You’re at a Washington DC Capitals game, and decide to make what turns out to be a very ill-timed run to the restroom. To your dismay you hear the crowd roar. Ovechkin has scored! A league-leading 40th goal! The team goes on to win 4-2. And you missed the key moment.
Well maybe not. As it happens, the Verizon Center and The Washington Capitals are currently hosting a pilot project to try out an app called Skybox. Developed by software startup APX Labs using Google Google Glass, it displays real-time stats, in-game highlights and most importantly for you, instant replays.
Welcome to the next generation of sports fan engagement technology–assuming that is, if Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns both the Verizon Center and the Capitals, figures out a way to monetize the app.
APX Labs, which is based in Herndon, VA, and founded by two Maryland natives Brian Ballard and Jeff Jenkins, is betting that it will.
Skybox in action at the Verizon Center
The company launched in 2011 building software for military-related advanced technologies, including smart glasses. The following year it looked at expanding its know-how into the broader enterprise. “Defense is a broad vertical using smart glasses but not the only one that stands to profit from it,” Ballard tells me. “We see a couple of industries adopting this technology, including health care, oil and gas, manufacturing and logistics.”
A “killer” use case for corporate smart glasses is one designed for field technicians that need expert assistance in the field, Ballard says.
In fact, most of the company’s clients are Fortune 500 companies in these areas and many have APX under NDA about their work with smart glasses. “I believe 2014 is going to be breakout year for smart glasses and more companies announce initiatives around them,” Ballard says.
But back to the Capitals game. Another industry that represents low-hanging fruit for smart glass technology is, APX believes, sports. And unlike the defense or manufacturing industry, professional teams tend to welcome the spotlight.
So far smart glass is only being deployed in a limited manner in professional sports. Last month The Sacramento Kings began offering Glass broadcasts from the Google Glass they gave sideline reporters, dancers and other people close to the action. The action on the field is then streamed on the jumbotron (the Kings also started accepting Bitcoins last month, by the way).
Clearly, though, interest in smart glass by the industry is strong, Ballard says. “We have other teams calling us to figure out what would be required to bring this into their venues.” Wireless infrastructure in the stadium, or lack thereof rather, is the biggest deal-breaker followed by a good content management system to which to connect the system. The service, after all, has to have some value-add for fans and there is no point offering them content that they can get from NHL.com. The Verizon Center uses Colosseo, a high-end offering, making the Caps “one of the few teams that have that level of sophistication for content,” Ballard says.
It also means the stadium, with its numerous cameras placed at various angles all over the place, is providing the content, and not the league.
Interestingly, Ballard says the supply of Google Glass among the general populace is no longer an issue. Juniper estimates there are 87,000 smart glasses are on market now and will reach 10 million per year by 2018.
Certainly the demographics are working in these projects’ favor. Last month Adobe reported that web browsing on Google Glass from August through December increased 735%, with most of the content consumed being news, media and sports.
The missing ingredient is the monetization piece, which in sports means sponsorship.
Skybox Scores Brought to You by Pepsi
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See, when Ballard says 2014 will prove to be a break out year for Google Glass in the enterprise, he isn’t including professional sports in that prediction. “This year is really more about establishing an economic model for the key stakeholders. Stadiums rarely pay for a fan experience directly–it is usually through a sponsorship. Right now we are working through that–how to create an experience that is so compelling that the fans will want it” and a company will want to back it, he says.
But Ballard seems to think this is a nut the industry can crack.
He hedges about a full deployment but all signs point to one coming sooner rather than later. “This technology is coming and teams are interested in it,” is what he says.
“Whether that eventually turns into ‘Google Glass brought to you by Pepsi’ or watching a Skybox replay and at end being offered a coupon for Papa John’s pizza remains to be seen.”
As that fan who missed Ovechkin’s killer score (okay, me) would tell you, it’s not too steep price to pay.