Author James Shelly

By now even the casual sports fan will be familiar with the recent data and technology revolution in professional sports. Thanks in no small part to the power of Hollywood – hello Moneyball- the story of how advanced metrics changed the evaluation of sports performance has been told and glamorized on a scale that must amaze some of the earliest practitioners of the sabermetrics movement.

But even though your grandmother might now understand that the three-pointer is the most efficient shot in basketball, there is a key area of sporting experience that remains strangely unchanged by technological and analytical advance – the live- viewing experience.

Purists lament that live sports-viewing has lost some of its charm in the modern era, and there is a case to be made that jumbotrons, fan-cams, and canned music at every dead ball represent a homogenization of viewing environments that used to be a more direct reflection of local cultures. But the unprecedented amount of data available to sports teams represents a vast well of untapped potential for augmenting the viewing experience. Put simply, sports organizations are short-changing their fans by offering just another mascot with a t-shirt cannon. Here are three innovations, achievable with existing or soon-to-be-existing technology, that could wow casual fans and diehards alike:

1. Projection Mapping
Projection mapping can turn the playing field into a canvas of compelling data and thrilling imagery. Imagine being in the stands at the US open and watching Novak Djokovic serve up an ace. Now imagine that as the ball hits the backstop, a ripple of light illuminates the wall and an M.P.H. value pops up on the court where the serve was struck. Then a brilliant beam of light traces the path from the point of contact back to the ripple impact, all in the amount of time it takes Djokovic to wipe the towel across his forehead. Would purists object? Probably. But stunning visuals like this could inject new life into a sport with viewership in long terms decline.

2. VR Viewing
Virtual Reality represents a holy grail for sports viewership. It allows the ability to watch action in hyper-real context from any angle imaginable. It could bring a fan from the cheap seats to the front row, or even from a couch to the press box. Even more intriguing, fusing VR with already abundant sensor technology could yield a viewing experience in which data readouts are transposed on top of real time action. You and your friend are sitting the upper deck arguing about the fastest man on the court? In 5 years you may be able to slip on a set of VR glasses and see speed bars displaying over each player’s head.

3. Sports Social
Social media and sports are a natural pairing, and terms like “NBA Twitter” are already shorthand for the thrilling coming-together that occurs around gameday – a mishmash of instant highlights, hot-takes, and humor. But no one has truly cracked the concept of a definitive live-event social platform. In theory, live sports could do so much better – everyone in the stadium is logged onto a platform featuring a mix of game stats, fan feedback, contests, and media – a sort of pure extension of the fan experience into the digital sphere. There would likely also be an exclusivity component, whereby anyone could follow along but only users geo-located in the stadium space could contribute. While Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are doing a passable job for now, we think that in the next 5 years, someone is going to re-define the social media component of live event viewing. We can’t wait.