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Podcast Interview: Viewing Sports From A New Perspective with Jim Irving

Announcement / September 30th, 2019

Our Founder, Jim Irving joins Rob Cressy on the FanFood Podcast to talk about viewing sports from a new perspective. From simplifying eSports storytelling to mixed reality and virtual reality, how is technology being used to engage fans in new ways? Why is it important to understand where the market is moving to and doing so from the fans perspective? How can companies recreate the experience of the stadium at home?

In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently.

Listen to the Gameday Playbook on Apple Podcasts; Spotify; Soundcloud; Stitcher or Google Music.

Rob Cressy: (00:04) Welcome to the Gameday Playbook presented by FanFood, a discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently. I'm your host Rob Cressy. And joining me today is Jim Irving, founder at Fanview. Jim, super excited to have you on the show.

Jim Irving: (00:30) Great to be here.

Rob Cressy: (00:32) Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?

Jim Irving: (00:36) Yeah, of course. So as you mentioned, my name is Jim Irving. I'm founder and a MD at Fanview. We set up about three and a half years ago with the focus on being the segway between sports and e-sports. So obviously, you know, I'm sure your viewers and listeners are kind of aware that e-sports is growing exponentially. There's a lot of creative technology, a lot of new things happening in that world and we wanted to take some of that tech and some of that thinking and apply that to sport and vice versa. There's a lot of stuff that's being done in sports, which is also applicable to e-sports. So we kind of learn from those sectors and we try and implement new ways of working new types of technology and really kind of set the bar as high as possible in terms of creating new types of content and new ways of working.

Rob Cressy: (01:31) So can you give an example of how you guys are using technology at this intersection?

Jim Irving: (01:37) Yeah, I mean I can give a number of different examples. A lot of what we're doing at the moment is around data. So in the esports space we're pulling live data from games and then we're rendering that data in augmented or virtual reality environments, on broadcasts, on streams in a whole variety of ways to help tell the story. So a lot of these sports can be very complicated, difficult for the viewer to understand. And we're trying to simplify that. You're trying to simplify that storytelling so they can really kind of understand that. And then in sport where we're working with a partner where we're pioneering the use of volumetric scanning. So that's the ability to take hundreds of photographs of an athlete and then stitch those images together to get a really, really high quality photo realistic rendition of that athlete. The first time the technology was deployed was for the Super Bowl in 2018. So we scan people like Brady. We've also used it on the Champions League finals for the last two years. So we've scanned players from Liverpool and Real Madrid and Tottenham and we're using those assets in really, really crazy ways.

Rob Cressy: (02:58) And with that, how did the consumers react? So when you give a forward thinking technology that they've never experienced before, what is the reaction from the consumers?

Jim Irving: (03:09) Yeah, we get tremendous reactions. So I'm using the Champions League as an example. Deploy those assets on their social media platforms and they've got a huge increase in engagement levels. I mean as a Federation who runs tournaments, they have a huge social media following, but younger fans especially really kind of love the use of player images. And the idea is to work with partners, the broadcast system, to bring this technology to our TV screens as well as to social and digital channels, and use it in more and more creative ways. So the things like virtual system referees instead of video assistant referees. We're looking at things like virtual assistant referee. We're looking at changing the way that sports analyze. So, you know, instead of being limited by camera angles, we want to move into the world of virtual analysis so that you can look at an NFL game in a completely different way or look at a basketball game or look at a soccer match in a completely different way.

Rob Cressy: (04:17) So one thing that's on the Fanview website says, you guys are creating the most compelling fan experiences on the planet. So what is foundational to creating the most compelling fan experiences on the planet? Take us a little bit into your mindsets.

Jim Irving: (04:34) So I guess that's really, I mean that kind of follows a leads on from what I was just saying in the sense that, you know, the reason that we called the company Fanview is that we wanted fans or any sports, and view that sport in a totally different way. That was kind of the logic behind naming the company Fanview, so to not be limited by just cameras and you know, traditional kind of broadcast technology. But actually, yeah, imagine if you could be sat in Singapore, but you know, actually stand on the pitch as a Premier League game is happening, and be able to view that game from a totally different angles. So for the last 50, 100 years, you know, since the advent of television, there's been a fundamental physical restriction on the ability for fans, you know, you're either at the stadium or you're watching it on TV or you're listening to the radio. Now, okay, you can stream me on the internet, but you're still limited by a screen. We want to give fans a completely new perspective on how they view games, and to really see it from a pitcher's perspective or to see it from a batter's perspective or to see it from a quarterback's perspective. It really give them a perspective and see what Brady sees when he's playing a game for the Patriots, which is something quite unique.

Rob Cressy: (05:54) So I love this idea, but I'm curious how you get the adoption side of things. So I even think a few years ago when 3D TV came out and they're like, you're gonna put on this headset and you're going to view this from a completely different perspective, but it never really caught on. So, even though the concepts seemed cool, it didn't really work from a mass adoption standpoint. So what do you guys do to not just be so niche that it's like super cool for a few people, whereas it can be a little bit more broad because I love everything that you guys are talking about, about bringing something new to the table. But how do you think about adoption with this?

Jim Irving: (06:34) I mean it's a really good question. So myself and my colleagues who kind of set the company up, we come from a content background. So what often happens with technology like 3D is that the people that lead it are technologists, and you know they're good people, but they don't necessarily know how to tell a story. And the coverage of all is about telling a story and if you stand back and think about it, does 3D have fundamentally increased the way that you use sport now? Yeah, it gives you a new perspective. But then wearing glasses, is that going to have a positive or negative impact on the way that you use for and I think it would have a very detrimental impact. So I think 3D is not gone. I think once 3D without glasses really, really takes hold, once you can view 3D without having to wear glasses or you know, the restriction of the technology. I think it has a huge role to play. But the thing with virtual technology is that, you've suddenly got the ability to put a fan in a position that they've never seen before. So a lot of the virtual coverages of sport we've seen today is basically sticking a camera in a goal or sticking a camera behind a net. That's not great. Nobody's going to watch a whole basketball game looking at a camera from behind the net. But actually if you can give them the perspective of LeBron James, then yeah, they will really love that experience. And so having a sound, creative content-driven strategy that sits behind the technology is the reason why it was succeed.

Rob Cressy: (08:22) Yeah. And one thing you guys mentioned on your website that really stood out to me, which sort of dovetails on this, is creating content with the end consumer in front of mind. And while that seems, of course that should be the case, I don't believe the majority of brands create that way because so often our brand is self-serving where it says, buy what I'm selling. And at some point, as you're seeing with the way that social media in content creation and community building is evolving, the brands now need to tell stories in a variety of ways. And at the center of that has to be the consumer and what you can do to deliver value to them first and everything else becomes secondary.

Jim Irving: (09:04) Yeah, exactly. I mean, look, you have to strike a balance because at the end of the day, this is a business. You know, sport is a business. But a lot of technology is driven by a commercial imperative. So if you think about 4K — so we're really, really starting to see a big adoption of 4K but you know, what is driving the adoption of 4K? Is it consumers wanting better and better technology? Do consumers want more and more pixels? I mean potentially they might want higher and higher quality. But you know, in most people's homes is the quality of HD good enough? Possibly. I think to improve the coverage, we need higher frame rates because we need smoother pictures, smoother images of balls flying through the air so that you can see the beauty and the intricacies of sport.

Jim Irving: (09:54) We don't necessarily need twice, you know, four or five times the resolution that we've got today. But you know, higher frame rates just means you need more infrastructure to cover it. So instead of higher frame rates, we get more pixels. But I'm not sure that's the right answer. But you know, as I say, more pixels means everybody has to get a new TV, which means that, some big manufacturers make a lot more money. But eventually, you know, the consumer's desire to see sport in fresh and new exciting ways we'll hopefully went out.

Rob Cressy: (10:27) What are the biggest challenges you see for companies right now when it comes to the intersection of sports and technology?

Jim Irving: (10:34) Oh, well I think it's the pace of the tech. I think it's being strategic in your investments because the pace of technology is moving so fast that you can't do everything. So you have to think very, very carefully. So as a sport or as a broadcaster or as a platform, you have to think about what are the things that my fans want. And, and you have to kind of, you have to focus in on that. I mean the other interesting conversation. We have a lot of conversations with broadcasters about e-sports and how does e-sports fit into their ecosystem. And it's a difficult question to answer because e-sports is very, very different to sports in terms of the way that it's monetized, the way that it's distributed. And so it doesn't quite fit into the marketplace that we have for sport. And so there's gonna be a huge amount of turmoil and change in the industry over the next five years and there'll be some big winners, but there will be some big losers as well.

Rob Cressy: (11:45) You think about the, let's call it the overall mass adoption of e-sports. So we know that it's so big, but it also seems like it's this gigantic niche that there's a lot of people who love this, but then when it comes to mainstream, there's so many people who don't understand it because they say, well, Jim, this is just video games. But then you look in, they're filling arenas and they've got these giant tournaments. Then you're looking at, it's on Twitch and streaming and there's just so much attention there. So what do you think about sort of the growth of esports in terms of how it's going to be moving forward from a mass adoption standpoint?

Jim Irving: (12:26) Yeah, I mean I think the most important thing is that, funnily enough, we spent a lot of time with our clients ensuring that they understand the definition of what e-sports is. So e-sports is effectively a subset of gaming. So you know, gaming is effectively the pasttime of playing video games there are now reportedly depends where you source your data, but there are now more people playing video games on a regular basis and there are people playing sports. There's about I think 2.6 billion people that are kind of gamers or meet the definition of a gamer. E-sports, there's about 450 million e-sports fans globally. So they are about 25% of the gaming market. So, you know, the number of e-sports enthusiasts or e-sports fans is a lot lower than gamers. And you know when you're devising a strategy for e-sports, it's important to understand the difference and understand who you're trying to target. Because you know, a lot of people think it's just a one size fits all in. It's not, in terms of how you capture the hearts and minds of gaming and esports fans in the same way that you capture the hearts and minds of sports fans. You have to build heroes, you have to tell great stories. You have to understand who is the best and why they're the best and who is the worst and why they're the worst. You have to create competition. You have to create drama. That's why there are a lot of parallels between the two. And if you're able to do those things successfully, you'll have a very positive impact within the sports or the gaming sector.

Rob Cressy: (14:12) What opportunities do you see right now in the intersection of the sports and technology industry?

Jim Irving: (14:19) Mixed reality and virtual reality are huge opportunities for sport. As I said to you earlier, the way that sport is produced has not changed hugely. We had color then we had high definition. Now we've kind of got 4K. But fundamentally you've still got multiple cameras in an arena and you're cutting between those cameras in evermore sophisticated ways and you're rolling in replays and then you're making that content available on a variety of different platforms. I think the two major changes that will happen and have started happening is one, the control of how you view that sport will be much more at the user level. Whereas today the choice is made for you by the director and the production team at the venue. They will in essence give you the control as you stay at home. And for some people who want that control, they'll be able to watch the sport in a variety of different ways. Others will just want to watch it as a single feed. But as you know, where we see the biggest opportunity is in the virtual creation of sport because that does give you a whole new perspective and um, will be one of the big drivers in terms of technology adoption over the next decade.

Rob Cressy: (15:51) I dig everything that you're saying specifically from how forward thinking you are. So if we were to try and generalize, someone's listening to this right now is like, man, I love what Jim's jamming about. Can you take us a little bit into your mindset and say, all right, if someone has nothing to do with what you're doing, but fundamentally the way that you see the business and technology and sports world, do you have some advice or some nuggets of wisdom that you can pass along that says, listen, if you want to be successful in sports or in using technology, give some words of wisdom to them?

Jim Irving: (16:28) I guess it depends if it's someone who wants to build a career or if you're talking about people that want to invest. Those are still two very different use cases. But in both cases, try and understand kind of where the market is moving to. As I'm thinking about it from the fans' perspective, ultimately what we want to do is you want to be able to recreate the experience of the stadium is kind of one key strategy.

Jim Irving: (17:17) In the UK we have Old Trafford, you know, Manchester United is a global brand, but you've only got 70 odd thousand people that every two weeks can go and watch a game. And yet certainly Manchester United claim that one in every 10 people in the world is a Man United fan. That's their stat. There are a lot more people that are Man United fans and a lot more people that are Man United fanatics that will never ever get to Old Trafford in the North of England. So how do you create that experience or better still, how do you go beyond that experience and give them an incredibly powerful experience that they can do from their own home and just try and break that down into, okay, if that's the goal in 10 years time, what do we need to do today? What do we need to do tomorrow? What do we need to do next week, next month, next year? What are the stepping stones that we need to do to kind of get to that point and work from there, but kind of break it down into sizable chunks and think about how you get to that point. But yeah, if you want to be successful in sport, in sport technology, you really have to think about what the fan will want both now and in the future.

Rob Cressy: (18:34) I dig it. Last question for you. Is there anything that I didn't ask you that you think would be beneficial to the audience?

Jim Irving: (18:42) I think we've covered a lot in a very short period of time. I would just reiterate that the evolution of technology is very, very fast at the moment and that's only going to get quicker and it's going to be an exciting decade. We're on the dawn of a new decade and especially having a rugby World Cup coming in the next few weeks and also an Olympics in Tokyo. The Japanese have a phenomenal track record of innovating in technology terms. And I think having major events in those markets will, if anything, accelerate the speed of change, you know, over the next 10 years. So you know, lots to look forward to.

Rob Cressy: (19:34) Jim, I really appreciate all the insights that you dropped. Where can people connect with you?

Jim Irving: (19:40) Yeah, by all means. Our website is really simple. It's just If you go to our contacts page, there are lots of contact details. If your viewers or listeners have any questions, just ask them. Please get in touch and I'm always happy to talk to people.

Rob Cressy: (20:02) And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. Did it cause you to think or take action? You can hit up FanFood on Twitter @fanfoododemand or on Instagram @fanfoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms by searching Rob Cressy. It's cool he ain't going on you and major league soccer.

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