Exeter Chiefs v Leicester Tigers - Aviva Premiership
An iPad is monitored by a member of Exeter Chiefs staff for possible head injuries during the Aviva Premiership match between Exeter Chiefs and Leicester Tigers at Sandy Park on December 24, 2016 in Exeter, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

For the majority, enjoying a rugby game will always be a physical experience. Not as such playing, but in the participation.

For fans, it is in the supporting and following a teams efforts that is almost spiritual. And for some, they wish to become even more involved. And as we develop tastes for 21st Century Rugby, the fan experience now is ever changing.

As habits, and the method of viewing the game are evolving, so is the technology. The involvement of a match day experience is now varied, and less focused on the visceral solely. Less today than just on the eye focused wholly on a ball, following the action solely minute-by-minute.

More now, prior to/during and post-match the added information and visual aides are beginning to add to the game.

It is still a social environment, and always shall be. With external involvement of friends and family, jokes made with the opposition and jibbing of mates. The external engagement today is not always at the ground–or waiting until after the game. Now, fans can watch it live, delayed, in slow-motion replay and with enhanced details like never before.

Fans take pictures using their mobile phones at St James’ Park on October 9, 2015 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

And that can be achieved simultaneously, while enjoying the action. At it’s heart though is the sport, but with 21st century rugby the ways to enjoy it changes day-to-day.

All Blacks Lead the Way in 21st Century Rugby

The United States has always led the way of sports/entertainment innovation. From multi-camera footage, to a pay-per-view culture and on-demand services. Production of the sports event has changed and the product–NFL, Baseball or MMA–now offer ‘extra content’ as well as sports-focused information, biography and external content.

And while that market will evolve, trends today arrive from across the sports world. And that cross-border exchange of technology is promoting the growth of new methods, upgrades and varied ways to enjoy all sport. This includes rugby union, with a new All Blacks app which has new features not seen before.

During the highly popular British and Irish Lions tour, the Vodafone powered app has delivered cutting-edge features. These include news, results and a social hub but the point of difference is a ‘Stadium Live’ function.

Fans can use their digital devices to switch between 8 different camera angles, replay highlights as well as view the previous 30 seconds of footage from any camera angle. The app also offers up-to-date match info, stats and commentary, and DHL New Zealand Lions Series 2017 specific content.

“If you look at the major sporting franchises around the world, they are all focusing on how they engage with their player communities, enhance the experience for fans and provide new viewing experiences for more people.”

Vodafone/All Blacks Partnership Promotes Fan Engagement

New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew said the agreement puts rugby at the forefront of the integration of technology and sport. “We want to offer rugby fans the ultimate experience. This partnership with Vodafone means local rugby fans will have access to in-stadium technology that is at the forefront of what is available around the world to watch the game.

“It is an incredibly exciting development.”

As cathode ray tube transformed into Liquid Crystal Display, so has the medium to deliver sport changed. Cable TV has been overwhelmed by Satellite, with the receiver going from a fixed home unit to now being a portable device. It is a massive evolution – from watching at home, to now holding every available option in the palm of your hand.

And even while a ten inch mobile viewing screen may seem limited, the enjoyment of viewing in public

At home, the opposite applies. The viewing experience has super-sized. A 14 inch set is now replaced by a 54 inch flat screen, or up to whatever size takes your fancy. Choice is now the consumers option. And in a country that holds rugby up as a ‘shrine to sport’ the revolution is taking hold.

Vodafone and Sky Sport Provide Content

Vodafone will become an official sponsor of the All Blacks in a four-year agreement that will create world-class digital experiences for rugby fans inside, and outside the stadium. The telecommunications company are the second largest provider in this country and their platform is widely available via 4G network and through Google Play or iOS App Store downloads.

The relationship is entirely relative to the delivery of new features available via an exclusive All Blacks app. The ‘app’ today is very much the vehicle for enhanced features, but also in product placement and endorsement. Very much so today, association of brands is critical, so the benefit for Vodafone is by their association, and relationship, with the All Blacks.

The mobile app is a tool for fans to engage with the current World Champions. Download the latest free version, and the multi-platform program delivers a hub for fans to view multiple features: news, videos, events and exclusive features.

Vodafone has an agreement to broadcast footage via Sky Television. The broadcast rights holder of New Zealand Rugby (NZR) allows the user of the app, to view matchday footage. And this is the innovation which is world leading. ‘Stadium Live’ is the leading edge of mobile content, that is a step forward to an enhanced viewing experience.

21st Century Rugby with ‘Stadium Live’

If not the first, then the All Blacks/Vodafone arrangement is all inclusive of both the public, and corporate world. When viewed, there is a connection with existing sponsors Adidas and AIG. Visualy, it is appealing and designed to be user friendly. The options and enhancements are paired best during match day.

In a similar way to how pay-TV now devotes a ‘pop-up channel’ the app is active on match day. The ‘Stadium Live’ function offers fans more than just a a highlight package. This new technology puts ‘control in the hands of fans’ in the stadium. Through their devices, fans are able to replay tries, view and watch alternative live footage from multiple different camera angles.

The partnership will extend the fan experience outside the stadium, with Vodafone providing high speed broadband in DHL NZ Lions Series fan zones and supporting a New Zealand rugby road-trip throughout the Series.

“It was only five years ago smartphones came into their own and now nearly every customer in New Zealand has one. That has created a platform and we thought ‘why don’t we create the fan experience of the future and that’s what the app is doing,” says Vodafone chief executive Russell Stanners.

Rugby Viewing Interactive to Meet Fan Demands

When considering a fans viewing needs while a game is being played, this can be both a benefit–as well as distraction. During a game, stoppages in play maybe ideal times to better engage the audience. So the new enhanced features can be utilized during the breaks in play.

Open the app on any portable device, the spectator can now ‘rewind the play’ or watch a camera angle that might provide more detail than visually found. And that is the key benefit–if the stoppage in play can afford it. The practicalities may find more fan engaged with their device, while the referee has blown ‘time on’.

Fans Demand High Speed Connection to Enjoy Mobile Service

A with any viewing interactive service, the download speed and connectivity is all important. Visit any metropolitan stadium, and options are available: 4G hotspots, free Wi-Fi and downloadable data packets. Modern stadiums, like Eden Park, Twickenham or Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane can provide; for a fee, a user the ability to download a time-period or allowable kilobyte packet. All providing the fan the avenue to enjoy stadium experience. Provided the speed is ideal.

The only detrimental factor is whether the available signal speed can be met. In a way very much like the conditions of the surface, download speed is the crucial feature. So if the cellular or satellite signal wains, this will diminish the apps function. Ergo, buffering or dropping out entirely.

But while the ‘first world problems’ of high speed connectivity are far removed from the rugby field, fans now carry more than a program to the stadium. Most are armed with a cellular device. Often; and more so today, fans use their phone or iPad to engage more during the game. 21st century rugby means that the game is played on-field, and viewed on-line.

More and more, features and enhancements in social media and on apps are used by major sports teams. From the All Blacks, to the NFL, the value of fan engagement is providing more enjoyment to fans. Using Stadium Live, the viewer can get more from the experience (specific to what and how much they consume). And the technology will only improve further and further, as fans adapt and tailor viewing habits with both technology and their passion for the game, in mind.

“Main photo credit”

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