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November 25, 2016updated 30 Nov 2016 5:09pm

Virtual reality, the future of sport: NBA live streams as the NFL and Premier League play catch up

Will we all be watching our favourite sports events in VR next year?

By James Nunns

Whether it is as an educational tool, for movies, in the porn industry, or improving games, virtual reality is having a big impact across many areas.

The sports industry is another that has moved to embrace the technology in order to give fans a new and exciting experience that they can enjoy from the comfort of their own home.

English Premier League Football
International Rugby Union
Tennis – See the VR video below

With IDC predicting that virtual reality hardware sales will go past the $2bn mark this year, the race is now on for content providers to get on board and develop enough content to keep people entertained.

While hardware costs remain high this is something that will drop so it is wise of those in the sports industry to move to capitalise on the technology.

Already the market is seeing less expensive headsets appear in the WearPlay, which launched on Indiegogo and costs less than $200.

Sports teams, brands in their own right are embracing VR to get closer to the fans.

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The National Basketball Association has really become a leader when it comes to embracing virtual reality.

The league and its partner NextVR revealed earlier this season that at least one game a week will be broadcast in virtual reality. To complete the experience it will come with dedicated announcers, multiple camera angles and graphics that have been optimised for VR.

NextVR getting ready to record an NBA game.

NextVR getting ready to record an NBA game.

To access it fans need to have a full-season NBA League Pass subscription and the games can be viewed by using the Samsung Gear VR headset and the NextVR app, plans are afoot to support more headsets at a later date.

The NBA said in a press release at the time: “This programming marks the first regular schedule of live games delivered in VR by a professional sports league.”

Virtual Reality has previously been used by the league when it partnered with Oculus to create a 25 minute VR documentary called, ‘Follow My Lead: The Story of the 2016 NBA Finals’, which was narrated by Michael Jordan.


The National Football League revealed at the start of November that it had teamed up with Google to create a virtual reality series.

The nine-part series aims to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look into NFL life and it will focus on how the whole machine prepares for game day. The series will air on YouTube on Thanksgiving Day and it will launch later on the Google Daydream VR.

Virtual reality on display at the last Superbowl. (Photo: Marco della Cava, USA TODAY)

Virtual reality on display at the last Superbowl.

This series is the first time that the NFL has experimented with the technology aside from work with NextVR last season where it captured three football games and showed them to fans.

NextVR said at the time that it was ready to livestream events if the NFL agreed to it.

Currently most of the VR work with the NFL is focused around pre and post game content but the goal is to live broadcast games in the future.


Real football, not American football.

The Premiership has been testing out virtual reality for a couple of seasons now with limited success. Only a few matches have ever been broadcast live in VR but that doesn’t mean there isn’t interest.

On the 8th of May Sky Sports trialled the technology for the match between Manchester City and Arsenal and the broadcaster has made some efforts to kick start its virtual reality features with a 360-degree video interview with David Beckham.

Arsenal fans were able to enjoy beating Chelsea in VR.

Arsenal fans were able to enjoy beating Chelsea in VR.

Earlier this season BT Sport aired the Arsenal v Chelsea match (which Arsenal won 3-0) to fans in four EE stores around London.

BT Sport worked with LiveLike, a VR platform company, but that seems to be about as far as it has gone in the UK.

While its use is limited, companies like NextVR (again) is making a push to increase adoption. Earlier in the year the company live-streamed the match between Manchester United & Barcelona taking place in America.


Working in partnership with the ATP World Tour, LiveLike set up a broadcasting lounge at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in California.

Only done earlier this year this is the first real push from tennis to introduce virtual reality.

Fans are able to sit in a virtual box suite during matches in order to give them a perfect view as if they were sitting in the stadium.

LiveLike is introducing social media elements into its offering.

LiveLike is introducing social media elements into its offering.

Users were able to switch camera angles and leave the box suite so that they could move into a sideline view or any other view that is available in a traditional broadcast.

The company has also added in social experience features so that fans can talk with each other in real-time, regardless of location.


Efforts are very much in their early days with only a few matches having been broadcast so far, mainly thanks to the efforts of Samsung.

The company created a VR experience before England’s game v Wales in March in order to let fans try out a Samsung ‘School of Rugby’ game on the company’s VR headsets.

Virtual reality live-streams of matches are likely to increase over the next few years but like the NFL, much of the content at the moment is focused on pre and post match experiences.

Quick demo of the RBS 6Nations Oculus Rift app developed by Visual Analytics.

Not to be left behind, Specsavers, the official partner of the Rugby Football League and sponsor of the referees, recently used VR to show how challenging it is to be a match official.

Manning Gottlieb OMD and Fuse Sport + Entertainment created a Referee Challenge in a fan zone which put fans in the position of the referee and asked them to make the correct calls.

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