What Apple’s Mixed Reality Headset Means for the Sports Industry


The sports industry is no stranger to technological innovation, and the previous few years have been a particularly fruitful moment in these two gargantuan industries’ ongoing collaboration. After all, sports fans are now driving perhaps the largest objective NFT market in the world today thanks to the success of NBA Top Shot and other related licensed blockchain-token sports stores. Elsewhere, smartphone users are increasingly making use of the free bet offers supplied by comparison platforms such as oddschecker on the latest odds and picks over patronizing brick-and-mortar establishments. And with the much lauded “metaverse” on the horizon, major sporting bodies are energetically maneuvering their brands to carve out a piece of the pie. 

With respect to this latter prospect, it feels for many that it’s still too early to get a clear picture of how the metaverse will work in practice. It’s true that there have been noteworthy early examples of VR sports spectatorship, such as when San Siro stadium hosted the world’s first internationally broadcast club football match, between AC Milan and Fiorentina, in the Italian metaverse, The Nemesis, back in April. But this is still testing the waters, and while there may be some metaverse fanfare around this coming winter’s world cup, no major steps are being made to integrate Web3 with the top flight of any sporting event – yet.

A Largely Untapped Market

The major difference between the metaverse, and a slew of other emergent tech trends at present, from crypto to esports, is the lack of widespread consumer uptake. Very few people own a VR headset at present. CNBC reported back in 2020 that there were an estimated 26 million consumer VR headsets in circulation. Even allowing for that number to have grown markedly over the intervening years, this is a drop in the ocean when compared to smartphone ownership, or virtually any other mainstream consumer technology. 

What’s more, the number of these headsets that could be considered “true VR”, that is, a headset featuring 6 degrees of freedom — enabling users to not just look around, but move through space, is likely a much smaller number still. After all, to date the best selling VR headset on the market, by a huge margin, are the early 3 degree-of-freedom Samsung Gear VR headsets.

Don’t Pin Your Hopes on Zuckerberg to Deliver the Metaverse

Of course Meta, aka Facebook, are hoping to change all of that, having acquired the world’s leading VR headset manufacturer, Oculus, back in 2014. While the latest headsets coming from them are indeed impressive, and represent the current pinnacle of consumer VR tech by any measure, Facebook has historically struggled to convert their 2 billion+ user base into consumers of its numerous failed forays in consumer tech. 

As such, it’s far more likely that the first major VR headset to reach widespread public adoption will come from an established and trusted hardware manufacturer. Enter Apple, who have been quietly dropping hints that their upcoming “game-changing” mixed reality (AR/VR) headset will hit the shelves in January 2023. While much has been said about the headset’s supposed focus on AR, the fact that Apple has incorporated VR functionality at all is significant for the wider market.

The All-Pervasive Apple Effect

After all, if Apple builds it, they will come. The company’s ability to command impressive price-tags for novel technology has never hindered it in the past, and as such it’s unlikely that the supposed $3000 RRP for this upcoming headset will perturb their faithful consumers. Looking at the long game, the crucial point here is that, in much the same way the Air Pod set the template for what Bluetooth earphones could, and should, be like, Apple’s headset will rapidly become the template to emulate for other manufacturers. 

The potential latent in the metaverse is not lost on the sports industry, which stands to benefit greatly from the ability to sell virtual event tickets and VR broadcast rights. As such, you can rest assured that major franchises in this sector will be watching Apple’s upcoming headset closely, looking for clear indications as to where widespread consumer adoption of VR will land.


Tech Digest Correspondent