Lessons from Sports Illustrated’s Special Augmented Reality Issue

For about a decade now, may of us have been walking around with mini computers in our pockets. Access to media, to information, to apps, to, well the World Wide Web. So the question for content producers and brands becomes – how can that mini computer be utilized to add to experiences.

Augmented reality – and how it uses the phone’s camera to bring up content based on trigger recognition of physical objects. Pictures can literally come to life. For the most part, AR is being used to trigger content delivery, to be overlayed in the real world using the camera.

You have likely seen AR in the Pokemon Go App, and it is now making inroads in sports and sports media more than ever. From bringing up interactive games to supplemental info and content, AR is allowing content to be found and enjoyed using nothing more than the phone’s camera and some trigger.

I recently checked out an AR-fueled edition of the Sports Illustrated magazine. While their print sales have no doubt fallen over the years, they’re bringing more value by making their magazine come to life, and delivering content that goes beyond just the pages in the mag. The use of AR should evolve quickly, but here are a couple of takeaways from the SI experience (which also included 360 videos, as well as VR content – which I plan to try)…

Additive Content

There was an article about a college football player, which included quotes from his friends and family. Want more? Hold your phone over the page and a video feature story pops up that goes beyond the content in the article and greatly enhance the emotional response to the story.

Not Perfect

While the functionality wasn’t perfect at first, I was more than willing to spend a handful of extra seconds to get it going. This delay and imperfect quality is okay for now – the novelty and the ‘I gotta see this’ is still kickin’ – but it will become less tolerable over time. The Life VR app – while very large data-wise – easy to use to access the AR content and 360 videos.


What kind of content?

A story about an NFL draft pick gave a glimpse at the interview between the author and the player, allowing deeper insight into the content of the article. This was a solid supplement  and there is a certain novelty to watching the video on the pages of the magazine as opposed to directly on my phone’s screen [the only ‘AR’ thing happening here, differentiating it from a QR code pulling up a link on my phone].

The novelty of watching the video on the page was there, but even the best supplemental content is still, well, the same content I could see on the phone screen, while I continue reading the pages, too. So where can this all go? Anyone’s guess is as good as mine, but it’s going to be about making the content smarter and more aligned with the physical world aspects triggering it.

What could this mean? Maybe it’s a full page photo showing our player on behind center, and all of a sudden he takes the snap and drops back for a touchdown pass right there in front of us, almost like a hologram. Or maybe he has a tattoo that means a lot to the story and – boom – that tattoo appears on my forearm [through my phone’s camera] to step into his shoes and get a closer look.


We’re just getting started with focusing on the reality part of AR, and it will be cool to see our connected world get even cooler.

Where it can go next

How can sports media capture more and more attention and bring more fans to their real estate (apps, et al.), especially during live games – that most valuable of all time? Augment real-time reality. One can only imagine what that could look like. Hold your phone’s camera over the football field and maybe you can toggle to track the speed of a wide receiver on a given play, get a player in your phone camera while he’s in the batter;s box and check out his fantasy stats and whether he’s available in your league, scan your phone over the crowd and see small dots or spotlights noting the presence of a Facebook friend or LinkedIn connection. When augmented gets more real, the usefulness of the use cases are, well, augmented.

But there’s also VR and 360 video

In addition to the AR content, the Life VR app also had 360-degree video and virtual reality content to go along with the story in SI capturing a journey up Mount Everest. This more immersive content, which requires undivided attention, brings another element to the content not possible with just AR. With every VR and 360 experience [perhaps still because of novelty a bit], I am overcome with the desire to, well, look around. To check out of all the surroundings with an air of anticipation, not knowing what could be behind me, next to me, or above me.


There is a value to being an early mover in VR and AR, capitalizing on the curiosity, novelty, and interest [provided more and more sample the tech and adopt it] in thee new media features. The best thing one can do for now is to sample the content out there, learn about it, study it, talk to others about their experience with it (especially the newbies! And especially the youngsters!), and, then, figure out if it’s right for your fans, for your content, and for your objectives.

Remember to be additive to the experience. And remember, in the long run,  to try and heed both words in the term ‘augmented reality.’


Leaders Summit Day 2 Recap: FC Barcelona’s Biz, Sports Sponsors, eSports, & More

In March 2017, Leaders Performance Institute held their annual Leaders Summit in New York, bringing together leaders from the sports business world.

This is a collection of the best quotes, stats, insights, and observations shared via #Leaders17 on Day 2 of the event. Thanks to everyone whose tweets helped fuel this recap!

Check out the Day 1 recap, too.

What Takes Sports Tech From Emergent to Mainstream

Many of us live in a bubble. If you’re reading this, then terms like AR, e-sports, and wearables likely don’t sound so foreign to you. But the average person would likely be left with blank stares at the mention of such jargon.

A new idea or tech isn’t mainstream when it hits SportTechie, it’s when it hits the masses (whether that’s TV, New York Times, or your favorite team) that tech has really taken off.

It can be easy to take for granted that most people aren’t informed or aware (or care to know about) emerging tech in sports tech and digital/social in sports. Joe Schmo hasn’t tried VR, probably doesn’t know what AR stands for, and would be wide-eyed learning about all the big data and insights penetrating all facets of sports and teams.

The teams can drive the awareness and adoption. The Internet of Things, VR, AR, big data, and the like can be effectively introduced to the masses by the millions of sports fans. It’s when Joe Sports Fan starts to understand and to care that tech or an idea can from curiosity to perceived reality.

“As teams start to capitalize on [using new tech for fan engagement]…is where something can find success,” said Diamond Leung, Managing Editor of SportTechie. “When it starts getting into the Average Joe’s world view…it can be successful.”


Leung went further saying that, because so few of us own virtual reality headsets, augmented reality has the better short-term outlook. Why? Because we all have smartphones already. But whether it’s AR or VR or MR or advanced statistics, or whatever, it’s ultimately up to the teams and the media to create the content through which fans will utilize such new tech to consume. Awareness of AR and VR may grow, but without the content, it’s just an idea. And it’s through an app, but mainstream distribution. For now, this means social media and television.

“When you put it on TV, that’s when it gets mainstream,” said Leung, specifically referring to the gradual integration of advanced stats into game broadcasts. I think as some of these next-level analytical stats get measured (with wearables or other trackers)…I think if you can provide that information to broadcasters and that information becomes something valuable to a fan and be looking at it through AR…

“I think that’s where it really takes off; easily accessible. Something that gives you that next-level access to what’s going on on the field – I think that works for both players and fans.”

This also means teams and media must be able to realize value, a real or perceived ROI on the investment in resources and tools to create such advanced content and present such advanced data to fans. If media and leagues and teams can’t make money off live-streaming VR or creating AR, it won’t last too long. Another key is getting buy-in from the players and teams. What if the NBAPA doesn’t want fans knowing which player on the team has the most efficient fitness and work ratio? Are players going to devote even more time to co-creating content with teams (another can of worms with individual players’ increasing awareness and building of personal brands and content) because a team wants to shoot a VR piece after they’re done with ‘traditional’ media obligations? The bureaucracy and red tape, along with the ROI needs of the businesses, may be a temporary or perilous hindrance to the further advancement in this space.

“I think, for the current technologies, a lot of [the potential issues are] going to be haggled out in how they address wearable devices, in how they address data,” said Leung. “Who owns it, who can use it, who has access to it. Everybody understands that these things are going to be a factor moving forward, it’s just a matter of how they hash it out, how they regulate, and how they embrace it, to the point where it can be useful for both parties.”

The last ten years have maybe seen more rapid change in sports and sports fandom, and society in general, than any decade in history. It’ll be tough to match. But the next ten years will see more gradual infusion of new tech. Millions of fans won’t get VR headsets overnight or welcome advanced stats into their broadcast, among other behavioral changes.

Get to know Joe Schmo. If you want to have idea for when to go all in or whether you’ve effectively moved the needle, it goes back to Joe. The path ahead is sure to be full of twists and turns, but there is no doubt that, ten years from now, the sports world will look a whole lot different than it does today.

LISTEN to my full conversation with Diamond Leung, Managing Editor of SportTechie



Episode 82 Snippets: Kurt Stadelman is Turning EA Sports Into an Engaging, Trusted Voice

On episode 82 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Kurt Stadelman, Senior Social Media Manager for EA Sports.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn