The return of the Bundesliga the past two weekends was in many ways a bittersweet experience. 

The wait for live soccer (any sport at this point would be great to have back) to return was incredible and something we have all been eagerly waiting for. But it was tempered somewhat by watching a game without fans, without ambiance and without many of the things that make soccer such an amazing sport. 

How do sports, especially for fans watching at home look in the future? It’s a question we are hearing a lot. And it makes sense. Sports are about more than just the sport itself, but about experiences. 

So how do you possibly get an in-home viewing experience when there are no fans? No songs being sung? No crowd noise? The answer to that maybe what the folks at OZ are doing. OZ partnered with a company called RVX to “launch OZ ARENA, using innovative AR technologies that are set to bring fans from home into live broadcasts”

What does that mean? Let’s let OZ take the reign here:

“Venues might be physically deserted, but through cutting edge augmented reality and visual effects – the likes of which have been embraced in the world of esports and streaming – fans will still be able to be at the heart of the action. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Introducing the new game: welcome to OZ ARENA.

OZ Sports and RVX, whose most recent work has been seen in various Hollywood blockbuster movies and TV series, are rolling out new technology and services for rights-holders of leagues to make the experience more engaging for the fans. With the new solution, which also integrates into the wider OZ Connected Stadium, spectators can be dynamically added to live broadcasts with the use of advanced augmented reality technology. Fans can pick their avatar, club’s shirt, have their face painted, and even appear in the stadium in their favorite seat. Fans can also get their voice heard, by participating as either audio-only or with immersive visual participation in the live broadcast.”

Imagine that, you might not be able to be at the stadium, but your digital self can be. You can sit in your favorite seat, wear your team’s jersey and feel like you are in the middle of it all. That’s pretty wild and pretty cool.

But it continues…

“OZ ARENA tech can either completely replace the stadium entirely or augment spectators into existing empty stadiums. The process is added to each camera in the feed in the workflow opening up support for multi-camera processing.

OZ ARENA has advanced audio support, where fans can use an app to add live audio to the broadcast. The servers aggregate all fan audio, using low-latency time synchronization and AI algorithms, to manage volume levels, enabling fans to yell as loudly as they like remotely, without overpowering the audio stream. These solutions enable broadcasts to maintain full integrity and sound effects during fan-free games. 

OZ ARENA has advanced audio support, where fans can use an app to add live audio to the broadcast. The servers aggregate all fan audio, using low-latency time synchronization and AI algorithms, to manage volume levels, enabling fans to yell as loudly as they like remotely, without overpowering the audio stream. These solutions enable broadcasts to maintain full integrity and sound effects during fan-free games.

The idea is to protect the integrity and experience of the game, by turning the attention away from the empty stadium, and instead of replacing it with appealing surroundings to make the game more interesting, and as close to reality as possible. These are times to explore and experiment, to make sports even more appealing and to bring it closer to the latest developments in sports” continued Gudjonsson.

“The idea is to protect the integrity and experience of the game, by turning the attention away from the empty stadium, and instead of replacing it with appealing surroundings to make the game more interesting, and as close to reality as possible. These are times to explore and experiment, to make sports even more appealing and to bring it closer to the latest developments in esports” continued Gudjonsson.

I caught up with Matt Charles “Charlie”, COO of OZ to ask him a couple of questions on the new technology and the role it might have with fan experiences going forward.

Q: How does this work for a consumer in terms of watching the augmented games? Can I just watch it on my TV? Do I need to watch it on an app? What is the consumer experience like?

A: There is no difference for the consumer on how to watch. The rights-holders of the augmented matches have full control over where to broadcast. This may be a secondary version of the match, in the broadcaster’s apps, or be the prime broadcast. 

Q: Does this allow viewers at home to customize their own experience with games? Could my viewing experience be different than yours based upon individual preferences?

A: Fans sign up before the game and pick their avatar based on their preference on “clothing” and jerseys to wear. This happens on the web and from a web app from a link from the broadcaster’s website. 

Q: When fans are able to return to stadiums, could an at-home viewer still be able to customize the game if they choose to?

A: We certainly hope so. We are all learning on how the sports viewing experience is transforming in the digital age. 

Q: Do you see this as the future of live sports and events? 

A: We absolutely do! We can see opportunities for leagues to engage their global audiences by offering them an ARena experience putting them in the stadium, wherever in the world they are located.

The world is looking quite a bit different than it was a few months ago. But there are creative people and clever companies that are pushing ahead and creating new opportunities in real-time. 

I absolutely look forward to seeing fans in stadiums again, but the OZ ARENA will no doubt have a role in what the future of sports looks like. 

Head to OZ for the full press release.

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