How Virtual Reality Could Revolutionize Ads in the Sports Industry

Putting eyeballs on your digital billboards

From front row views during fashion week runways to 360-degree city tours, virtual reality is revolutionizing the way consumers experience video content. And, thanks to die-hard fans who can't get enough of their favorite teams, the technology is especially poised to benefit the sports industry as it develops into a polished medium.

But it's not just viewers getting in on the game. Brad Allen, executive chairman of NextVR, explained the technology can present new ad opportunities including sponsored camera angles you can't even get from your stadium seat. It also opens up ways for brands to get in front of the eyeballs they desire—literally.

"We know where you're looking, what you're seeing and what you're focusing on," Allen explained. "It could influence where you put the advertising or project things."

For example, NextVR created a viewing heat map for the pre-season Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game in Rio De Janeiro in October. It noticed the highest concentrations of red—where people were most focused—were around where LeBron James was on the court. Theoretically, Allen said, advertisers could use this knowledge to buy that specific space and then insert a digital ad.

"When you look at all the companies that are jumping in, it's going to be part of our world," said Fox Sports svp of field and technical operations Michael Davies. "When you are able to experience it and see what VR might be able to bring to the future of any sport, it's something that we definitely wanted to pay attention to."

Davies pointed to an experiement in late March. Fox Spots worked with NextVR to test out a livestream of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in both 180 degree and 360 degree viewing options. One angle was focused on the pit road, while the other was placed in between the track and the pits. While the test stream was only sent to a trailer full of executives, Davies says it proved the day of live VR sporting events is not far off.

Four companies have announced they will be releasing VR headsets between this fall and the middle of 2016—including the HTC Vive which is getting glowing reviews for its resolution. With analysts predicting 12.2 million sets to be sold in 2016, the medium is quickly becoming mainstream. Advertisers, programmers and fans will all be watching, virtually and practically.