When the initial talk of VR and sports first arose a few years ago, the real buzz was what could be done around games for fans thousands of miles away who could never get to a game.Putting fans in China or India courtside to see LeBron James, or ringside for a Triple G fight, or against the glass for the Stanley Cup Finals, was the big picture idea, and the theory was, and still is in many ways, that more revenue could be generated for a live VR sports experience, thus growing fan base affinity.
While VR continues to churn along, the latest being a VR experience at The Final Four, the fact remains that VR for a sports experience is still very much an individual thing, as headsets and earbuds keep you from really sharing the goings on with a group. That group experience, even in a virtual world, seems to tie better to Augmented Reality, where several people can be immersed into an experience, vs. what VR is now.
Will wireless headsets, cloud based experiences and better elements like advanced eye tracking change that down the road for VR and live? Probably, but right now it may be cool for one time, but watching game after game from that VR perch? Tough to do. For a casual experience? Yes, we see many MLB teams, including the Detroit Tigers launching one at Comerica Park last season, using a VR fan experience, but for the high net worth fan around the world? They probably need and want a little more.
Still there are plenty of uses for VR in sports, and training tools are advancing almost daily with lighter, smaller and more detailed coming almost every day. However this weekend, a story by Corey Kilgallon in the New York Times touched on another potential use of VR that teams, and leagues, could help grow as part of both a communal and a community experience.
The story touched on seniors with dementia, and how assisted living facilities were now starting to use ties to baseball as a way for these patients to improve some of their cognitive skills; by tying to scents from the ballpark from the past. A recently installed permanent “Yankees Dugout” exhibition of team memorabilia at a nursing home in New York includes seats, a turnstile and a locker from the old Yankee Stadium.
Another kiosk features six ballpark scents — hot dogs, popcorn, beer, grass, cola and the mitt — in separate push-button dispensers installed at a height accessible to residents in wheelchairs. The exhibit, called “Scents of the Game,” is meant to evoke long-forgotten memories from the home’s 785 residents, many of whom have Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia, according to the story.
So, if smells work, how about sound and images, brought in through VR? Technology has allowed countless ballpark reconstructions, think of what Yankee Stadium looked like in the HBO Film “61,” or what the German Olympic Stadium looked like in the film “Unbroken,” or even what Syracuse University looked like in “The Express,” can’t even a cursory VR experience work with seniors to take them back not just to smells, but to sound and sight as well?
As we see “Ready Player One” create a future VR immersive experience in theaters this week, maybe VR and baseball can find a new calling? There have been tests for VR and seniors in areas like travel, but to date sports, a pretty common experience, seems to be on the outside…so far.
Now I’m sure VR as we have it now isn’t going to work with all seniors. Even for younger people it can be quite disorienting and even make you a little queasy, and if you are not fully aware of what is coming, it might be overwhelming. This also might not be the “Next gen fan” experience that pro sports thought they were getting with VR, but it is very sellable to a pharma or a tech brand or a medical group looking to show advancements in dementia treatment and patient care, it is a really good piece of storytelling and probably it would be way more cost efficient for near term technology than trying to satiate a fan who is big on buzz and wants a really deep dive. The experience also does not have to be live, and certainly would involve minimal physical effort; it’s not a VR workout, it is an immersion.
For sure we are still early in the game in immersive tech, and the investment will continue to grow. However as one thinks about uses for the future, looking into the past to help those here today, especially those with a love of the game that can be rekindled to improve quality of life, is a pretty interesting storytelling opportunity.
It rekindles an existing fan base, ties to a bigger picture love of sports and has all sorts of goodwill attached to it. An interesting VR experience that could be very real for healthcare.