It’s an exciting time to be a sports fan. Globally, innovation is happening at break-neck speed, from wearable cameras to cutting-edge stadia, exciting partnerships between sports properties, sponsors and channels, while big data and its analysis is having an impact on many sports.

Being the sports insane country we are, South Africa is both pioneering and exploring the future of the fan experience.

  1. Wearable tech and big data

Wearable technology and the terabytes of information that these tools provide are playing an ever growing role in sport. Springbok fans are familiar with the GPS data collection units between the shoulder blades on the players’ shirts that track speed and distance.

This year, the South African Rugby Union partnered with Silicon Valley’s leading sports science technology company, Kitman Labs, to turn data into real-time actionable insights to reduce player injuries and optimise athlete performance. Soon, a GPS-chipped rugby ball could end debate over dubious tries or controversial knock-ons.

A multitude of new records is expected at this year’s Rio Olympics thanks to real-time data analytics. Meanwhile, overseas teams and leagues like the NFL, NBA, and soccer are likewise using big data and analytics to enhance training and identify fatigue and injuries. Real-time tracking in Formula 1 and sailing is helping those sports to become more spectator-focused.

  1. Immersive video

South Africa's world first live broadcast of immersive video from a mountain biker.

Immersive video allows fans to feel the race speed, emotion and excitement.

South Africa achieved a world first with the live broadcast of immersive video from a mountain biker riding in the race at the Absa Cape Epic. Delighted fans enjoyed the gritty handlebar view of former winner, Stefan Sahm, that jolted and plunged through breathtaking terrain over eight days. The never before seen camera angles helped capture the race drama and allowed users a far more compelling experience.

Wearable broadcast systems that are imbedded on players’ chests can beam footage direct from the court or pitch to our TV sets. Seeing the world from an athlete’s point of view allows the fan to experience sensations of speed, emotion and excitement like never before and is destined to attract new fans and viewers.

  1. Social media

Sports fans are social animals, sharing their highs and lows on Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, YouTube, and other social networks. Social media has enabled fans to have direct access to their heroes while offering unprecedented, real-time engagement before, during and after game-time for sports properties and their sponsors.

The best accounts incorporate action shots, behind-the-scenes images, short videos, and fan-friendly pics telling an integrated and compelling story. Using fan content, crowdsourcing, activations and hashtags – like the Springbok’s #LoveRugby campaign – many teams have been able to capitalise and increase fan fervour.

  1. Augmented reality (AR)

AR offers an enhanced world that has been supplemented with useful or entertaining digital information. For a great example of its benefits, look to the success of Pokemon Go. Released in early July, the game immediately became one of the most popular games of all time, surpassing Twitter and Facebook in daily users in less than two weeks.

Locally, the SA travel industry has been quick to catch on and interested customers have been able to take interactive holiday tours or check out 3D markers for nearby restaurants, bars, and other businesses in real time.

Internationally, sports has been an early adopter of AR. As teams battle to get fans off their couches and into the stadiums, AR offers something unique. Great content and rewards that are only available in-stadium can make attending a live game special again. Imagine sitting at Newlands or Ellis Park and being able to use an app to identify on-field players, get detailed stats and track their position and speed. It also gives sponsors access to an engaged audience that can follow call-to-action campaigns that are innate to the experience.

  1. Virtual reality (VR)

    Virtual reality brings sports fans closer to gripping world-class action

    Virtual reality is the next frontier in the sports experience.

VR is the next frontier in the sports experience. With 85 hours of this year’s Rio Olympics viewable through a VR headset, viewers will be brought even closer to gripping world-class action. Next time Bafana Bafana is playing in Gabon or the Springboks are in Australia, you might be able to be there from the comfort of your lounge.

Utilised within sports training, VR allows players to endlessly repeat a move and many professional athletes and teams have been using the technology to help fine-tune their skills and make quicker, better decisions. For NFL players, it has enabled them to gain a competitive edge without the risk of concussion – a keen advantage not lost on rugby players.

Just like with AR, the virtual landscape allows organisers to programme in more branded sponsorship content, further enabling the sport to grow its investment.

World of potential…

The opportunities for rights holders and sponsors to innovate within this space are vast. The tech can be used to either lure sedentary fans off their couches and back into the excitement of a live game or to promote watching the event at home with all the bells and whistles.

This revolution in the live sports experience is destined to build on fans’ passions, driving engagement while allowing sponsors to be embedded further into the experience and conversation.