Los Angeles finally has a white Christmas — sort of.
When the Rams host the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon at SoFi Stadium, the matchup of 4-10 teams will also be the focus of augmented reality technology, both on television and inside the $5 billion venue.
In addition to CBS’ coverage of the game, Nickelodeon will air the ‘Nickmas’ coverage, its first version of the slime-filled AltCast for the regular season, which has impressed playoff viewers two years in a row.
Shawn Robbins, the game’s coordinating producer for Nick, said the network has increased the amount of AR on the show more than 10x. Viewers at home can expect to see a virtual Yeti stalk the field, moving across various camera angles and armed with snowballs, while Patrick Star joins the booth via the magic of live motion capture. Viewers at home will also see that the whole area of the stadium looks slimmed down.
“The first year we had slime cannons, the next year we had some AR pieces and a slime monster,” Robbins said. “And this year we’ve taken it to a whole new level in terms of AR controllability.”
Virtual technologies are not only the domain of television broadcasting. For fans in the stands at SoFi, the Rams will have a few tricks of their own. Nick and Snap teamed up with the team to practically lick the fans on the team’s 70,000 square foot infinity screen.
The Rams are also working with mixed reality company ARround to build their own multi-functional, app-based AR environment, Rams House AR. Users enter their seat numbers and help the app display a live augmented view of what they’d see if they put their phones down. On Sunday, fans will be able to take part in virtual snowball games as the pitch gradually turns white, or test their fingers in a 3D kicking challenge. Other elements appear on the screens (and seemingly on the pitch) in response to key moments in the game.
In early tests, Rams VP and GM of media Marissa Daly said the average user spends more than 10 minutes on the app.
“We’re hoping to definitely show you a great game of football … but I don’t play football,” Daly said in an interview. “And so we want to make sure that everything about that experience also makes you want to come back.”
While other franchises wave the towel or belt out classic anthems, the Rams rely on Hollywood-sized entertainment to build their brand.
“We were in Green Bay. [Monday]and they have a completely different philosophy than we do, and that’s okay, right? Different markets are different,” Daly said. “This city is waiting for an invention, a rebirth. They expect you to amaze them.”
There was a time when owners would cringe at the sight of fans pulling out their phones en masse during a game. But teams are increasingly not only accepting the practice, but encouraging it, pushing apps and QR codes that use advanced cameras and phone features to connect fans with each other.
As companies like Meta and Apple invest more in mixed reality hardware, these interfaces may change as well. It won’t be long, and fans won’t have to look up to the jumbotron for a replay or pull out their phone to check fantasy scores. Instead, both could be a tap on their glasses.
“We don’t want to be left out when it’s big, and we have to understand that,” Rams technical director Skarpi Hedinsson said in an interview. “That’s why I think what we’re doing in AR today with ARound and Snap is important because it gives us muscle memory.”
Thanks to the ARound platform, the Rams are also integrating AR scenes into their display board and another version of the experience for fans outside the stadium.
SoFi is the presenting sponsor of the Rams House AR, which shows that there is revenue to be made in these improvements as well. Elsewhere, the Rams have teamed up with Disney for previous Snap AR Lens displays, like when fans recently turned into Na’vi from the Avatar series.
Many of these elements, on Nick and on SoFi, may primarily appeal to the most mainstream cross-section of fans. However, over time, the technology will likely evolve in a way that improves the experience for even the most football-obsessed.
ESPN recently introduced three-point range markers to its NBA coverage, while the Clippers set up an alternate feed showing real-time shooting percentage. Amazon has added open receiver metrics to its version of Prime Vision Thursday night footballand the PGA Tour is partnering with an AR startup to give diehards a more immersive experience.
“I realize we’re doing silly things, adding a yeti and snow globes, but this can really be anything you want to wear,” Robbins said. “Anything creatively, anything that helps tell the story of the game better, all of those things will be seen. This is definitely the future.”