Fox Sports is bringing virtual reality to live college football

When the Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Oklahoma Sooners this Saturday night, Fox Sports is giving fans the chance to experience the game as if they were actually there — by broadcasting the game in its entirety in virtual reality.

Starting at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday night, viewers can fire up the Fox Sports VR mobile app to catch all the action. By hooking their phones up to a Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard, viewers be able to watch the game in its full, immersive glory. Those who don’t have a headset will still be able to interact and watch in a 360-degree video setting. It’s the first of three or four college football games the company plans to broadcast in VR — in addition to its regular telecast — this season.

This isn’t the first live VR stunt from Fox Sports, which live streamed NASCAR’s Daytona 500 in its entirety earlier this year. Other live sports VR experiences produced by Fox Sports this year include five different holes at the U.S. Open and the season opener for the Bundesliga. But what will set Ohio State-Oklahoma apart, however, is the interactive nature of the live stream, which will give viewers the option to access multiple viewpoints throughout the stadium.

“One of the things we’ve found in the past is people were wondering what else is there to do,” said Michael Davies, svp of field tech and operations for Fox Sports. “It’s great and all to be in the best seat in the house — and we can certainly deliver that — but some interactivity is now also expected.”

The interactivity will come via a partnership with VR tech company LiveLike, which has enabled Fox Sports to create a “virtual suite” within the VR experience. Through this, viewers can watch the game from the high-up suite location or four different on-field perspectives. Fox Sports will also embed its TV broadcast on to the jumbotron at Owen Field, allowing viewers to watch the TV presentation while simultaneously exploring the VR experience. Other options include a separate room within the suite for game highlights and stats.

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The “virtual suite” for Ohio State vs. Oklahoma in the Fox Sports VR app.

On the field, Fox Sports’ VR efforts are led by Davies and his 12-person field tech and ops team, which oversees all technical aspects of any Fox Sports production. This team, which is also behind Fox Sports’ use of aerial drones, is responsible for capturing VR footage. It will have “half-a-dozen” people at Owen Field for tomorrow night’s game.

Within a live sports setting, VR doesn’t significantly add to the costs of a production, according to Davies. This is partly because VR — unlike 3D or other fads — doesn’t require operators to be standing by the cameras.

“There are some economies that you can count on with VR. I won’t say it’s cheap, but it makes for a fairly cost-effective production,” said Davies, who decline to give specifics on costs.

In the past two years, Fox Sports has done eight VR productions. Up until now, these have largely been through the Samsung Gear VR headset, which means the audience has been extremely limited. Enabling viewers to watch Ohio State-Oklahoma game with 360 video should help.

“While the immersive bit is important to us, we acknowledge that there aren’t many of these devices out there,” Davies said. “We wanted to figure out a way to bring this to a larger audience.”

Even though the audience for VR isn’t big, Fox Sports still feels the need to experiment with the technology. Initially, the company has been approaching the medium by developing VR experiences that are differentiated from the TV product. The Bundesliga live stream, for instance, had its own broadcast team.

“It’s important for us to go and spend time, effort and money to understand what this is and what it could mean for our business,” said Davies. “Using this knowledge, we can be there and be successful when people do start watching.”

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