Representatives from the New Zealand TAB and Australian Harness Racing were on site at Auckland’s Alexandra Park last Friday night when the new broadcast technology was unveiled at harness racing’s IRT sponsored Inter Dominion Championships.
The successful trial featured on-site coverage of races involving 360-degree cameras mounted on the helmets of drivers, which will soon allow fans to use smartphones to experience the race in real-time from the perspective of the drivers.
Racing officials globally are interested in the technology’s ability to deliver in-race wagering, opening a vital new revenue stream for the TAB and also acting as an attraction to lure fans and the next generation of event seekers, back to racing clubs suffering from declining attendances.
“This has huge potential. Punters should get involved while attending the InterDoms. We need their feedback to make the experience the best it can be. Looking forward to the next stage. One of the more exciting things that’s happened to Racing for years,” says Racing Board general manager of customers, Gary Woodham “Once we have proven the system, we can look to monetise it for punters. Very exciting. TAB understands how this could change the game for Racing punters.”
Representatives from 5G providers Huawei, have been contributors to the “proof-of-concept” which has been overseen by the inventor of the “BESTSEAT360” product, Aucklander Craig Meek.
The innovative smartphone-delivered products allow spectators at track side or at home, to view the race in real-time from the perspective of the driver or jockey. The product allows users to rotate the view a full 360 degrees to see the horses in front, next and behind the chosen driver. Fans can also ‘teleport’ or ‘swap’ to different drivers during the race.
“In the past, if you were at a track, you’d follow a race with a set of binoculars,” explained Meek. “Today, our product allows you to use a smartphone, while giving you the incredible experience of driving your horse in the race by simply rotating your view 360 degrees during the race allowing you to move from horse to horse for a better view, putting you right in the action.”
A select group of 50 “VIPs” used the product for the first time during the Alexandra Park pilot and were unanimous in agreement; this trial was a glimpse into the future and could be a huge boost for the industry and other sporting codes.
“Racing has probably lagged a bit in technology in recent times, but this could be a game-changer,” said Jamie MacKinnon, Board Director of Alexandra Park.
“We need to find effective and stimulating ways to convince event seekers to come to race meetings and to better engage with our sport. This is the future of engaging sports viewership and a platform to improve revenues. It’s easy to use and very captivating. We saw positive response to the idea, especially by those not directly involved with harness racing.”
“Many of them were blown away by the technology and say they want more.”
Importantly, MacKinnon added, the future ability to bet through the BESTSEAT360 product could prove a huge benefit to the future of the racing industry.
Harness racing officials both sides of the Tasman are enthusiastic about the products potential with the wagering community.
“Having seen the amazing vision generated by the BestSeat360 technology, I sincerely believe that this innovative presentation of vision can be ‘game changing’ for the Harness Racing Industry. Not only does it provide the ability to revolutionise the way in which people view and experience our racing product, but it also has the potential to open new revenue streams to the Industry.” said Chairman – Harness Racing Australia, Michael Taranto. “The potential uses of the vision are endless.”
Based on the success of this trial, BESTSEAT360 has been invited to present to the governing body of the China racing body responsible for horse racing and wagering on Hainan Island, China.
Meek said 5G will be the “game-changer” that makes BESTSEAT360 the ultimate in sports engagement. While harness racing was the “first proof-of-concept”, the technology and product had a “natural fit” with other sporting codes and media coverage.
The Alexandra Park trial was successful using 4.5G.
“If we had 5G, the full-on experience would be mind-blowing,” said Meek. “Being Kiwis, we are overcoming all obstacles as they present. Working with the team at Spark and Huawei they upgraded the Alexandra Park cell site from 4G to 4.5G to provide us with enough band width to provide the VIPs with an exclusive experience from multiple horses. We have also tested the technology in the Spark 5G Lab.”
MacKinnon said, “Alexandra Park has been working with Meek’s company since the beginning of the year and saw the IRT Inter-Dominion as the perfect event to pilot the technology.”
“We have provided them with access to our facilities,” he explained. “The horse owners, drivers and staff have been amazingly helpful and realise they will be beneficiaries of the new technology and are part of a world first.”
Meek said the test project had been invaluable in identifying and overcoming issues and that real-time, in-race wagering “is absolutely possible” and that the product is easily transferrable to the sports and entertainment world.
He said BESTSEAT360 will roll out other world firsts with various sports over the next year and would also concentrate on adding an “AI” (Artificial Intelligence) component to assist users and take engagement to the next level.
“We’re talking about smart media for smart phones that gives you the event in real-time, close up from the eyes of those in it the middle of it,” he said.
“There is an obvious application to all manner of sports from motor-racing to rugby, cricket to baseball, basketball to netball, Tour de France to crazy extreme sports and a host of other sports. Not only does it offer fans gripping new perspectives from the view of the athlete but also the ability to create gamification to drive fan engagement and also maximise the wagering economy.”
Meek said, “Licencing opportunities are underway with sports organisations, telcos and broadcasters in New Zealand and internationally with an investment round also planned early next year.”
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