How AR and AI Can Help Drive Engagement at the Paris Olympics

Cutting-edge tech goes for the gold

Olympics fever is taking hold, and by now, sports brands and sponsors should be preparing to activate with impact on a global stage. But the nature of sports fandom has shifted since the Tokyo Games in 2021, and brands must focus on what matters most to their audience in order to maximize engagement.

The good news is that passion among Gen Z is growing, with 60 percent considering themselves bigger sports fans today than they were three years ago. But compared to previous generations, this digital-native audience expects and demands more when it comes to engagement. They're seeking increased interactivity, the opportunity to form closer connections with athletes and more personalized experiences. Technology can provide brands with the solutions in these ways:

Offer new perspectives with spatial computing

With 34 million mixed-reality headsets already in circulation worldwide and Meta's Quest 3 and Apple's Vision Pro recently hitting the market, this year's Olympics could be the most immersive yet. Spatial tech provides a 3D canvas that makes digital experiences multi-dimensional and more rewarding.

There's huge potential to bring the games to life for fans in completely new ways. With over half of Gen Z second-screening to scan live stats during sports, there's a clear case for overlaying mixed reality analysis in real time without disrupting viewing. Take this Formula 1 Vision Pro prototype as inspiration—the viewing experience could be totally revolutionized, offering fans a bird's-eye view plus athlete perspectives of the action and deeper insights into the sports they love. ESPN's newly announced virtual experience for the Quest 3 also hints at what's possible. Spatial computing is a medium that will shape the next decade and offers a key opportunity for future-facing brands.

Wow the crowds with tech-led experiential

For many, nothing beats the in-person atmosphere of the Olympic Fan Zone. Brands have the ability to create activations that really pack a punch—and when it comes to Gen Z, the more interactive the better.

A suite of pop-up, digitally-integrated sports games—similar to Toca Social's football concept, but applied to Olympic sports—could drum up considerable excitement. Integrating an extra dose of immersive technology can also take activations to the next level. Examples include Meta's efforts around the Rugby World Cup, which allowed fans to design digital avatars and deploy them in multiplayer VR experience with friends. 

Keep fans entertained with AR both in and out of the stadium

Gen Z doesn't go far without their phones, so AR is the perfect way to engage, whether they're in-stadium or on the sofa. Cutting-edge geospatial technology anchors digital content to our physical surroundings. So, brands can craft perfectly mapped experiences allowing fans to navigate the Olympic Village or host city. Imagine AR directions taking over road signs or billboards. Digital athlete avatars could step in as tour guides, and elements of gamification such as a scoring system for the most curious explorers could inject extra fun.

For folks at home, gamification can keep casual dual screeners entertained. With 61 perent viewing sports with others, multiplayer AR games would allow fans to interact—whether it's an augmented boxing match or a show jumping showdown.

Make more personal connections with AI

With 63 percent of fans happy to pay more for a streaming service that's tailored to them, brands could consider crafting mobile experiences that provide personalized itineraries or watch lists to help audiences navigate the weeks of sporting events—like a Netflix for the Olympics. And for fans wishing to get up close and personal with their favorite athletes, AI can to help make those connections at scale. Possibilities include AI-generated video messages from sports idols delivered straight to phones and athlete-styled chat bots across social.

Technology is key to capturing the attention of a younger generation of fans looking for interactive, personalized and athlete-centric experiences. Brands that take heed and integrate technology into their activations are sure to make Paris 2024 the most engaging Olympics yet.

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Garry Williams
Garry Williams is new ventures business director at UNIT9.

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