The NFL app will add an augmented reality camera powered by Snap this season, as AR tech becomes a larger part of sports fan experiences. The feature is part of a partnership with Snap, now in its seventh year, which is continuing to expand amid challenges at the company behind Snapchat.
The NFL partnership also includes the introduction of an AR game inside the Snapchat app, putting virtual jerseys on phone holders before they compete in a 30-second field goal competition.
Over the partnership’s lifetime, Snap has evolved from focusing on drawing users to its app with major event highlights to adding more coverage of the sports fan experience and prioritizing tools that allowed users to express their fandom, rather than merely consuming content.
“We always sort of joke, when we started doing this it was basically just covering games,” Snap head of sports partnerships Anmol Malhotra said, “and now it’s really gone so much further beyond.” Malhotra added that COVID-19 spurred league partners to find new ways to engage with and connect fans at home, while a desire to reach more casual followers motivated them too.
Many of those endeavors revolved around AR features, as Snap leaned into what Malhotra called the “most differentiating aspect of our platform.” Phone-based AR content, he said, could be uniquely shareable, personalized and accessible on-the-go compared to traditional content, as well as “a way to bring something to you that you can feel like you’re actually there.” According to the company, 205 million people watched sports content on Snapchat in 2021, while North American users engaged with AR 2.1 billion times during Super Bowl LVI.
“When we set out to partner together for this next term, we looked at what’s been the most effective and most successful things in our partnership and also where is Snap continuing to drive the most innovation,” NFL head of digital media business development Blake Stuchin said. “And that was not only in video, but also in AR.” The NFL is also continuing to offer video inside the Snapchat app, with a focus on the platform’s younger audience.
Snap has had a difficult 2022. The company’s stock has fallen by more than 70% as revenue growth slowed, and last week, 20% of its employees were laid off as multiple divisions were closed. However, Snap’s sports partnerships were not directly affected; CEO Evan Spiegel told employees that moving forward, Snap would put more of an emphasis on community growth, revenue growth and augmented reality.
In a memo to Snap staff this week that was published by The Verge, Spiegel wrote, “Leadership in augmented reality is important to Snap because it helps us build a durable competitive advantage that comes from investing over the long term, building things that are technically difficult, and growing a platform that is increasingly hard to replicate.”
Part of Snap’s AR strategy is CameraKit, the tool it offers other platforms looking to add features to their own experiences. In addition to the NFL app, the Los Angeles Rams will be using CameraKit to apply AR lenses to live video shown on Sofi Stadium’s wraparound screens. Advertisers, including DraftKings and FanDuel, will also be running AR Lens-based campaigns of their own around the start of the NFL season. Spiegel’s internal memo cited a desire for AR-based advertising to make up 10% of the company’s total ad revenue by 2023.
In the NFL app, fans will be able to open a camera and create images featuring elements such as virtual helmets and eye black that can be sent via Snapchat or other social platforms.
“We’re excited to make the NFL app that much more social, and that much more engaging,” Stuchin said.