Facebook's virtual reality headset is going to transform the way we watch sports

Courtside NBA gameJared Wickerman/Getty ImagesIt will really feel like he’s jumping over *you*!

Facebook is poised to transform the way people consume sport and profit hugely in the process, thanks to its virtual reality headset Oculus Rift. That’s the verdict in a new internal company note by US investment bank PiperJaffrey.

Acquired by Facebook for $US2 billion in March 2014, most of the excitement about Oculus Rift focuses on video gaming. It’s easy to see how the virtual reality headset is going to revolutionise gaming and create far more immersive game worlds than ever before. But there are also very significant avenues for profit in the world of professional sports.

A courtside seat at a sports game — especially a major one — is extremely highly valued. At the NBA finals, they can sell for more than $US30,000 a pop. Oculus Rift and other virtual reality vendors are developing the technology to produce an “infinite seat,” PiperJaffrey says, ” which “they could sell an infinite number of times.”

Of course, these virtual seats wouldn’t go for nearly as much as the real deal, but it’s easy to see that thousands of people (at least!) would be willing to spend some money in order to have an immersive, real-time, courtside experience at a sports game. There would be literally no limit on the number of people you could fit in the stadium, so to speak, and this makes Oculus Rift a “significant long term opportunity.”

This isn’t just abstract posturing: Sports organisations are actively looking into the possibility. The NBA is running at least four events in the near future on Samsung’s virtual reality streaming service. The NHL and NFL have both done live virtual reality streaming tests. And the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, has personally made enquires at Stanford University as to how far off virtual reality courtside seats are.

So how far away are they? PiperJaffrey estimates we should see “live streaming photo realistic courtside seats” within 8 to 10 years — although timelagged broadcasts may be even sooner.

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