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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Watch the game from the POV of your favorite athlete
ActionStreamer is a wearable data streaming platform delivering breakthrough solutions across sports, entertainment, telecommunications, industrial, and defense. From custom wearables to real-time data movement, omnichannel content delivery and multi-stream media viewer, the company provides leagues and sports events with a fully customisable immersive viewing experience.
ActionStreamer brings sports fans closer to the action. The American company equips players with helmets that have cameras mounted on them. Greg Roberts, Head of Strategic Partnerships & Development at ActionStreamer, shared with us the company’s ambitions.
ActionStreamer gives fans a new perspective on the action and insights on the game
Thanks to advances in video stream processing, every fan can follow sporting events from the angle that suits them. For example, during car races, every fan can follow their favorite driver. During tennis competitions you can choose to follow the match that interests you the most. At a soccer match you can watch the action from the angle that best shows how the striker won over the goalkeeper.
ActionStreamer takes customisation and immersion to the next level. The American company allows fans to follow the action from a player’s point of view. With cameras mounted on players’ helmets and caps, viewers are right in the middle of the action. American soccer fans were able to test the device at the 2019 Pro Bowl, in the XFL, during Russell Wilson’s warm-ups or during the first season of Fan Controlled Football.
ActionStreamer’s solution does not just provide athletes with helmet cams. Their technology also captures data about biometric, speed and geo in real-time. This data is easily displayable live on broadcast.
From headsets to video streams management, ActionStreamer thought about everything
Giving fans a first-person viewing experience is a very ambitious idea. To make it a reality, the founding team of ActionStreamer faced two challenges: convincing players and making it easy to process all the video streams coming from the helmet cams.
ActionStreamer’s product development team works closely with helmet suppliers and players. The company integrates cameras in helmets that players already use. The goal is for players to not even notice they have different equipment.
Once the footage is captured, the biggest challenge lies ahead: managing all the video streams. ActionStreamer worked with Verizon and T-Mobile to provide a solution that makes it fast and easy for broadcasters to process and redistribute video streams. Greg Roberts believes that the advent of 5G in stadiums will significantly enhance the viewer experience in the coming years. Video streams will be able to be processed and distributed faster. As a result, broadcasters will be able to offer more viewing angles. As a result, the experience will be more immersive for viewers.
“Think of our platform as a pipeline to omnichannel media and data insights offerings, including real-time HD video, audio, and subject data (biometric, speed, geo, etc.) that can be synchronized across an entire media footprint (broadcast, mobile, streaming, etc.). All of these data categories are captured from our custom-designed streaming wearables, and distributed to media endpoints through our proprietary data streaming and delivery methods. And now, through work with Verizon and T-Mobile, the data streaming platform runs on 5G”
The pathway to a more innovative viewing experience
ActionStreamer has deployed its device in several contexts. We’ve talked about helmet cams in the NFL and FCFL. For the 2020 World Series, players had cameras on their helmets and caps.
ActionStreamer’s device also lends itself to more original POVs. In the NFL, the Ref Cam offers some very interesting footage from the referee’s perspective.
In the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets have experimented with a Hat Cam in pre-game. The dancers and pre-game hosts performed with ActionStreamer hats. The New York club broadcast this stream under the name “TeamHypeCam”. This initiative highlights the folklore of a basketball game and promotes the incredible experience basketball fans have at Barclays Center.
The system of inserting cameras and processing video streams leaves room for a lot of creativity. One could imagine the club’s mascot spending game days wearing an ActionStreamer cap. Clubs could also highlight the fan experience on match days by broadcasting a typical fan’s evening at the stadium in first person. The possibilities are endless!
ActionStreamer satisfies fans’ desire to be closer to the action. Advances in video streaming speed allow us to enjoy the action from the perspective of the live players. Many uses of this technology come to mind to enhance the fan experience. Like WaitTime, ActionStreamer’s impact extends beyond sports. The technology for processing on-board camera feeds is also used by the Air Force.
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Fan Controlled Football League (FCFL): The most exciting fan experience of 2021
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?
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.”
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.
- Start with a traditional sport.
- Shorten the length of a game to appeal to casual fans.
- Change the rules to make the game faster and easier to follow.
- 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.
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!”
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. ”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.