Kicking off virtual reality in football: Jaunt’s match day experience at Manchester City

Being one of the biggest football clubs in the Premier League, Manchester City has millions of fans spread across the globe. For the majority, travelling to see their favourite team in their home stadium will be impossible. So how can football clubs extend the thrill of match day to its fan base, giving them the chance to be part of the crowd, getting tantalisingly close to the heroes of the pitch and having the opportunity to glimpse behind the scenes at the club?

For Manchester City, embracing immersive technologies and teaming up with Jaunt provided the premiership team with a way to give its fans the chance to get close to the action in a unique way, whilst also growing its number of followers around the world.

“Manchester City as a club is widely regarded at the forefront of innovation, so being the first, or one of the first clubs in Europe to jump on this technology was essential. They are always striving to find innovative ways and technologies to better engage existing fans, but also finding ways to expand their global reach.”
— Marco Delvai; Content Partnerships Director, Jaunt

What was produced?

A three-minute cinematic VR experience was created, taking the viewer to the home of Manchester City, the Etihad Stadium during a premiership home match against Chelsea FC.

The viewer is taken through a complete match day journey, effectively capturing the energy, noise and passion of fans on a typical match day. There’s a clear narrative arc to the piece, starting with the build up outside the stadium alongside other fans, to making your way into the locker room and through to the tunnel, culminating in seeing part of the match itself. The images are coupled with an evocative scripted voiceover to help guide the viewer through the experience.

“There’s nothing that compares with attending a match at the Etihad Stadium, but the emergence of 360 video and virtual reality has allowed us to capture some of that atmosphere and excitement in ways that weren’t possible in the past… As our fan base continues to grow, both within the UK and globally, we want all of our fans to get a taste for what it’s like to be at the Etihad Stadium.”
— Diego Gigliani; Senior Vice-President of Media and Innovation for City Football Group

Challenges in production and post production

Pre-production planning was crucial to the successful delivery of the project. As a live match was being recorded, filming time was limited to one day, so there were no second chances to get it right. As such, the Jaunt team had to be well prepared, stick to schedule and, as a small crew of six people, remaining agile was crucial to ensure the shoot was successful.

Capturing the energy and passion of a match meant filming had to take place during an actual game, including footage of a goal being scored. Given stringent rights protecting media coverage of Premiership games, permission was needed to film a live game. As one of the highest profile matches of the season, Sky’s coverage was extensive, with over 40 cameras throughout the stadium capturing the action. The Jaunt kit and crew could not be shown on the TV feeds, so they had to overlay the TV film crew to minimise the chance of this happening.

Although the club were hugely supportive, gaining access to the sporting talent was another challenge for the production crew, a common issue when filming high profile sports projects. As sports professionals are focussed solely on the job of winning the game, rather than filming it. As Marco explains:

“When you’re dealing with a professional sports team, there’s always a short time window of availability for crew to film. You need to be smart within the preparation phase. You have to have done your homework, so that during production you are laser focussed and as nimble as possible so that you don’t interrupt the talent, to capture the footage you want to get.”

Pre-production planning also helped when it came to effective post-production and meant the Jaunt team could spend more time making the experience look, feel and sound as real as possible – with one exception. Manchester’s grey skies are quite commonplace, but this didn’t look great on the footage. Additional time had to be spent colour grading to improve the light and colour of final experience to make it more vibrant.

Distribution and impact

As this was Manchester City’s first piece of consumer facing VR, making the experience accessible was central to the success of project in its aim of reaching its global fan base. To achieve this, a range of distribution channels were used, from VR platforms including the Jaunt VR app, PlayStation VR, iOS, Android, Gear VR, Google Daydream, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and major desktop browsers to social channels such as Facebook and YouTube.

Appearing on Manchester City’s Facebook and You Tube sites was an overwhelmingly successful way to get the experience out to a wider audience. In its first three days, it had over 800k views on social channels alone, making it one of the highest performing piece of content on the team’s Facebook site in terms of number of views, and also in terms of social engagement.

Content creation and immersive tech – a winning combination for sports organisations?

“A great, bold, clever content marketing strategy can actually translate into hard business.
Although this piece was successful as a piece of content to connect with fans, Marco highlights this is part of a growing trend among sports clubs to develop an effective content strategy, as this also makes good commercial sense. As social channels are increasingly being used by fans to access their favourite clubs, this shift also gives sponsorship partners new ways to connect with their target audiences too.

As Marco explains “Nowadays, sport organisations are more like media organisations. Content is the hook through which many of your fans will experience the sport. The way that most fans will experience the brand and the club is through social channels. This it’s why it’s so important for sports organisations to create great content and to know about a multiplatform approach and what works for different platforms… And a lot of their sponsors are following this trend. They realise that, yes, it’s cool to have a branded T-shirt and an advertising strip around the stadium that appears on TV, but they realise that a lot of activity is happening via social channels. We see a lot of clubs are finding ways to insert their sponsors’ messages into the content they are deploying on their social channels.”

The Manchester City Match Day experience offers sports clubs a tantalising glimpse into not only the technological possibilities that VR offers, but also the possibilities that this medium holds to tell stories and engage fans around the world.