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In the late nineties, the National Football League (NFL) used AR to seamlessly overlay the first down line on all broadcasts of NFL games. The ‘magic yellow line’ proved more than a gimmick and has become as integral a part of the NFL as shoulder pads and helmets. Similarly, in broadcasts of the English Premier League, “invisible” lines were used to evaluate referee decisions.

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HUD – Heads Up Display

Two decades on, AR looks set to drastically change the game experience, for both players and punters (the audience, not the kickers). Chris Kluwe, a former NFL punter (kicker, not spectator), asserts that NFL players could have AR technology in their helmets within a few years. At a TED talk in 2014, he explained that in the near future, NFL players could have a heads-up display (HUD), in their helmet visors, much like Google Glass. The system would alert them via flashes or some other visual cue, to an open space on the field, an empty receiver or help them anticipate the trajectory of a pass coming their way.

Now, to the skeptic, this might sound like not just AR football but ‘enhanced’ football, where technology offers a crutch that talent should rightly make up for. However, this is just one example of AR implementation, in one sport, from one perspective (the player on the field).

Kluwe points to other applications for AR in the realm of football. In AR training for example, augmented reality and virtual reality can indeed augment and enhance players’ training regimens.

Stanford University merging VR and footbal coaching

Stanford University uses VR technology to help their players review plays from a unique, realistic perspective. Instead of passively reviewing a play on a screen, they are instead immersed in the play itself, almost like going back in time to review and correct a mistake. It also gives them a break from grueling physical training sessions.

Another application interestingly enough, involves fostering empathy. Simply put, by using AR and VR technology to place the viewer in the figurative shoes of the player, one can see the action from the point of view of the player, complete with all the pressures of visceral, fast-moving, high stakes professional sports.

“AR and VR will help us see why the player didn’t make the play as if we were in his shoes,” explained Kluwe at a SXS Sports event last year.

This isn’t just limited to American Football either. It can just as easily be used in other sports, like soccer. Indeed, at last year’s Acing the Sports Game with the Oculus Rift, panel members were given cardboard goggles (similar to Google Cardboard) and placed in an immersive video game where they were taken through soccer plays.

This video game experience could just as easily be tweaked and turned into a valuable team training exercise, used to enhance team dynamics and add depth to a squad.

Technological innovation in the realm of sports looks set to improve not just the way the game is played, but offers us, the viewers a unique insight into the experience of being in the game. With new, immersive technologies like AR and VR, the gap between spectator and performer seems to have been somewhat bridged.

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