5G: Changing the future of sports

By: Kate Fay
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Major sports leagues are trying to figure out how to engage and attract younger fans. The leagues have an average fan age of over 40 with the average fan age for the NBA, NFL and MLB at 42, 50, and 57, respectively. The various leagues and teams are looking to technology not only to gain and retain fans but also to get fans into the stadium rather than watching games at home or on the go. This is where 5G will be a game changer. 5G’s low latency and high bandwidth will enable new technologies to be implemented across stadiums, venues and on the go to drive fan engagement and growth.

Kyle Malady, Verizon’s Chief Technology Officer, recently sat down with Moon Javaid, Vice President of Strategy and Analytics for the San Francisco 49ers, to talk about how technology is impacting the gameday experience. Javaid discussed how the 49ers currently have an app that allows fans to load tickets, get directions to the right parking lot and show concession stands near their seats. As technology advances, fans will be able to experience even more conveniences from mobile applications. Using the low latency of 5G, wayfinding applications will use Augmented Reality (AR) overlays on smartphones to display directions to specific seats, restrooms and concession stands. Fans will be able to enjoy AR games or cloud gaming during timeouts or participate in game quizzes and polls. AR portals will allow fans to virtually walk into the locker rooms, on the field or into a player interview using the high bandwidth of 5G to stream these high resolution videos.

5G’s low latency and high bandwidth will enable new technologies to be implemented across stadiums, venues and on the go to drive fan engagement and growth.

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A common complaint from fans about going to live games is missing the additional information and angles of view they get while watching a game on television. Future applications enabled by the low latency of 5G, will allow fans to hold their phones up to the game and get the current stats of the players on the screen and identify which player is which if they are sitting in the nosebleed section. Imagine holding your phone up to LeBron James taking a free throw and being able to see his free throw percentage and then voting with other fans in the audience as to whether he will make the shot or not. The high bandwidth of 5G will also allow fans to upload their view of the game so they can switch between feeds from the cameras in the stadium to feeds from the fans point of view.

Teams are learning that fans are looking for a more personalized experience. With 5G’s low latency, teams will be able to engage fans how and where fans want. A fan can hold their phone up to an advertising poster in the stadium to get a special deal on a jersey or virtually try on the jersey before buying and picking it up at the team store. Targeted deals on your favorite game day snack can be sent to your phone allowing you to order the snack to be delivered to your seat.

Fans also are looking for personalized ways to watch the game. During Super Bowl LII, Verizon demonstrated how games can be viewed either from a box in the stadium or at home in a more immersive way. Wearing Virtual Reality (VR) goggles, users entered a virtual sky box where they watch the game as if they were in the lounge, seeing feeds broadcasts on TVs in the suite and video over 5G of the live in-stadium game action. Verizon also partnered with the Sacramento Kings to give local students virtual courtside seats using 5G and VR goggles. These experiences show how 5G will provide fans with enhanced and improved live game experiences whether in the stadium or even at home. Imagine watching the entire game displayed as a live hologram on your coffee table, these are the types of things 5G will eventually enable.

Imagine holding your phone up to LeBron James taking a free throw and being able to see his free throw percentage and then voting with other fans in the audience as to whether he will make the shot or not.

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Not only is technology changing the way we watch sporting events, it’s also changing the way athletes perform and practice. New companies, such as STRIVR, are giving athletes options when it comes to practice. Athletes no longer need to skip practice due to inclement weather, they can throw on a VR headset and practice just as if they were out on the field. Training in VR allows athletes to practice over and over again without having to be at the physical location or having to do activity as strenuous as a real workout.

These new benefits will not only be available to professional athletes but all the way down to local youth sports teams. PlaySight allows for live streaming, video replay and analytics of sporting events through cameras installed at venues that are connected to the internet. Not only can grandma and grandpa watch their grandkids basketball game even though they live in a different state, coaches can use the video replay to show what skills need to be improved or where a player did well.

These new benefits will not only be available to professional athletes but all the way down to local youth sports teams. 

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eSports also continue to gain in popularity and with the average age of eSports’ fans at only 31, major sports leagues are starting to sponsor eSports leagues to attract new fans. NBA has their NBA2K professional league, Major League Soccer has eMLS professional and NFL sponsors a Madden Championship Series for all eligible gamers. There are even professional leagues for games like Overwatch and League of Legends. 5G’s low latency will enhance eSports by allowing game developers to create games that are not constrained by today’s network requirements and allow gamers to become mobile by not requiring a wired ethernet connection to compete competitively.

As 5G mobility becomes a reality this year and this next generation technology begins to pave the way for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we’ll see even more advances in technology that will immerse fans in live sports helping leagues to retain current fans and potentially gain new ones. Athletes will be able to train in new ways while leagues and teams will be able to learn more about fans to help personalize experiences. 5G will help enable these experiences and deliver them to fans and players at all levels.

If you’re attending Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, be sure to check out the Super Bowl LIVE Verizon Activation located in Centennial Olympic Park. Fans will be able to play games showcasing the low latency of 5G, have an immersive VR experience and see how 5G devices can change the way we view game footage.

For related media inquiries, please contact story.inquiry@one.verizon.com

For more on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, please visit this page.

About the author(s): 

Kate Fay is an engineer at Verizon who is driving development and deployment of 5G and 5G use cases within the company. Kate has managed many of Verizon’s 5G demos, such as Super Bowl LII, NBA All-Star Weekend and Super Bowl LIII.

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