Augmented Reality (AR) is quickly becoming an integral part of our world and has already begun its integration into the world of sports… we’re seeing more and more sports businesses and teams look to AR to enhance their brand.

With the new Premier League season kicking-off this weekend, we wanted to share some of the best use cases for AR within the footballing world, using our seven years of experience and partnerships with the likes of Manchester City as case studies.

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Enhancing fan experience and consumer loyalty

Sat on an immense fan base of rabid and loyal supporters, sports teams should be looking to add value with AR to create deeper connections with their audience.  With merchandise being a key revenue stream for any sports team, AR should be utilised across merchandise to make physical objects interactive – for instance, we partnered with Manchester City FC to integrate AR into their match-day programmes. Using only their smartphones, fans were able to pick-up and scan the programme, unlocking entertaining and personal content for supporters. The aim was to be able to bring fans closer to their idols through AR by breathing new life into the humble match-day programme.

This type of content can be tailored to each individual sport or team, for instance; clubs can incorporate a fun mobile mini-game involving their key players, take their fans on an exclusive video tour of the stadium or provide the chance to enter a competition to meet their favourite stars. These augmented experiences enable teams to create a personal touch and a feeling of community, increasing retention of fan loyalty and enhancing interaction with them.

Driving primary engagement

We recently carried out in-depth research with Mindshare and Neuro-Insight to produce a report identifying how brands must ready themselves for the increasingly prevalence of  AR. One key finding revealed that AR experiences generate almost double (1.9 times) the levels of engagement amongst consumers compared to the non-AR equivalent. This finding highlights why brands should be making the most of technologies like AR to drive customer engagement.

Outside of match-day, it’s crucial to keep the conversation with fans going. Another key part of Man City’s AR strategy is interactive  fan mail – we initially ran a pilot programme with Man City’s most written-to player: Sergio Aguero. Club members were able to zap his fan mail and unlock a wealth of content, including player stats, video content as well as the option to take a selfie with Sergio himself and share it to social media. The campaign achieved over 100% engagement across  11 months – resulting in tens of thousands of scans and around 2,500 virtual selfies taken with Aguero – one of the best adoption rates we have seen at Zappar. Following this success, we are now working with the rest of the Man City squad, embedding interactive experiences into their personal fan mail. This partnership allows Man City to connect with fans on a deeper level, delivering personalised communication to their supporters in a new and exciting way – who wouldn’t want to take a selfie with their favourite player?

A really integral part of the campaign was to engage the millions of global fans that can’t make it to the ground and help them feel connected to the club. Additionally, both AR and VR have the ability to bring the stadium home for fans that are unable to get a ticket to the live matches, watching the game through their headsets. This is a major opportunity for brands as they can give their fans the atmosphere and experience of a front row seat from the comfort of their living room.

Elsewhere in football (and in selfies), we’ve seen some great work from Snapchat in AR and sports – providing tailored face-tracking filters for specific clubs when big events are on, driving huge engagement during and after the match as well as giving younger fans small doses of in the moment fun.

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Boosting retail and optimising sponsorship

Another key finding from the research with Mindshare and Neuro-Insight was that a third (33%) of consumers believe AR would help them to narrow down purchase decisions.

AR gives sports teams and their sponsors the potential to monitor customers in real-time and use this to drive retail sales whilst collecting that all important fan data.While matchday ticket sales are the main point of origin for customer data, their fan bases tend to spread much further around the country as well as the globe.  Teams are increasingly turning to the power of data to boost their customer knowledge and add value to sponsorship packages. Through creating great content that brings fans closer (in a digital sense) to the team and players, teams and sponsors can build an emotional connection that then increases the proposenity for fans to hand over their email addresses.

This doesn’t have to be limited to in-venue or data capture opportunities either; sales-driven campaigns can be taken to fans away from their beloved stadium. We previously partnered with Panini and Carrefour, the supermarket chain, in Belgium to create a new wave of AR-enabled collectable football stickers featuring the Belgium national team for this year’s World Cup.

This isn’t the first time we’ve ramped up the footy-fun. We also partnered with Panini and Belgium Carrefour for Euro 2016, with an AR face-filter campaign. Fans were able to collect stickers from Carrefour stores, download the free Panini Carrefour BRD 2016 app and unlock a range of different AR selfie-styled filter experiences, including: a fire-breathing “Red Devil” and trying out a Fellaini-esque hairstyle. This campaign had the impact of driving engagement, amplifying the EURO 16 fan experience and driving retail sales for corporate partners – a triple whammy.

Looking to the future…

This hattrick of AR examples are just some of the ways the sports industry can use Augmented Reality to increase engagement and up-sell to fans. The potential of AR, VR and mixed reality in general is endless, and brands need to jump on board to ensure they are ‘staying smart’ and keeping up with their increasingly tech-savvy fans.

Looking to the future, there are so many ways we can see AR being incorporated into all areas of the sports industry. As adoption in the US increases, the application of AR gets more innovative. The NFL is looking to implement the technology in their coaching tactics through methods like integrating AR and VR in players helmets, so coaches can see first-hand the make of play and have an in-person experience of the game – imagine if we could invite fans to be in the player’s head!

This method of coaching makes total sense and allows invaluable insight into sports player’s performances, in real-time. The amount of data that both AR and VR can capture presents a new and incredibly detailed way of coaching and training.

Our research found that consumers are increasingly expecting products and other physical objects to contain additional layers of digital content or information. In fact, 55% want to be able to point their phone at any object and receive information about it, rising to 74% amongst those who have already experienced AR. It’s certainly the direction we’re heading in, and brands need to start thinking about how they can utilise AR to get ahead of the game.

We’re very excited to see where AR takes the sports industry – it is already revolutionising and enhancing so many markets and we’re sure it will have a grand slam impact in sports too. 

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