Earlier this month, the Virtually Live team was back on the demo road, this time around taking their talents to Berlin for the International Football Arena conference. That’s this IFA Berlin, not to be confused with that other IFA Berlin which was taking place the same week.

Major players of the world football landscape were all under the same roof for one day to hear from a variety of speakers and companies that had one vision in common: the FUTURE.

Darren Tilett (left) of beIN Sport and Greg Williams (center left) of Wired UK did an excellent job filling in as moderators for world-renowned future experts Marty McFly and Doc Brown (right), who were unavailable.

Seriously, that was the name of the #IFAconference Berlin’s game. The itinerary for the day included eSports, how VR will “turn the world of football upside down”,  “How will the fans consume their football in the future?”, “How clubs will deal with the future?” and “the wearable future is now!”

eSports: Look out, captain of the football team, a Pokémaster just stole your girlfriend!

eSports refers to competitive gaming and the enormous market that has been growing under it. Remember when you and all your college buddies would wager precious beer money over FIFA games on Xbox? Well that concept has scaled across the globe and doesn’t appear to be going any direction but up.

For the last 15 years, eSports has quietly (at least in the eyes of non-gamers) become a major worldwide entertainment mogul, with tournaments now being broadcasted on major sporting networks such as ESPN and featuring cash prize purses in the tens of millions.

According to industry leaders, they’ve only just gotten started. “The Computer gaming industry will eat Hollywood alive,” said Turtle Entertainment’s (and godfather of eSports) Jens Hilgers told IFA attendees.  “Millennials’ need for digital and passion for gaming is not going to go away. It’s only going to grow.”

At the rate the eSports audience is growing, gamertags of top eSports stars could be showing up on Wheaties boxes before you know it.

There were an estimated 71.5 million eSports audience (that’s just those watching) in 2013 and there are 2 billion computer gamers in world in total, creating 87 billion in revenue according Hilgers. By 2017, he expects the global eSports following (currently as big as Ice Hockey) to surpass American Football.

Don’t believe that the passion and energy of live sports as we’ve known it can be rivaled by joystick jockeys? Guess Again.

VR and Football: Convert Your Global Audience into Season Ticket Holders

The second portion of the day was a very special one. Not only did this panel consist of just one speaker, but that speaker was none other than Virtually Live CEO Tom Impallomeni.  In a session titled “Is Virtually Reality going to turn the world of football upside down?” Tom responded with an emphatic YES.

Recap to those new to the blog and Virtually Live. VL uses optical tracking data to render live player and ball movements on from the field to the virtual stadium, where fans from across the world can attend the game, pick any seat in the house, or even run onto the pitch alongside the action.

Quite frankly, VR is going to change much more than football, as Impallomeni provided current use-case examples in healthcare, construction and commerce.

Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey and Virtually Live CEO Tom Impallomeni share an intimate moment during Tom’s presentation.

But what was relevant to the footballers in attendance was how VR, and specifically Virtually Live’s platform, is going to change the landscape of broadcasting rights. Not only will companies looking to stitch together an immersive VR broadcast have to be accounted for via television rights, but technologies such as Virtually Live’s are going to create their own new medium of licensing. Impallomeni calls them “virtual rights” and sees them as augmentive to the current broadcasting model, not cannibalistic.

“We aren’t replacing the feeling of going to the stadium,” he says. “Rather it’s marketing the in-stadium experience to new audiences who would have no other means of doing so.”

The fans scream “ENCORE!” and VL CEO Tom Impallomeni returns for the afternoon panel.

Or something like that. Tom was at it again after lunch, joined by several panelists from various European media outlets (Roman Steuer, Sky Germany; Gabrielle Guedj, SNTV; Dr. Henning Stiegenroth, Telekom Deutschland GmbH) to discuss how fans will consume football in the future.

First and foremost every media outlet knows, especially in the age on cord cutting and on-demand content, how important sport is to both the existing and future television revenue models. Roman Steur of Sky Germany was quick to point out what many in television already know, the undenying power of sport’s live and unscripted narrative.

Along with the Emmys and Oscars, televised sports make up the few remaining medias that must be consumed live; and you probably don’t need to look at Neilson ratings to know that sports is on a different stratosphere than said award shows.

Not only that, but it’s on the content producers themselves to keep fans interested (and more importantly dollars) invested in all their favorite teams and athletes. Steur brings up how sky 360 is teaching producers more and more about their viewers and how while millennials prefer free content, are more than willing to pony up at the opportunity for content deemed “premium”

So How Are Clubs Going to deal with evolving fan behaviors?

That was what Ben Ladkin of Arsenal Media took the stage to set straight. Teams must not only acknowledge these changes in consumption behaviors but take a proactive approach in new mediums for fan engagement, for only after you have reach and engagement and you monetize.

While teams in the past were never responsible for taking ownership of their own content, they can no longer afford such neglect. In an age where content is omnipresent and redundant, clubs themselves are positioned better than anyone at creating and monetizing unique content that CAN’T be found anywhere else. Ladkin refers to team-related media groups such as Arsenal’s as the “official mouthpiece of the club”. He even went on to confess his fascination with eSports, pointing out that it’s his future fans that are playing those digital games today.

“Wear Your Device to Work” Day: Wearable Technology Tomorrow

The last panel of the day consisted of David Greenfield of Adidas and Billie Whitehouse of Wearable Experiments to discuss the technology that athletes are already strapping on and taking the field with today.

What is wearable technology? You probably are more familiar with it than you think. Fitbit, Google Glass, and even the Apple Watch all fall under this emerging industry of fashion gadgetry, all aimed at never taking you offline. “Our online and offline lives coexist and overlap,” claims Greenfield. “They are indistinguishable.”  Wearing technology, logging data and making sense of that data are all going to be emphasized moving forward.

But wearables aren’t just for the athletes and the coaches, fans will be able to utilize this technology to provide new unique consumption behaviors.  Billie Whitehouse of Wearable Technology took the scene by storm with her introduction of the Alert Shirt, being used by Fox to give Aussie footy fans empathy towards to impact the game has on a player. With the combination of apps and attire, fans can feel anything from the force of an open-field tackle to the heartbeat of a nervous kicker.

But while it is fun to technologize everything in and out of the world of sport, we must do so with caution. Whitehouse urges that we must always prioritize the human experience ahead of the technology, which juxtaposed interestingly with her screenshots of wearable tech undies. (Although there was at least one fan of said tech in the audience)

Well, that’s all for the day, just some closing remarks and a mention of the upcoming #IFAconference in Zurich headlined by…….EXCUSE ME?!

Any “end of the day” atmosphere inside the Deutsche Telekom AG was quickly taken speechless by the announcement of the next #IFAconference, which will be held in Zurich and feature an interview from none other than (still) FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Get yo’ popcorn ready.

-Spencer from VL


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