Forget the upgrades, virtual stadiums will save you

Adam Vaughan Roar Pro

By , Adam Vaughan is a Roar Pro

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    It hasn’t been a great week for the NRL, business wise at least.

    First it was the banks allegedly knocking back their $30-million loan request. That’s bad enough. And that is an issue that can be dealt with on another day.

    But then there was the news that the Alliance of Moore Park Sports (AMPS), made up of Moore Park tenants including the NRL’s Roosters, AFL’s Swans, ARU’s Waratahs, Cricket NSW, A-League’s Sydney FC and the ARU itself, had gone on the offensive by putting pressure on the NSW government to have Allianz Stadium upgraded before ANZ Stadium out at Homebush.

    The SCG Trust have apparently been exerting their own pressure, but this might just get them over the line. Considering only the NRL and the A-League have reportedly been the only ones fighting for ANZ to be first, the NSW government may just look after Moore Park simply by weight of numbers.

    And that would be fine if this actually solved a lot of the problems associated with going to a live sporting event in Sydney, but I doubt that is going to happen. The stadiums might be better, but that’s about it.

    I’m not sure thousands of people, who currently don’t go to sporting events in Sydney, will all of a sudden head to Moore Park or ANZ just because the seats are little shinier than they used to be.

    I think the sports, the government, and to a lesser extent the television broadcasters, have got it wrong.

    We have become a society that doesn’t want to go to games, especially in Sydney, which has a population of around five million people. That’s a lot of people.

    Yet, even with five million people, Sydney can’t fill any of their stadiums on a regular basis. In fact, most of the time they don’t even come close to filling them. Other cities, especially Melbourne and Brisbane, don’t seem to have this issue.

    NRL Finals empty seats

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    The reason is easy to see but very difficult to fix. It is Sydney’s infrastructure, or more to the point, a lack of it.

    People can get to, and get away from, many sporting venues in many other cities because infrastructure around their sporting venues was part of the planning to begin with.

    Sydney’s infrastructure is appalling. You can’t even call it an afterthought. It’s more like an afterthought of an afterthought.

    Until this is revamped and fixed, it is hard to see Sydney ever selling out any sporting event unless it is a blockbuster.

    Now, Blind Freddy can see that this is never, ever going to happen.

    So why are we going through all of this? Why are they spending billions on this exercise when it could be used for much more important things like, oh I don’t know, the haemorrhaging health system? Getting more police on the street? Making notorious traffic black spots safer?

    It’s just a thought.

    However, when it comes to filling stadiums and appeasing the game, fans and television networks, I think there is a way to make everyone happy.

    Very happy.

    But you have to broaden your horizons.

    Professional sport relies on television rights deals more than ever, but the television networks have apparently reached their “tipping point” according to Seven West Media big-wig Tim Worner. Others are singing the same song, and if you’re a sports body, it sounds like a really sad blues tune.

    It’s not good news.

    So, you need to get more bums on seats. You need more memberships. You need to sell more jerseys, scarves, hats and flags. That will help, and make the networks feel better because their product looks better when people are in the stands instead of empty seats, but it won’t be enough.

    But what if we look outside the norm? What if we look at what other sports around the world are looking at? What if we look at what life will be like in 20-30 years from now?

    What if we look at virtual reality?

    Now, stay with me here.

    Yes, it is early days and there is a lot of development still required, but the potential offered by virtual reality is something the television networks, and the sports themselves, cannot pass up.

    Essentially, instead of trying to bring people to the game, why not bring the game to the people?

    And when I say people, I mean anyone with a VR headset. 20 years from now, that will be a hell of a lot of people.

    Why you ask? Because other sports, much bigger than what we have here in Australia, are already dabbling with it. And they are driving the technological advancements required for VR to become mainstream.

    Major League Baseball, the NHL, the NBA and even NASCAR have entered the VR world. The NFL is starting to incorporate VR into their operations. The Baltimore Ravens even used it in preseason training this year.

    The EPL, La Liga and Bundesliga have also embraced it.

    And the possibilities are almost endless.

    Just imagine putting on your headset and being at Yankee Stadium. Or Old Trafford. Or the Super Bowl. Or the NRL grand final.

    Now imagine looking beside you and you see your mate’s avatar sitting next to you, and you can talk to them as the game goes on. Oh by the way, did you know you’re sitting in a corporate box? Or maybe you’d like to be on the sideline next to the players? Or maybe you’re one with the people as long as you’re in the best seats in the grandstand?

    Want the atmosphere of the crowd? Pump in the noise of everybody else watching from the comfort of their own home. Want to listen to a bit commentary? Select the option and hear what the experts have to say.

    North Queensland Cowboys fans NRL 2016

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    What’s that blocking the way? An advertisement? Get rid of that by paying a fee to the provider.

    All sorted. If you want to watch for free, you get the ads. But you also get restrictions on what you can do. Pay another fee, and the consumer’s choices multiply.

    It’s a money making machine because the sports and providers aren’t restrained by geography, or the real world come to think of it.

    The world is their oyster.

    But what about the players? Where is their atmosphere?

    Well, instead of having huge stadiums surrounded by empty seats, surround them with massive screens where they can see the avatars of all of the people watching. And then have the actual virtual crowd noise pumping through speakers. In essence, your TV audience is now your crowd.

    You think the roar of 100,000 people is something else? Try 2,000,000 people from all over the globe. All there to watch you score a try to win the grand final. Kick a goal to win the World Cup. Or hit a home run to win the World Series.

    Not bad, eh?

    Welcome to the future.

    It’s already here.

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