Augmented Reality and Sports: A Rapidly Growing Romance

“Most assessments of the augmented reality trend,” posited a 2009 New York Times article, “include speculation that the hype will fade.” And the prediction was plausible, since the biggest augmented reality splash, of that times, was a souped-up “Avatar” figurine that transformed computer desks into digital dioramas with blue aliens.

But the prophecy, as it turns out, was wrong. Here we now sit, just short of a decade later, and augmented reality is poised to become the next, big digital thing. Developers compete for “Auggies” at the Augmented World Expo (AWE), and just a few months ago, a rogue artist committed the first act of AR graffiti vandalism on Snapchat’s digital version of Jeff Koon’s golden balloon-dog statue.

But activist artists and social media companies aren’t the only entities climbing aboard the augmented reality train. Sports teams and athletic brands are enthusiastically embracing the technology to engage fans and enhance training options.

NFL’S FACE PAINT FILTERS

A pendant and handful of Polaroid pictures — that used to be the norm when it came to stadium memories. But in these halcyon days of digital filters and social media, stadium selfies are a lot more high tech — and several NFL teams offer game-day face paint filters.

Fans in the stands at Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos games can use an augmented reality app that overlays a flawless, fan-face paint job, which can be instantaneously shared on social media.

RUNNING AND CYCLING APPS

Both the developers of a “social network for athletes” and the makers of an augmented reality workout app, Strava is taking advantage of AR technology to visually and statistically enhance the training sessions of both professional and hobbyist athletes. Want to feel like you’re running through a mountainous oasis, even though you’re stuck in a suburban subdivision? Strava may be able to hook you up.

THE MACHINES, ESPORTS FIRST AR VENTURE

Over the past decade, esports events have gone from niche-obscurity to widespread popularity. Professional sporting leagues are building corresponding esports divisions — complete with teams and tournaments; brands looking to reach the coveted 18 to 35 demographic are clamoring to secure potentially lucrative sponsorship opportunities in the space.

Enter The Machines. A new multiplayer, competitive, augmented reality game, players can use features in their physical locations as “tactical advantages.” It’ll be interesting to see how the esports community embraces The Machines. To some degree, part of professional gaming’s allure — apart from some equipment disparity issues — is a level playing field. Will there be sustained interest in games with location variables that could affect performance and outcome? Time will tell.

VIRTUAL TRAINERS

Obsessed with perfecting your golf putt? New apps like PuttView can help. As you have probably already guessed, PuttView is an augmented reality app that maps out ideal ball paths and serves up practical advice.

DribbleUp is another AR athletic trainer. A program sure to please that tiger-soccer mom in your life — (if not their would-be prodigy) — DribbleUp is an at-home training program that stresses “soccer ball mastery” and dolls out daily dribbling drills.

STATS APPS

You’re at the ballpark. Kenley Jansen steps up to bat. You whip out your phone and point it at home base. Voila, thanks to At Bat — an over-the-top (OTT), augmented reality app that provides statistical data on MBA players — you can see Mr. Jansen’s averages.

These types of OTT applications are growing in popularity and will likely become a stadium staple over the next several years — for nearly all professional sports.

Consumer feedback platforms, like Yelp!, are also incorporating OTT features in apps, allowing users to see ratings and reviews of stores and restaurants by just pointing a phone or smartwatch at the establishment.

APPLE’S ARKIT

Apple is also enthusiastically throwing its hat into the augmented reality ring. The cutting-edge company released ARKit, a development platform that allows programmers to create augmented reality apps and filters. It’s is a huge hit, and industry analysts expect big things to emerge from the program. Health and fitness apps are a lucrative niche and will likely represent a chunk of the ARKit offerings.

As we continue to explore our Brave New (Digital) World — smartphones in hand, at eye level — expect augmented reality offerings to grow exponentially.

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