Lions open up world of augmented reality

If it’s true that a football field is merely a performance stage the B.C. Lions seem intent on putting their workplace in the palm of your hand.

That’s the premise, at least, behind some of the technology unveiled by the CFL team last week in the form of a new app that seeks to enhance the game experience both for those in the seats and on the couch.

The iTunes/Android app, called EXP, is a collaboration on several fronts, bringing 360 photography and interactive/augmented reality that is aimed at the highly-coveted youth demographic the CFL and every other sports league has sought.

And the Lions are pushing in several chips hoping this will become an answer to lagging attendance at B.C. Place Stadium, with one new staff hire in place and another on the way.

“The thing I know is that hard-core fans want to be closer to the team,” said Chris Bedyk of Vancouver-based Perspective Films, who has provided some of the reality technology being used by the Lions since the start of the season.

Many teams have discovered their best way to attract a new audience is through an increased behind-the-scenes presence but the Lions, who have done it better than most, are going further. Not all of the technology is in place, or at least isn’t to all novice users, but the prospects are wide-ranging.

By downloading the app the Lions have the ability to push sponsors and prizes at users during games. Users are also able to have a photograph taken alongside Jon Jennings or the club’s mascot, Leo the Lion, at the stadium or in your living room. Other games are under development that would be a hit with the Pokemon Go crowd.

“When we have player introductions we might have a push that comes out as an alert because our photographer will be filming,” said Lions business vice-president George Chayka.

Lions players are also being asked to take part during games. With the outcome of a recent game against Montreal no longer in doubt, Jennings ran over to where the camera was stationed to deliver a message. In another video, Jeremiah Johnson is seen urging viewers to get closer to the game and by turning your smartphone in any direction a greater experience is indeed gained.

Chayka said the idea of 360 technology isn’t new but says through the use of TSN feeds, delivering the experience almost live will be different. Bedyk agreed when it was suggested the challenge is simply a matter of matching new technology to proper use.

On a recent Lions road trip, Bedyk captivated several players by showing them what is possible through the use of special goggles. One possible purchaser is Lions defensive lineman Craig Roh, who wants to start a tech company and spent an entire flight home discussing prospects with Bedyk.

“It’s a very immersive experience,” said Roh. “Virtual reality is definitely an interesting avenue.”

While the Lions are seeking to discover the financial benefits to the new technology, the technology expert sees benefits for football.

“Imagine putting on a headset and watching in a split-second what the quarterback could have done better,” Bedyk said.

An idea which might have the net effect of keeping Lions fans entertained at home with their smartphones instead of buying tickets is one the club discussed before the determination was made that the benefits could outweigh the risks.

“We thought about that,” said Chayka. “The whole concept is the more people you’re exposing your product to, you’re going to create that interest. It’s about building that connection and bond between your fans and the club.” No sense limiting your opportunities if you’re a football team when there’s a world of virtual and augmented reality waiting to be explored.

LIONS TALES: As expected, the Lions have activated CFL veteran Mitchell Gale as their third quarterback replacing Travis Lulay and will be in uniform when they play the Calgary Stampeders Saturday. Mich’ael Brooks returns after a one-game absence on the defensive line while David Foucault has been returned to the offensive front, replacing Kelvin Palmer, a move which will allow B.C. to dress four import receivers, including Nick Moore. B.C. is looking for its first win at McMahon Stadium since Aug, 2014.




Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.