VR Gives Islanders A New Way To Move Tickets

VR Gives Islanders A New Way To Move Tickets
October 20, 2016

It can be hard for American hockey fans to convince their friends to follow Canada’s game. Sure, a U.S.-based team has won every Stanley Cup since 1994, and Canada now has just seven of the NHL’s 30 franchises. But the reality is that most Americans didn’t grow up with the sport and have never been to a live NHL game. And while hundreds of millions have access to televised hockey, most seem to agree that the sport loses something when viewed two-dimensionally.
That’s a problem that John Baier ran into in his role as senior vice president of ticket sales and service for Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, the company which manages and controls Barclays Center, home of the New York Islanders.
“I think that NHL hockey is the best sport to watch live,” said Baier. “It doesn’t really translate to TV, but live it’s great.”
So before the Islanders’ inaugural season in Brooklyn ended last May with a second-round playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Baier and his team started looking into the next-best thing to attending an actual game: virtual-reality technology.
“We did some digging,” Baier said. “We said, let’s capture the playoffs in a bottle, which is even more exciting, and bring it to people during the off-season so they can still experience it since there [would be] no hockey going on.”
Collaborating with two local production houses, Georges Briard Productions and Immerse Productions, Baier’s staff filmed a tour of Barclays Center before and during a first-round loss to the visiting Florida Panthers on April 20 using Autopano and Adobe Premiere software. The camera itself was actually six GoPros attached to Freedom 360 Rig mounts, giving the video its omnidirectional quality.
The next step required a distinctly non-virtual touch. To entice potential ticket buyers, Baier’s team began visiting customers who might have interest in Islanders ticket packages, typically at their place of business. There, they’d slip a phone into the Samsung Gear VR headset and offer the chance to experience (virtual) playoff hockey in the middle of a workday.
“Then you put the goggles on, and you’re in the VIP entrance, you’re walking down to the Calvin Klein club,” Baier said, listing some of Barclays Center’s amenities. “Now you’re in the seats, we just scored a goal.”
‘It’s the most unique experience I had.’  —  Season-ticket holder Lenny Knief
Much like in a real hockey game, the virtual-reality tour of Barclays Center must be witnessed in person because it’s hard to convey how realistic the experience is, down to the pregame atmosphere. At one point, viewers get the thrill of seeing a John Tavares goal from the concourse level.
Even the crowd is lifelike. Local boxing promoter Lou DiBella can be seen wearing a personalized Islanders jersey.
“It’s the most unique experience I had,” said Lenny Knief, who said he bought a season-ticket package after doing the virtual tour at his office in the Bronx. “It goes far beyond expectations right off the bat.”
“They never know what to expect,” Baier said of his customers. “I think it’s great when somebody walks into their desk or chair. Intuitively, you don’t have to move. You can just move your head around. It’s so immersive that you see people start to walk around their office, which is funny.”
With the 2016-17 season under way, Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment is busy recording new Islanders moments to incorporate into their sales pitch. Although they don’t release specific sales information, a company spokeswoman said that season-ticket sales are up this year. That’s good, because before the Islanders sold out all five of their postseason games last season, they ranked 28th in the NHL attendance and 27th in terms of filling capacity.
Baier said his team will also try to use the technology to sell Nets tickets. In fact, they may not need to make sales calls because prospective customers could simply download the tour and experience it on their own phone with the help of a virtual-reality headset or a cardboard version that can be fashioned into virtual-reality goggles.
Baier, however, still thinks making personal calls is the way to go, and Knief agreed.
“We already had an interest in purchasing the plan,” said Knief, whose company, East Coast Energy Group, had season tickets to Nets games. “When they came out, I really feel that they made the extra step. It kind of sealed the deal for me.”

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