Fan engagement is evolving because fans are wanting more. Organizations that have realized this are leading the way, using Virtual Reality (VR) and 360 videos to give the people what they have been asking for. One sports team that is taking the lead is the San Francisco Giants and Zeality has the pleasure of working with them this year to rethink fan engagement and onsite activation for their 2017 season.

Here are the top 5 takeaways every sports team should know about how to use VR to improve your fan engagement strategies:

Virtual Reality won’t be able to replace attending or watching a game. Think about using VR as supplementing the engagement. What does that mean? Nothing is going to beat the experience of going to a game, dressing up in your favorite sports team colors, painting your face, buying a hot dog and yelling/screaming and jumping for joy at a home run or an on-the-buzzer winning shot. VR is far from being “real enough” to replace that high. But as Rob Alberino, VP and executive producer of the San Francisco 49ers said it best, “We aren’t trying to replace watching and coming to the games with 360° video, more so give deeper immersion and a supplementary experience.” There are a lot of VR companies out there developing virtual meeting rooms or augmenting scenes. These are definitely cool experiences, but they won’t deliver the stickiness and virality you and your fans are looking for. When done correctly, VR can be a cost effective solution to help bring fans closer giving them rare access to the game, the stadium, and even the players.

Keep it simple! VR doesn’t have to be a “production”. Fans don’t need long, overly produced videos to feel engaged. Keep the content short and digestible. We found that 1-2 minutes clips were a great length — long enough for a user to look around, understand the story or dialogue and get immersed, but short enough so they don’t feel they’ve missed anything in the real game. Users that want more will stay and watch several clips while others that just want a taste can do so without a full-time commitment.

4, 5, all 9 videos–You give options and fans will experience them all. “More fans are sitting through the experience longer,” says Sarah, a @Cafe employee who also staffed the VR experience last season for the SF Giants. “Most everyone said it was great.” This year the @Cafe app was deliberately designed to offer the user options. With a user-selectable carousel main menu, fans were able to look around, find a video that interested them and watch it; and then watch another, and another; and another. While flat 2D videos, posts, and photos are all great, 360/VR gives fans a whole new perspective. They can be the “fly on the wall” and listen in as Bruce Bochey imparts his years of wisdom onto players. Or perhaps the object of Brandon Crawford‘s swing practice. Either way, fans are looking for engagement in new, deeper ways. Leveraging VR and Immersive Media is an easy way to do this.

Fans want and need something different and they can find it with Virtual Reality. I watched as a fan who never experienced VR or 360 sit for 15 minutes seemingly staring at the floor the entire time. I thought to myself, “Oh great she’s gonna come out of this experience and say, ‘Well that was a waste of time’ or something similar because she wasn’t looking around.” Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Debbie, probably in her late 60s, pulled off her HMD glasses and looked at me with a huge grin and eyes wide with amazement. “That. was. INCREDIBLE.” She said. “I couldn’t stop looking at their feet,” she went on. It turns out that Debbie’s grandson just started playing baseball and was having trouble planting his feet when at bat. Debbie, who I thought was just looking at the ground, was, in fact, studying the players’ feet as they practiced their swing in the spring training videos we shot as a VR experience. “I took mental notes on timing, their steps, and rhythm.” Debbie continued.

Wow! Who would have thought that Debbie’s idea of deep engagement would be educational? Still from the same set of videos other fans commented about how they felt “a part of the action” or felt connected when players “stared right at me”. These opportunity for fans to listen, interact and learn so closely from players through these immersive experiences is priceless.

Keep 360 content fresh, new and accessible. A whopping 95% of fans said they would most definitely to most likely watch 360/VR content on their mobile phones WITHOUT the use of headsets. Once fans have tried VR one time they know the drill and know how to self-direct and look around. Consider deploying 360/VR on your sports teams’ app(s) to drive engagement beyond the stadium. Solutions like Zeality’s Immersive Media Engine™ (IME) are advancing the way sports teams leverage VR/360 content to positively affect audience engagement. In as little as 2 weeks, sports teams can be up and running with a 360° VR solution. When we told fans we have all new content from last year and 9 new short clips to choose from, 10 out of 10 times they sat and experienced the VR content. To keep them engaged even further, find new and interesting stories and points of view you can bring to fans. Or in the case of Debbie above, just bring more of the same content from 2D to 360° and fans will find what they want to see.

Virality and engagement is natural with 360/VR content. The sports industry is perfectly positioned to leverage what VR has to offer to positively affect their fan engagement and participation goals. Incorporating immersive media is simple and the results can be amazing. Sports fans simply want more ways to feel closer to the team and players they love — so give it to them, using VR.