Remember that old playground argument that you could never call yourself a true fan of your club unless you’ve been to see them play in their home ground?
Well, that will soon be a thing of the past.
Virtual Reality technology has slowly been making waves in the past couple of years as it hits the mainstream consumer markets, but for football fans, the Champions League final will bring about a whole new experience.
BT Sport announced they will be broadcasting Saturday’s match on 360-degree virtual reality, meaning for the first time ever fans will be given the chance to watch the biggest match in world club football from the side of the pitch, or in the crowd at the Millennium Stadium.
It all sounds a bit like something from Tomorrow’s World.
So Dream Team caught up with Simon Gosling, a futurist and expert in VR with tech gurus Unruly, to explain everything VR can bring to football fans in their own living rooms.
Dream Team: It looks like VR will change the way a normal viewer watches football, but how?
Simon Gosling, Futurist: Content creators and broadcasters will need to consider how to give viewers the feeling of being there without leaving the comfort of your sofa.
For example, a true fan would love to know what it feels like to be in the dressing room during a half-time pep-talk, or how it feels to walk out of the tunnel and onto the pitch in front of a roaring home crowd.
VR, with spatial sound, which delivers the audio through headphones from all directions, can do this like no format we’ve seen before.
Also, when it comes to viewing the game itself, the ability to turn your head to watch the action from wherever it’s happening is a real game-changer.
Imagine viewing the action from a small 360 camera mounted on the crossbar, giving you a goalkeeper’s eye view of the match.
You can watch as the opposition breaks through, follow the ball as a cross comes in to the moment it connects with the striker’s head and is either saved, or goes flying into the back of ‘your’ net.
You can then listen to the cheers as they erupt around you.
I’m not sure, however, that we’ll want to watch an entire game wearing a headset.
So I think we’ll probably get to a point where you watch a regular 2D TV match but have the option to view replays using your VR headset.
Brands are currently developing ‘self-contained’ VR headsets which won’t require a phone inside them.
This advancement will lead to us being able to watch a live match on TV, then, when a VR icon appears on screen (much like a red button), we’ll be able to put on our self-contained VR headset to view the 360 content that the broadcasters have transmitted.
There’s an important word to consider when it comes to VR – ‘presence’.
What makes VR so important is that it immerses you in the heart of the action, eliciting a stronger emotional reaction from viewers and making people feel like they are actually there rather than just being an observer. And this is the important next step for watching sport on your TV.
DT: The Champions League final is going to give fans a taste of that – is it likely that people around the world will soon be able to watch games from ‘inside’ the stadium more widely?
SG: Yes it is, and they will also be able to switch between cameras through voice activation, should they choose.
So they’ll have the choice of either watching the broadcast edit or they will be able to call out for which camera view they want to watch from themselves: ‘halfway cam’, ‘home crossbar cam’, ‘far corner flag cam’.
Advances we’ve seen in video games such as the FIFA franchise, for example, in which you have the ability to switch views and rotate around an image, will translate to real footage.
DT: How long do you think it’ll be until it becomes commonplace for fans to be watching through VR at home?
SG: Sky VR has captured the highlights of Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Manchester United in VR., which can still be seen through the Sky VR app.
It allows you to watch the action from various points around the stadium, including behind the goal.
Of course, the next stage will be the ability to watch live football matches in VR.
I would predict that – based on current activity, plus hardware and tests that I have seen – early adopters will be able to enjoy VR football in three years’ time and that it will become commonplace in five years.
DT: What is holding VR back in the home at the current stage?
SG: Expense. The best VR devices, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, are still upwards of £1,000.
Less expensive devices, such as Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream require smartphones to be inserted into headsets, which some find a bit clumsy and confusing.
In addition, there is a lot of bad quality content out there and it can be difficult to find premium experiences if you don’t know where to look.