Fox Sports, NextVR Hope VR Boxing Delivers Knockout Punch

January 21, 2016, 3:08 PM UTC
Fox Sports

Fox Sports is teaming again with NextVR to livestream a trio of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) matches. Anyone with a $99 Samsung (SSNLF) Gear VR headset can access the virtual reality fights for free via the NextVR portal in the Oculus store.

Headlining the PBC card is a match between undefeated Danny “Swift” Garcia (31-0, 18 KOs) and former three-time world champion Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero (33-3-1, 18 KOs).

Fox Sports, a division of 21st Century Fox Inc., continues to experiment with virtual reality, providing a three-camera system inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Users will be able to watch the fights through 180-degree cameras that will be placed on the ring, on the scoring table, and in the middle of the crowd, according to David Cramer, senior vice president of corporate strategy at NextVR.

“We’re also going to virtual reality capture content, including weigh-ins and prefight workouts, and deliver that complementary content to tell the story,” Cramer says. “It will be integrated into the livestreaming experience, and we’ll likely be putting out an on-demand piece as well.”

Fox will provide commentary of the three fights in virtual reality, and add graphics and other elements to blend broadcasting with the “presence” of being there, according to Michael Davies, senior vice president of field and technical operations at Fox Sports.

“This is a learning experience for us, so we can experiment and figure out what the recipe is for good VR and what people are willing to sit through,” Davies says. “We’ll explore some new tricks with boxing, and take a more refined multicamera approach to what we’re doing.”

Davies says the decision to jump into virtual reality early last year with NextVR on NASCAR and the U.S. Open came from the top.

“We always knew VR was something we wanted to get into because sports is a killer app,” Davies says. “We wanted to be in the front of the line in trying this stuff out as these companies like NextVR began exploring VR livestreaming.”

Peter Guber, who chairs the NextVR advisory board and is an investor in the company, believes virtual reality opens up a great opportunity for the sport of boxing. Guber was one of the few rich and famous who were able to sit ringside at the historic Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather fight in Las Vegas on May 2, 2015. Virtual reality offers that perspective to anyone with a headset. And Guber believes people will be willing to pay for that virtual seat for the marquee matchups.

For more on boxing, watch George Foreman hype the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight:

But this is still very early days, which allows Davies and his team to figure out what audiences want in a virtual reality boxing experience.

“Boxing is an interesting sport for VR because it happens in a confined space,” Davies says. “At the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay we couldn’t replicate the TV experience because we had to make choices on what we could cover. With boxing you have the opportunity to more accurately replicate the experience of being a spectator and letting people be ringside.”

In fact, Cramer says by putting one of the NextVR cameras on the ring, it provides viewers a perspective that’s even better than a front-row seat.

“VR adds another choice for viewers of boxing,” Cramer says. “We think this is an experience people will pay for. If they’re willing to pay to watch a fight on TV, they’ll be willing to pay for a feeling like they’re at the fight with an experience that’s better than if they had the financial resources to buy a seat at the arena.”

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And Davies sees similar potential for mixed martial arts (MMA). Fox Sports has a deal with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the largest MMA organization, to broadcast its fights on TV.

“The MMA guys have been very interested in VR as well,” Davies says. “When you think about the larger fights in boxing or MMA, there seems to be a big potential upside with VR.”

A rival virtual reality livestreaming company, IM360, partnered with Salter Brothers Entertainment on Jan. 16 to livestream a boxing match between former heavyweight champion David “Hayemaker” Haye and Mark “The Dominator” de Mori at the O2 Arena in London. The match was available on the Hayemaker360 app for Android smartphones and tablets.

Cramer says the Fox VR fight was set up long before the IM360 project.

“We don’t look at what other people are doing with how they capture a fight or sporting event,” Cramer says. “What we’re trying to do is a little different with the type of immersive experience we’re able to deliver. The work we’ve done with the broadcasters and leagues has allowed us to develop a set of best practices for all types of events. So we know what works best for large outdoor environments like golf or soccer, or smaller indoor areas like basketball and boxing.”

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