Los Angeles is finally getting a White Christmas—sort of.
When the Rams host the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon at SoFi Stadium, the matchup of 4-10 teams will also be a spotlight moment for augmented reality tech, both on TV and in the $5 billion venue.
In addition to CBS’ coverage of the game, Nickelodeon will air ‘Nickmas’ coverage, its first regular-season version of the slime-filled AltCast that has impressed playoff viewers for two years running.
Shawn Robbins, the game’s coordinating producer for Nick, said the network has increased the amount of AR in the show by more than 10x. Viewers at home can expect to see a virtual Yeti stalking the field, roaming across multiple camera angles and armed with snowballs, while Patrick Star joins the booth via the magic of live motion capture. Viewers at home will also see an entire section of the stadium appear to get slimed.
“The first year, we had the slime cannons, the next year we had a couple of AR pieces and the slime monster,” Robbins said. “And this year, we’ve taken it to a whole new level as far as the controllability of the AR.”
Virtual tech isn’t only the domain of broadcast television. For fans in the stands at SoFi, the Rams will have a few tricks of their own. Nick and Snap have partnered with the team to virtually slime fans on the team’s 70,000 square-foot Infinity Screen.
The Rams are also working with mixed reality company ARound to build their own multi-featured app-based AR experience, Rams House AR. Users input their seat numbers, helping the app display a live augmented view of what they’d see if they put their phones down. On Sunday, fans will be able to participate in virtual snowball fights as the field gradually turns white, or try their fingers at a 3D kicking challenge. Other elements will appear on screens (and seemingly on field) in response to key moments in the game.
In early tests, Rams VP and GM of media Marissa Daly said the average user was spending more than 10 minutes in the app.
“We hope we show you a great football game for sure… but I don’t play football,” Daly said in an interview. “And so we want to make sure that everything around that experience also leaves you wanting to come back.”
While other franchises wave towels or belt out classic anthems, the Rams are leaning into Hollywood-sized entertainment to build their brand.
“We were in Green Bay [Monday], and they have a totally different philosophy than we do, and that’s OK, right? Different markets are different,” Daly said. “This town expects invention, reinvention. They expect you to wow them.”
There was a time when owners would have shuddered at the sight of fans pulling out their phones en masse during a game. But teams are increasingly not only accepting the practice, but encouraging it, pushing apps and QR codes that leverage phones’ advanced cameras and functionality to connect fans with each other.
As companies such as Meta and Apple invest more in mixed reality hardware, those interfaces could change, too. It may not be long before fans don’t need to look up at the jumbotron to catch a replay, or pull out their phone to check a fantasy score. Instead, those both might be a tap away on their glasses.
“We don’t want to be left out when that goes big, and we have to understand it,” Rams CTO Skarpi Hedinsson said in an interview. “That’s why I think what we’re doing in AR today with ARound and Snap is important, because it gets us that muscle memory.”
With ARound’s platform, the Rams also integrate the AR scenes into their display board and another version of the experience for fans who aren’t at the stadium.
SoFi is the presenting sponsor of Rams House AR, showing that there is revenue to be had in these enhancements as well. Elsewhere, the Rams have partnered with Disney for previous Snap AR Lens displays, like when fans were recently turned into Na’vi from the Avatar series.
Many of these elements, on Nick and at SoFi, might primarily appeal to the most casual cross-section of fans. But over time, the tech is likely to evolve in ways that improve the experience for the most football-obsessed, too.
ESPN recently introduced 3-point distance markers to its NBA coverage, while the Clippers have set up an alternate feed showing real-time shooting percentage. Amazon added open receiver metrics to its Prime Vision version of Thursday Night Football, and the PGA Tour is working with an AR startup to give diehards along the ropes a more immersive experience.
“I realize we’re doing the silly stuff, adding in a yeti and snowballs, but this could really be anything you want to put on,” Robbins said. “Anything creatively, anything that helps better tell the story of the game, these things are all going to be seen. Without a doubt, this is the future.”