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Podcast: Gudjon Gudjonsson, CEO of OZ Sports

OZ Arena is an augmented reality solution for sports broadcasting to make fans any game look like the World Cup’s Final.

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On today’s podcast, I am joined by Gudjon Gudjonsson to talk about an augmented experience for games in empty stadiums.

Interview Gudjon Gudjonsson, CEO of OZ Sports

Hello Gudjon, thank you very much for joining us today on the podcast. How are you doing today?

I am doing very good! Thank you for having me.

Could you please introduce yourself to the listener?

Yes. I am Gudjon GUDJONSSON, it is an icelandic name. I was born in Island but I have mostly lived in Europe and the US. I am currently running a company named OZ Sports.

You’re the CEO of a sports tech company named OZ Sports. Your main produt is the OZ Connected Stadium. Tell us more about what it does and who it is targeted to.

The Connected Stadium is mostly for soccer leagues but we can work with most stadium-based sports from fooball to basketball and ice hocker. When we start to work with leagues, they usually have 10 to 14 teams. What we do is that we install our system as a one-time set up at these stadiums. When we started the development of this solution in 2016, the philosophy was giving youth leagues the same experience as we can see in premium leagues.

The innovators at the companies are made of a lot of interesting developers including PhDs specialized on players and ball tracking, robotics. I gave the team a challenge: let a small youth league look like the World Cup Final. Over time we developped technologies relying on robotics and AI to make it possible. In the end, when we looked at these matches, we realized that the spectators were needed on these youth matches. So we built a technology to augment these games. We did some tests a few years ago with COMMEBOL, on the Copa America Feminine before the FIFA Women’s World Cup. We gave the women league an augmented experience that made it look like they were playing with as many spectators as the men’s World Cup Final.

This Augmented Reality solution is called OZ Arena. The main goal of that product is to recreate a visual environment that looks like the stadium is full and the crowd is cheering. Considering that most leagues will resume in empty stadium, OZ Arena could bring more energy to broadcasts.

With the pandemic, we decided to act. The rights holders and the broadcasters that have these rights but the experience is not the same in terms of making the experience appealing for sponsors and for the fans at home. We are offering rights holders to improve the exprience by offering fans to join in.

Fans sign up, they pick their seating area in the stadium and they pick their avatar. They can customize their avatar with the colors and the jersey of the club. Then they can appear in the stadium in the broadcast. The challenge in the broadcast is to start to augment it in a way that is as authentic as it can. We offer the fans at home to control their avatar and appear in the broadcast so that when you watch the game you can still have to 4,000 to 5,000 spectators in the broadcast. Fans can participate by shaking their phones and making the broadcast experience look great.

Fans can participate trought visual effects thank to their avatars. Can they be heard as well?

Yes, they can open up their mic on the phone. They can do their shouting and participate in the fan fair that way. We mix audio on our side to integrate it inthe broadcast when appropriate.

It is very interesting to know that they can react in real time to what happens in the stadium. It is the real added value compared to the use of recordings of past chants. How do you make fans join the experience? Do they come from a broadcaster’s website? From a team’s website? Or do they arrive directly on your portal?

When we work with a broadcaster, we offer them a very simple landing page that we install on the sub domain of the broadcaster. Before the match, the broadcaster will preset the augmented version and offer the fans to sign up and pick the seating and join in on the broadcast. We are more of a company behind the curtain. We supply the magic to make this happening. It is actually the broadcasters that present this to the fans.

It could happen that more fans try to connect than there are seats available in the stadium. How do you deal with that?

The capacity is limited. We are working on a first come first served basis. This is all about simulating reality and making the experience as authentic as possible. Even post pandemic, when fans come back to stadiums, we are still going to be using this technology in low-end leagues where we need to fill the stadiums. The interesting part with this new generation of the platform is that now we are augmented the avatars in the exisiting stadium whereas before we had a full stadium replacement solution. It is more authentic when you can appear in your favorite seat inside your favorite stadium, where you are used to go.

Who are you currently partnering with?

We are working with several partners but we have not announced them yet. We have a lot of new partners these days. Those are very busy times.

I can only imagine! Especially now that most leagues are discussing imminent resuming of competition. How does the OZ Arena lives on after fans are allowed back inside of stadiums?

We are all about servicing second divisions and women’s leagues to give them the same experience as premium leagues. What we are doing now with the arenas is to really focus on the most premium leagues. After the pandemic, we will roll out those premium features to the second division. Our goal is really to make a youth tournament look like the Champions League. That’s our purpose as a company: bringing amazing technology to every leagues.

That brings a lot of added value. It makes games much more attractive to sponsors by making fans at home more engaged.

Thank you very much for joining us today Gudjon. Where can the listenners find our more about you and OZ Sports after this podcast?

Leagues and rights holders that have an interest in working with us can access us very easily through our website oz.com. We have more information there if leagues are interested to do something about the situation.

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Check out more content about augmented fan experience: Hear Me Cheer: Bringing the Noise in Arenas
Check out more content in English.

 

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In english

Fan Controlled Football League (FCFL): The most exciting fan experience of 2021

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Fan Controlled Football League FCFL

The Fan Controlled Football gives fans the opportunity to take control of a football league from A to Z. First they decided on the rules of the competition and then they took over their teams. With an engaging fan experience and an ultra immersive broadcast, the FCFL concludes a more than successful first season. Will this type of entertainment league format become a standard in the sports industry?

fcfl-celebrate

Zappers celebrate a touchdown

Fan Controlled Football responds to a growing demand for more fun, more immersive and easy-to-follow competitions

The FCFL embraces the changes in the entertainment industry

Over the past 40 years, technology has had a strong impact on the way new generations entertain themselves. A strong participative culture has emerged from social media. The democratization of gaming has created a need for interactivity in entertainment. Our ability to access thousands of pieces of information at any given moment has led to the development of entertainment products that adapt their pace and duration to the different moments in which they are consumed.

“Fast paced. Hard hitting. No replay. Running clock. All action.”

FCFL website

Thus, alongside traditional big leagues, whose rules were often established more than a century ago, “entertainment leagues” are gaining in popularity. In general, their success is based on the same pattern.

  1. Start with a traditional sport.
  2. Shorten the length of a game to appeal to casual fans.
  3. Change the rules to make the game faster and easier to follow.
  4. Make games more immersive even if it means infringing on the sports aspect of the game.

These are changes that would be difficult for the public to accept if they were made by a traditional league like the Premier League, the NFL or the NBA. New competitions, on the other hand, can put entertainment first without any problem. Rugby X, the XFL, the International Swimming League and even, to some extent, Formula E have been doing this. The Fan Controlled Football League takes this concept to the extreme.

fcfl-action

A football competition where fans decided to speed up the action

The FCFL is composed of 4 teams: the Glacier Boyz, the Wild Aces, the Beasts and the Zappers. The competition is played every Sunday in a high tech studio with rules that were chosen by the fans. Football is a rather slow sport. In the NFL the average game lasts more than three hours. The action often stops. NFL teams have large squads within which 3 squads of 11 players take turns on a 100 yard field. The FCFL is played 7vs7 on a 50-yard field with no special squads and no kicking. These new rules speed up the game. Matches are played in less than an hour (two 20-minute halves) without replay, without stopping the clock. No need to book your whole afternoon to follow a game anymore.

“New rules and a new format maximize excitement, substantially reduce penalties, and BRING BACK THE FUN!”

FCFL website

Like the XFL, the FCFL has reinvented touchdown conversions. The new system is just like the game: fast-paced and impressive. No more kicking. Fans can choose to have their team attempt a 5-yard conversion for 1 point or a 10-yard conversion for 2 points. The conversions have a wide receiver and a defensive back in 1vs1 confrontation while the quarterback has 3 seconds to throw the ball to his teammate.

A competition in tune with Generation Z

At a time when Generation Z is turning more and more to gaming, the FCFL uses many of the codes of this industry. First of all, it is a form of interactive entertainment. The fan experience of a FCFL game is a hybrid between an NFL game, fantasy football and a game of “The Yard” on Madden. Visually, the league is reminiscent of the gaming industry. In addition, the competition is broadcast on Twitch, which is very popular among gaming enthusiasts.

The pace of the game and the short format of the games also correspond to the consumption modes of Gen Z who would prefer to watch the highlights of an NFL game rather than dedicating their Sunday night to watching a full game. The weekly draft system is in line with this younger generation’s tendency to be fans of athletes rather than teams.

Fans build the league and manage their team from the ground up

In 2015, the founders of the FCFL had conducted an experiment by buying a team, the Salt Lake City Screaming Eagles, and delegating all decisions to the fans: the team name, the logo, the jersey design, the coach, recruiting the players. Following the success of this pilot, they decided to take it to the next level by creating a fan controlled league.

The DNA of the Fan Controlled Football League is the involvement of the fans in 100% of the decisions. From the rules of the game to calling plays during games and picking the coaches’ outfit, the fans are in control everything.

“(…) [T]he idea behind Fan Controlled Football lives with every fan who has ever yelled at a TV screen, thrown a remote control across the room or cheered wildly when their favorite team finally did the thing they wanted them to do. ”

FCFL website

Even before the first game, the fans were already involved in the creation of the league

The fans are decision makers in the creation of the league. The game’s rulebook perfectly illustrate this. Under each rule you can find the different options offered to the fans and the option they chose. Among other things, the fans could decide on the rules for overtime, the penalty system or the definition of a catch.

“Unlike traditional leagues, our focus is on optimizing everything on the field and through the entire fan experience. If something sucks, we’ll work with the fans.”

– FCFL website

When they sign up on the FCF app, fans choose a team. Throughout the season they are asked to make choices for their team. Every Wednesday, fans decide which new players will make their team’s roster during the draft.

Halfway between sports and video games, Fan Controlled Football allows fans to guide the action on the field

Every fan registered on FCF makes decisions for their team even on game days. Fans decide on team composition, but more importantly, they decide on plays. Like in the video game Madden, fans see a selection of possible plays for the next down and have the opportunity to vote for the one they think is best. The offensive team has 10 seconds to start the game after their fans have decided which strategy they should adopt.

fcfl-calling-plays

Fans can call plays live during the game

Fans are even part of the competition

As a fan, you’re asked to make these decisions all week, and it’s not without consequences. Every good decision you make earns you FanIQ. Calling the right play in a game or drafting top players will increase your FanIQ. The more FanIQ you have, the more your votes count. Also, by collecting experience badges your votes will have more power in certain situations.

Throughout the week, fans have the opportunity to earn Team Power for their team. These are bonuses that can help players on the field. For example, fans can earn a 5th down for their team.

glacier-boys-celebrating

A Glacier Boy celebrating

What can traditional competitions take away from Fan Controlled Football?

The beauty of traditional competitions is that over the years generations of athletes compete for the same trophy under the same rules. Fans have built their own traditions with family and friends around these competitions. Enforcing rule changes like those in the FCFL in the World Cup, the MLB or the NBA would not make much sense. However, these competitions can learn from what happens off the field in the FCFL.

Less protocol and more show

The FCFL is an entertainment league. The players’ entrance does not follow a protocol it meant to be spectacular. They enter the field like WWE fighters. It is a show in itself. On top of that, the design of the end zone allows for wild touchdown celebrations. The extremities of the field are deep to give the players room to express their joy. They are also equipped with flashing lights, lasers and smoke machines to emphasise on the players’ joy.

Wild-aces-celebrating

Broadcast innovation

The viewing experience of the FCF games is very immersive. A drone is used to follow the action and offer fans a “Madden View” just like in the EA video game. Players are mic’d up. ActionStreamer provides helmets equipped with cameras to follow the action in the first person POV. The arena is also equipped with 180° VR cameras. Fans are up close and personal with the action. This type of set up can be replicated in any type of sport. The NFL and MLB have already experimented with microphones on players as well as the ActionStreamer helmets equipped with cameras. The XFL is taking it a step further by conducting interviews with players on the sidelines during the game.

fcfl-madden-view

Madden View

Push forward celebrities who contribute to the league’s hype

Each team has celebrity owners who have an affinity for football. For example, the rapper Quavo from Migos is a star co-owner of the Glacier Boyz. He was a quarterback for his high school team and is a big Georgia Bulldogs fan. Former Seahawks and 49ers cornerback, Superbowl winner and multiple All Pro, Richard Sherman is also a co-owner of the Glacier Boyz. Finally, the third interesting profile is the youtuber and tiktoker Deestroying joined them as co-owner of the Glacier Boyz. He is former kicker at UCF, the NCAA excluded him from the competition following his commercial success on Youtube.

These celebrities bring attention to the league and contribute to its success. It is important to involve them in the competition. The variety of profiles among team owners allows to attract a wide audience to the FCFL. Just like Drake plays a big role in the Raptors’ fan base, even without owning a team, celebrities who have a strong affinity with a club can participate in the growth of the community.

“Power to the fans” is the FCF’s motto and the league walks the talk. By handing the fans full control of the competition, the FCFL offers the most engaging experience in the sports industry today. While this league format will likely not become a standard, we can expect to see more and more entertainment leagues emerge alongside the traditional leagues. Traditional leagues can learn from the FCFL’s focus on pre-game shows, immersive broadcasting and communication around industry personalities. 

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In english

“How to engage fans during World Cup” with Marco Sansoni (FIFA)

Let’s discover how to engage fans during major events such as World Cup with a spectatorship services expert. We will come back in particular on the Brazilian World Cup.

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Brazil World Cup

We received Marco Sansoni, Spectatorship Services Manager at the FIFA. He worked on a lot of major events, especially World Cup, and has now a strong experience. He comes back for us today on these large events and how to engage fans during these ones. With the pandemic going on, he also talks about the new issues and solutions for the clubs or the leagues.

This interview is also available on our podcast channel that you can listen on every podcast platform.

Marco Sansoni, a spectatorship services expert

Within FIFA, I’m a spectator service manager, which is the first of a kind, where I’m working since approximately two years. I got involved in events during the last 15 years. I’ve been traveling around the world and worked in five continents. It was almost always focused on fans, and all aspects of the fan within the operation side as well. It was really a game changer in my career to be the first spectator service manager of the World Cup history, because until then, spectator services was basically an amount of volunteers, quite a big workforce that was allocated either to security or to the volunteers department in previous editions such as Germany 2006, and South Africa 2010.

It was also because of the issues with the crowd on one side, and because in Brazil, the culture in sporting events, especially in some cities, was that the seats were not assigned. Basically, first come first served at the stadium (that would not be acceptable for FIFA standards). So we had the challenge of a cultural change in 2007. It was really challenging. Since then, I’m pretty much stuck in football, except for the Rio 2016 Olympics that I’ve been working on. So I’m very happy to share all of this. Looking back now, I’m 42 and when I was a kid, I wanted to travel for work and I’m happy to have been loyal to that dream.

Rio Olympics - opening ceremonyThe Indian Express

Rio Olympics – opening ceremony

The best experiences encountered during his life

Torino is definitely in my heart. When a global event touches your country, you have some chance. And basically, everyone starts with a local global event. So that would be the first. The second, definitely as mentioned, is the FIFA World Cup. To give you an idea of the achievements, we can say that every World Cup is different, every event is different. It’s also in terms of size, think about the size of a continent or country as Brazil with 12 host cities. We have a distance from Manaus to Porto Alegre, so from Amazonia to almost Argentina with six hours flight.

I had 270 staff members that were managing approximately 4500 volunteers. Those volunteers of that world cup won the year after the FIFA Fair Play award (first time that it didn’t went to a player or an association). So this is something I’m really proud of among the 1000s of things that put this event in the top of my list.

Brazilian volunteers during World CupFIFA

Brazilian volunteers during World Cup

An incredible experience during the Brazilian World Cup

I have plenty of memories of that World Cup, which are not much related to the competition itself. The most iconic is probably the invasion of the Maracana Stadium, that might be interesting from an operational perspective. We had an invasion of spectators without tickets. It gathered approximately 200 people for Chile, who invaded the Media Center, the weakest point of the stadium.

“What is interesting is talking to the spectators, which is something I love doing while the match is going on or especially ahead of the match.”

The critical points are the entry moments. So basically, by talking to the to the spectators, you find stories which are amazing. Imagine the World Cup back in South America after so many years. We even saw an invasion of caravans from Argentina. The city of Rio, and furthermore, the cities in the south were literally invaded. In Rio, they invented, somehow, as very large camping. This tells you a lot about the Brazilian hospitality, towards the Argentinians again.

So the stories of the spectators, out of which are number one related to a father with his two children from Venezuela, who unfortunately bought fake tickets. And this is one of the issues, especially in high demand events. This person was crying out there, outside duty checker. I got closer to understand what was going on. And basically to know the fact that he had sold his own car to bring these kids there just to show them to be part in the stadium during the match of the national team. Well, that broke my heart. See, seriously, there’s nothing I could do, unfortunately. But these kind of stories that tells you about the passion, the real passion, and what football is all about.

What the pandemic changed and how clubs can engage the fans right now

The pandemic changed a lot of things. Basically, everyone is focused on producing new protocols, because in terms of health safety. We need to define new protocols, of course, but the first need was trying to keep in touch with the fans. So as in every other sector, basically boosting the digital transformation, meaning getting on a regular basis in contact, keeping them engaged through the social media, and in all other means.

“So we’ve seen a lot of activations, which were focused on the community engagement, which was a positive side effect of this virus.”

I’ve seen plenty of teams and leagues delivering even basic goods to get fans. There’s a famous action that my team AS Roma made and became famous, even broadcasted on CNN. It was the provision of basic needs to the oldest fans. This was a very good way to keep the fan base engaged in this period.

CNN

AS Roma helping elderly fans in Italy during pandemic

The different changes that will occur when fans will come back in the stadiums

I definitely believe that there is a positive legacy of this pandemic. The clubs and the leagues understood the power of community engagement, which was well known way before this but is stronger now. There’s a lot to consider here. So first of all, I put the fan in the middle also of my thoughts, not only my strategy. Basically, how was the fans’ loyalty challenged by the distance in terms also of time? In general, at least, the relation was challenged. It’s hard to keep that relation after a few weeks, after one month or two, so imagine after one year, would he or she still be loyal to me?

If we think about the experience we had in the stadiums as an average, especially before, it wasn’t always the best one possible. If we put that in parallel to a restaurant experience, while we will never go back to a bad restaurant, we are almost always going back to the stadium where we had that experience, in terms also of results. Even if your team lose that next sunday, even if you couldn’t buy a sandwich or a beer because the line was too long, or you finally got it but the beer was hot, and the sandwich was cold. The following week, the fan will still be there. This will never happen in any other business, except sports. We’re talking about football here, but this is sports in general. So this is what we need to focus on.

“We have to question what happened to the client, which are their habits, and what we need to do.”

What everyone should have been working on, and I really hope they have been working on that, is to plan a new fan experience at 360 degrees. It would help the entire ecosystem to restart again, as fast as possible.

The different touch points between the fans and the club

It’s basically to define the spectator’s experience. First of all, again, you need to know your fans, for these 360 degrees, because it goes from information, availability, clarity. It means providing an app, which is a fundamental tool to enhance the experience. It means providing entertainment of course but also the workforce on the ground. They have to be knowledgeable, smiling, welcoming and warm, and giving you the feeling that you are attending something special. Not only the feeling, but the reality is that you are thinking something special. That human touch on the ground is absolutely needed and that human touch is one of those touch points.

So knowing the client, you define the personas. And then with that in mind, you map the main touch points of experience, which are: the website, the spectator app, a digital site, the airports, the whole city operations meaning public transportation, rather than specific services. Because what is important for the spectator is to find information throughout its journey. The aim is to have the same level of service in the stadiums but also outside. We should provide a lot of information before the spectators leave home. Because that way we do manage the crowds before even having the crowd.

Thanks to Marco Sansoni who gave us some time to come back on his interesting experiences through major events. A lot of work has to be done in order to engage fans on these so special events and new challenges are also coming in order to engage again the fans.

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