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VR is being used to promote the 2022 FIFA World Cup, creates immersive fan experience

New research from Rutgers University highlights the role VR plays in sports journalism and sports public relations, and provides practical recommendations on the use of VR during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A new study by Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, exploring the ways virtual reality has been used by Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 to promote FIFA World Cup soccer games, found that both host countries used VR to highlight their unique stadium designs, technology, facilities, and geographic locations.

The study, published in the Journal of Sport and Tourism, was written by PhD student Shravan Regret Iyer, Professor of Journalism and Media Studies John V. Pavlik, and Professor Venus Jin of Northwestern University in Qatar.

Their research, Shravan Regret Iyer said, “adds to the theoretical discussions on the role VR plays in sports journalism and sports public relations and provides practical recommendations on the use of virtual reality during the COVID-19 pandemic, when social distancing and travel restrictions are key to mitigating the health crisis. These VR content productions could be the solution to hosting mega-sporting events and for users/audience to attend such events virtually.”

These VR content productions could be the solution to hosting mega-sporting events and for users/audience to attend such events virtually.

Shravan Regret Iyer, School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University

The study focused on the use of experiential media (EM) technologies, particularly virtual reality (VR), a subset of EM, in the context of sports public relations and sports journalistic YouTube productions. The study explored VR content created by Russia Today, a Russia state-controlled international news network, to promote the 2018 Russia World Cup, in comparison to pre-game YouTube VR content produced by the “Road To 2022”, which is the official YouTube Channel of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

A promotional 360° video for Qatar’s Lusail Stadium at the 2022 FIFA World Cup

By evaluating the EM content productions for Russia 2018, they found that VR offered users an opportunity to feels what it’s like to be inside the stadium as a spectator, gave perspectives of media professionals covering the match, provided birds-eye views of interesting landmarks around the stadium, and featured Russian Cosmonauts in the International Space Station (ISS). Russia also highlighted their state-of-the-art stadium in these productions, showing the snowy peaks of Mt. Fisht nearby.

Analyzing Qatar 2022’s “Road to 2022” and comparing them to Russia’s, the researchers found that Qatar also used VR to highlight the stadium (particularly the façade inspired by Qatar’s traditional art), the facilities (including player locker rooms, players bench, VIP dugouts, practice & warm-up areas for players, accessibility for people with disabilities, and more). The state-of-the-art technology Qatar adopted in the stadium was also a focus of these videos.

“Observing how Qatar used VR to highlight their technology is particularly insightful,” study co-author Pavlik said. “‘Qatar 2022’ is a special mega-sporting event because Qatar is the first Arab nation to host the FIFA World Cup, and the country is also a technology-rich nation in the Arab Gulf with one of the world’s highest internet broadband penetrations of 99.0% as of February 2022.”

Qatar is the first Arab nation to host the FIFA World Cup, and the country is also a technology-rich nation in the Arab Gulf with one of the world’s highest internet broadband penetrations of 99.0%

John V. Pavlik, Professor of Journalism and Media Studies, Rutgers University

The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will be held from 20 November to 18 December 2022.

The study’s findings showed that all seventeen of the EM content productions created by both Russia and Qatar featured only limited use of the six qualities of EM: (1) interactivity, (2) immersion, (3) multi-sensory presentation, (4) algorithm and data, (5) first-person perspective, and (6) natural user interface. All seventeen were also accessed through an Oculus Quest 2, VR HMD, which created a truly immersive VR experience. The HMD provides a stereoscopic 360° view along with 3D surround sound and comes with haptics controllers to experience the EM content productions.

EM transforms the ways public relations (PR) professions tell stories about a brand, organisation, or event.

Shravan Regret Iyer, School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University

The study is timely, Iyer said, because “A growing body of work highlights how EM transforms the ways public relations (PR) professions tell stories about a brand, organisation, or event. In the context of sports, Public Relations content productions utilize various qualities of EM and VR to offer immersive at-home, arena-like experiences for sports spectators. Furthermore, Mega-sporting events like the FIFA World Cup as well as the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Formula 1, Moto GP, and NFL, all provide a vast range of opportunities for sports journalists and sports PR professionals to incorporate advanced media technologies to offer a truly immersive experience to their audiences worldwide.” 

This study was funded by the Qatar National Research Fund. The findings were also presented at the MediAsia, Kyoto Japan Conference 2021 held virtually in November 2021. 

Chidirim Ndeche

Chidirim Ndeche is a reporter at Breakthrough.

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