Image: iStock/deagreez

Over the last year, the coronavirus pandemic has altered the traditional live sporting experience for fans around the globe. During this time, mammoth courtside LED walls brimming with virtual fans and a sea of cardboard cutouts have replaced in-stadium participation to mitigate the spread of contagion. On April 7, Cisco announced new partnerships to boost fan engagement and viewing in the age of “hybrid sports.”

SEE: TechRepublic Premium editorial calendar: IT policies, checklists, toolkits, and research for download (TechRepublic Premium)

“For many people, the absence of live sports has been a significant void during these challenging times. Cisco’s mission is to bring sports to the masses, and to make the experience as interactive, exhilarating, and inclusive as the in-person experience,” said Aruna Ravichandran, chief marketing officer at Cisco Webex.

In the U.S., vaccinations have increased markedly, although many sports leagues still are operating with limited in-person seating. The NFL expected 25,000 in-person fans at Super Bowl LV and the NCAA set a 25% capacity limit on in-person attendance during this recent March Madness tournament. At the same time, online media viewing has boomed amid lockdown measures during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The absence of live sporting events turned the sports industry upside-down, making way for a new world of hybrid sports, that can deepen fan experiences as the world starts to open up, but with limited venue capacity, and varying fan comfort levels,” Ravichandran said.

SEE: Software as a Service (SaaS): A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

In recent months, Cisco Webex has announced a number of new features to enhance video conferencing. This includes real-time translation, an AI-enabled “gesture” feature to enhance remote collaboration and expression as well as acquisitions to help mitigate background noise on video calls.

“From gesture recognition, to live translations in 108 languages, to real-time audience engagement and insights with our recent acquisition of Slido – Cisco Webex is on the front-line carving out this new market, to bridge the virtual and physical experiences in this new hybrid world,” Ravichandran said.

Bay Area sports teams take center stage

Cisco also announced partnerships with NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California, the fourth such collaboration between the company and professional sports organizations including McLaren Racing, Team DSM and PGA Golf Australia.

Cisco said that it is now the “official video-conferencing technology partner” for NBC Sports Bay Area coverage related to the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco Giants as well NBC Sports California’s San Jose Sharks coverage.

Video tech-enabled competition and mentoring

A portion of the release discusses the “The Players Series” tournament presented by Cisco Webex and PGA of Australia where video tech is used to connect professional golfers with junior golfers to compete for prize purses and provide mentorship opportunities.

“Whether on the pitch, on the court, on the course, or on the racetrack, sports are, and will continue to be a huge part of our local and global culture,” Ravichandran said. “Technology and sports, together, not only provide a new innovative outlet for recreation and connection, but the power to build a more inclusive world.”