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Hybrid Event Technology for Corporations Emerged from Sports

Sports: The genesis of hybrid events 

Written by: Gianna Kreider, CTUS Project Manager

As the world begins to open up and we see live events starting to come back online, there is a bit of uncertainty as to where hybrid events will go. There seem to be two schools of thought currently, those who think that every show will now contain some sort of virtual element and those who believe a virtual experience can never live up to the magic of live. But what if we aren’t having the right conversation? Most of us have been watching hybrid events our entire lives without even realizing it. The original can be traced back to 1936, when the Summer Olympics were televised for the first time, offering both an in-person and broadcast experience for the entire world.  

Professional sports leagues have exploded in popularity since being televised. The yearly Super Bowl consistently ranks on the most viewed television broadcasts of all time lists in the US, being beat out only by the moon landing. While not all the sights and sounds experienced by attending an in-person event cannot be simulated remotely, there are still ways to create a unique experience for the at home viewer. Let us look at some of the virtual elements that existed long before 2020.  

Sports LED Technology

Graphics and animations 

Graphics and animation are so ingrained in sports now, you barely even notice these virtual elements, but before 1994 they did not exist. The World Cup wanted a way to advertise but soccer has no natural breaks, so they could not run an ad without interrupting the game. ABC and ESPN worked together to create a constant element that could not only display ads during the game, but also offer the score. This led to many other graphics, such as the 1st and 10 lines in football and the K-zone in baseball, which tracks the entire path of a pitch. This completely revolutionized the viewer experience by offering the at home viewer the same, or sometimes better, experience as the in-person attendee. A more recent use of this technology was during the NBA bubble in 2020. All the teams played on the same three courts, so their logos and ad signage were inserted onto the court digitally.  

Las Vegas LED Studio Production Control Room

Broadcast booths 

Every network will usually host some iteration of a broadcast booth while reporting on a major sporting event. Some will broadcast out of a studio and utilize green screen technology, while some deploy remote stages with LED screens to the event. These screens can be used for replay analysis, advertising, and game information. Remote broadcasting can also solve logistical hurdles and allow the same announcers to call multiple games, in multiple locations, saving on travel costs. 

Broadcast cameras 

The remote viewer experience continues to be enhanced as new camera technology is added. The most recent Super Bowl featured 4K and 8K cameras, operated by steadi-cams and a MoVI rig. This provided crystal clear images of the players against a blurry background, providing a movie-like effect for anyone watching at home. 

Instant replay  

The original instant replay was invented in 1963 and involved tape decks the size of refrigerators. Nowadays, video servers have allowed for advanced replay technology, creating more complex replays such as freeze frame, frame-by-frame review, and instant analysis tools such as ball speed or distance calculation.  

Those are just a few of the ways that live sports have always featured a virtual or streaming element. One new element popped up last year when sports got back up and running but were not yet able to have an in-person element.  

Hybrid Event Technology - Basketball Court

Virtual Fan Experience 

The biggest example of this came from the NBA bubble. 17-foot LED walls were constructed around three sides of the court and displayed 300 cheering fans using Microsoft Teams. It helped offer a sense of community to fans while they watched the games from home. They were also given a tap to cheer option, where they could cheer, boo, or clap from their couches.  

Where do we go from here? 

The corporate events industry can learn a lot from how sports have handled hybrid events. As technology progresses, more opportunities will arise for adding live studio sets, high-quality digital production, and virtual hosts into your next event. You will always have people who prefer the live experience, such as fans who have season tickets and never miss a game. But you also have those who prefer to watch at home, and it does not make them any less of a fan. Live sporting events are a prime example of how an event can provide both a unique in-person and virtual component that keeps attendees returning for more.