Of Robots, Sex Dolls, Virtual Reality, Haptic Technology and Pitchside Diners – Part 2

The lack of fans at the stadium affects the fans first and foremost. Football is a spectator sport and the fans are there for entertainment. Fan culture is a part of participatory culture and currently, the fan isn’t able to participate immersively.

Here in lies the opportunity for technology. Can the immersive experience of being at the stadium be replicated for the fan without them being physically present? Before I get to that, let’s try and understand what exactly is the fan missing currently. For the match-going fan, it’s the whole experience – starting from downing those pregame beers, chanting at their favourite pubs with fellow fans, followed by the walk to the stadium, the chanting on the way, getting to their seats and continuing, the heckling of the opposition team and fans and belting out their favourite chants for all the players. It’s the post-game discussion with fellow fans on their way back and continuing that till the next game comes around. It’s being a part of the collective. For the non-match going fan, it’s the atmosphere – even a game watched on the telly is made more engrossing with the energy of the fans at the stadium. The loud cheer and the ‘rocking’ stadium when the home team scores just can’t be replicated with fan cut-outs and sound effects from FIFA.

Can technology bridge that gap? Currently, it lets a fan join in through video conferencing and cheer on from the ‘sidelines’. I think we have all been a part of enough zoom calls to know how immersive that exactly is. Now, throw in VR in this and we might be going somewhere. The NBA has demoed and successfully launched coverage in VR. It has received mixed reviews from people but it definitely has got the ball rolling when it comes to offering the fan more. Can football learn from this? You can judge for yourself here.

We have seen the rise of technologically backed stadiums all around the globe. But, with the current pandemic, the need of the hour is to give a seamless experience for the fan seated at home. Can VR replicate that? I, for one, feel that the VR experience, if done right, with the correct sound effects can be pretty immersive. What about the pregame beers, though? The UK opened up pubs last week. Hmmm, do not go gentle into that good night? From the first goers’ and servers’ accounts, it is either going to make everyone immune or send everyone back home. Coming back to the topic of pregame beers while maintaining physical distancing – how about this idea?

Is being ‘seated’ pitchside through VR enough, though? What else can enrich the fan experience? Haptic technology, maybe? Introducing Football Fan Shirt – a project that was kicked off 4 years back by Wearable X. The jerseys interact live with the game and let the viewer wearing it feel what the player on the pitch is feeling. Hmmm, I definitely would never want to feel what the player at the end of a two-footed Vinnie Jones tackle used to feel. Can this technology be used to replicate fan parks that have been so successful in popularising the beautiful game? Check out the technology in action.

Well, and if nothing else works, you can always take the fan out of the armchair and put them in the driving seat. Who really needs coaches, right?

This indeed is a very intriguing time to be a sports fan. Sporting Federations, Leagues and Clubs are going to go all out to appease the fan – the non-regular match going fan attaining more importance than ever now.

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