By: Stefan Kollenberg, @stef_kberg
New technology is trending in college sports. Things like equipment and insurance claims are being revolutionized. Next up is fan experience. While there are many technologies available, Penn State has chosen to build their own virtual reality experience for fans.
I had the pleasure of learning more about this new program in my discussion with Michael Cross, Penn State Assistant AD, this past weekend. Cross was brought in from Bradley University to take on a unique position with the Nittany Lions. He leads the New Business Development department, which focuses on finding innovative sources of revenue. This position was created in order to capitalize on the growth of new technology and innovation in sports.
In our discussion, we dove deep into their recent partnership with EON Sports VR, a company dedicated to improving sports both on and off the field through visualization software and 3D display technology. The main objective behind this partnership was to provide students, alumni and general fans the opportunity to experience Penn State athletics like never before. With a forward thinking video and marketing department, Cross thought it could be a perfect fit. Their team would do the filming, stitching and promotion of LionVision VR, while EON managed the core platform and provided the headsets.
Currently, the plan is to launch LionVision VR in late October, providing everyone who subscribes with a free Nittany Lions branded headset to use. Charging only a subscription fee of $29.95 for the first year, this is a great way to break past the biggest barrier to VR usage: the hardware. This will enable them to engage with people well beyond the walls of their campus, as fans will no longer have to travel to get a game-like experience.
At the moment, Cross mentioned that they, "...are focusing on building a large library of football content, but as they acquire more cameras and optimize their system, they will be moving into other sports." This includes everything from a fierce volleyball smash to a goalie’s POV of their hockey games. Their goal is to have all of athletics covered by the end of May 2017. This growth in content will help generate revenue, but it doesn’t end there.
After they build up a consistent and large enough user base they have the opportunity to grow this program through sponsorship. Cross' thoughts are to, "Not only place a brand on the physical headsets, but also monetize the access point for the platform and inside the VR experience itself." This creates many more sponsorable assets for them to use in discussions with brands and a more in-depth way for sponsors to engage with their digitally savvy audience.
The end goal with this program is to get to a point where they no longer need to charge a subscription fee. They would include this with the rest of their content, which is free of charge, as they want to focus on engaging fans and getting them involved with the organization for a long period of time. This platform will give them the ability to please all their stakeholders, especially their fans, alumni and sponsors, leading to long-term sustainability.
While this is a shiny new technology, it is also a great addition to their long-term business strategy. Near the end of our discussion, Cross made an excellent point in saying, “In a business where you are incredibly busy and there is constantly information coming at you, taking some time to look at your long-term plan will help you get to where you want to go.”
He firmly believes that you cannot jump into a new technology partnership simply because it seems like a great tool, it must also fit in with your long-term business objectives in order to be successful.
So remember, while this industry is moving at a lightning fast pace, always think about your long-term objectives when exploring new digital technologies.