Mainstream VR for sports still 2-5 years off, says Warriors’ digital chief

Kenny Lauer, VP of marketing and digital for the Golden State Warriors, talks tech and sports

Mainstream VR for sports still 2-5 years off, says Warriors’ digital chief
Fredric Paul

Professional sports teams around the world—including the NBA’s Golden State Warriors—are working furiously to leverage all kinds of technology, from mobile connectivity and social media to player analytics and augmented reality. But according the Warrior’s vice president of marketing and digital, Kenny Lauer, it will be at least two to five years before virtual reality (VR), perhaps the most exciting new development, will achieve widespread adoption.

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According to the warm and approachable Lauer, who spoke at a FutureCast event put on by the AT&T Foundry at AT&T Park in San Francisco last week, VR requires a complex ecosystem, including hardware, content and many other factors.  

What VR needs

For VR to succeed, you first need an installed base of headgear, Lauer said, and then you need to put arrays of cameras in all of the arenas to capture the action. VR also needs to be less isolating: When you’re wearing a VR headset, for example, you can’t really high-five your friend after a great play, and you can’t enjoy a snack, either.

On the technical side, VR audio still needs work, Lauer noted.

“We need to improve on that quite a bit. … We need to mike up the court and deliver it to all parts of the arena. It fundamentally changes the experience,” he said.

Finally, “media rights is a big challenge for [all kinds of] streaming content” including VR, he added. It isn’t easy to get the leagues, the teams, the players, the TV networks, the equipment vendors, and everyone else involved all on the same page. And only “then you can figure out revenue!” 

VR can’t be stopped

Lauer is confident, however, that VR is going to happen.

“Ninety-nine percent of fans can’t be at the game,” Lauer noted, and 99 percent of the ones at the game are not courtside. “VR collapses the distance between fans and players. … It’s a no-brainer for sports franchises.”

Lauer is not worried that high-quality VR experiences will cannibalize the desire of people to come to live events.

“I do make a distinction between the live vs. online experience,” Lauer said. “There’s something uniquely powerful about being at a live event.”

For one thing, he added, only live attendance gives fans the feeling that they can actively affect the outcome of the game.

A Harry Potter bag of tech tricks for sports teams

Of course, VR is far from the only tech sports teams must focus on.

“We are a constant student of what is happening,” Lauer said.

Sports teams are in a lot of businesses, he notes, from the television business to the food service business, but it all adds up to the “experience creation business.”

“We have a Harry Potter bag of technologies we can use to create experiences,” Lauer said. “We are exploring other ways to bring people closer, [and] that’s valuable for other service-oriented business.”

The Warriors want to provide a variety of hooks for fans beyond when they’re watching a game.

Lauer said the Warriors are “evolving into an entertainment company that also plays basketball,” which may be why he wanted the word “digital” in his title.

“A lot of people want to talk to the head of digital,” he laughed. “No one wants to talk to the head of analog.”

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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