technology companies such as LiveLike to provide more reasons for fans to stay engaged within the app.
“The magic window experience, where you’re able to view the game in virtual reality on your phone, is something that viewers might be able to have at your side the entire time,” said Davies about not needing a headset to watch the live broadcast. “… What’s cool about this app and platform is I legitimately think this is one of the more compelling platforms out there right now for sports consumption. Now that we have this 360 theater, you can put some of that content in there.”