Google Glass taking fans closer to the action

By Jay Cohen

Associated Press

Published: Monday, June 30 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2014 file photo, Seattle Seahawks' Golden Tate wears Google glasses during media day for the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game, in Newark, N.J. The use of Glass in sports has progressed from trendy athletes dipping their toes in the water to a tool for teams looking to draw fans to arenas and stadiums, and then keep their focus on the action, instead of their omnipresent smartphones and tablets.

Matt Slocum, File, Associated Press

CHICAGO — Your favorite team is playing for the title, and you are in the middle of the field. You have a ticket in the very top row for an NBA playoff game, and a courtside seat. The referees are reviewing a big play in the final seconds, and you are right there in front of them.

Google Glass is slowly becoming more common in sports as teams and broadcasters try to bring fans closer to the action. The Philadelphia Eagles are going to test the Internet-connected eyewear for in-game use, and a company with a key application for the technology says it has secured a new round of financing that will help roll out its Glass program to sports, entertainment and other fields.

"When I talk to teams and ask them about what technology are they looking at, what technology are they keeping track of, the two answers I mostly commonly get are Google Glass and Snapchat," said Eric Fernandez, a founder and managing partner of SportsDesk Media, a fan analytics and digital media activation company.

The futuristic eyewear was known as "Project Glass" when it was introduced by Google in a video and blog post in April 2012. The Mountain View, California, company started selling the $1,500 glasses to a select crowd later that same year, but it only recently became available to the general public.

The use of Glass in sports has progressed from trendy athletes dipping their toes in the water to a tool for teams looking to draw fans to arenas and stadiums, and then keep their focus on the action, instead of their omnipresent smartphones and tablets. It comes with endless revenue possibilities, ranging from sponsorship deals for the new content streams to a possible attendance boost for teams with empty upper decks.

"I think the fan experience one is the one that's really hitting hard," said Eric Johnsen, the business development lead for Glass at Work, "and the performance line people are dabbling with, that's really interesting."

Punter Chris Kluwe used the eyewear in training camp last year to take fans inside an Oakland Raiders practice. Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate wore the glasses at Super Bowl media day. Roger Federer used one when he hit with former tennis star Stefan Edberg during a visit to Google's campus, and a referee at the recent USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship donned the glasses for the NBC Sports broadcast.

But it is the big-picture applications that offer intriguing possibilities for teams and leagues concerned about attendance in the 21st century, when flat-screen TVs and rising prices at sporting events have made the in-home experience even more appealing.

The 2014 Know the Fan Report, produced by Sporting News Media, Kantar Media and SportBusiness Group, found 45 percent of fans use a second-screen device while watching sports on TV, a definite factor in the willingness of teams and broadcasters to take a closer look at Glass. The report was based on a survey of more than 1,000 American adults conducted in February.

"The focus has been through sports at large, how do you get people using their phones to interact during the game?" said Rob Laycock, the vice president of marketing for the Indiana Pacers and Fever.

"What's nice about Glass is that it's keeping your focus on center stage, you know main court, with the scoreboard right above it."

The NBA's Sacramento Kings used a CrowdOptic application to become the first pro sports team to employ Glass in the arena when they put the eyewear on their mascot Slamson and others for a January loss to the Pacers, allowing fans at the game and viewing at home to witness the courtside experience. Indiana used it for the first time for a March 26 game against Miami, and the Orlando Magic broke it out for their April 9 game against Brooklyn.

The Eagles are the first NFL team to try the application for Google Glass. They are planning for a similar approach to the Pacers, who used the CrowdOptic program to provide multiple courtside perspectives over the videoboard during games.

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