Jets developing virtual experience to bring fans even closer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Ryan Fitzpatrick is so close you could tug on the New York Jets quarterback's beard and wish him luck.
Better look out, or you'll be run over by some of those big offensive lineman making their way out to the field.
Well, not in reality, but virtual reality. It's all part of a unique experience - ''Jets Virtual Sideline'' - the team is working on giving to their fans through some cutting-edge technology.
''Man, it's cool,'' said fan Phil Dinhofer of Merrick, New York. ''It's the wave of the future.''
The Jets certainly think that's the case.
Using virtual reality technology from STRIVR Labs, the team conducted a beta test at MetLife Stadium during six home games so far this season. Wearing headphones and Oculus goggles, fans have a choice of six experiences: running out to the field with the team (the most popular); taking part in the coin toss; being on field for the national anthem; standing on the sideline during a touchdown catch by Brandon Marshall; participating in a Flight Crew performance; or being in the crowd for the J-E-T-S chant.
You get 360-degree views and the sounds are vivid, making you feel as though you're right in the middle of the action. It seems like something straight out of ''Star Wars.''
''Oh, it's great,'' a smiling Dinhofer said. ''I was ready to join the cheerleaders and do the dance.''
The Jets purchased the STRIVR technology in the spring and began using it during training camp for on-field drills. Several NFL and college teams have done the same, helping quarterbacks, in particular, train and improve performance by providing a complete field of vision from practices.
''The impetus was the football team,'' Jets President Neil Glat said. ''But we always had in the back of our mind when the decision was made to buy it that we think there's a fan opportunity here as well.''
The Jets began filming game day footage during preseason home games in August, using high-tech cameras in various spots.
''We kind of worked out the kinks using it for football and figuring out what are the best ways to shoot things and cut things and how fast we could turn it around,'' said Tim Tubito, the team's video director. ''And then, it kind of opened up to where are the areas where we can use it on game day to really give the fans a different type of experience?''
The team ran its first test in MetLife Stadium's Commissioners Club during the home opener - and it was a hit. The Jets have also given sneak peeks to fans at other locations, including the Coaches Club during pregame.
''People's first reaction is just the coolness factor,'' said Seth Rabinowitz, the team's senior vice president of marketing and fan engagement. ''You've never seen this before, so there's a `wow' factor. We're still getting a lot of different feedback on what people really want. Do they want to do just a minute, just like a little thrill ride? Or, do they want to do a longer form?''
The team is exploring several options on how to most effectively use the technology before it officially rolls it out. The Jets want to completely learn what the technology can do from a fan experience standpoint, what operation issues are involved and what the fans like.
It could end up becoming a 10-minute attraction, something in the offseason for fans clamoring for football, used in various areas of the stadium before games - or, all of the above.
''I'd say the short-term vision is an enhancement to a segment of fans at the stadium,'' Glat said. ''That's, to me, No. 1. No. 2 is probably something in and around the offseason. And then, we'll see where we go from there. To me, it's how do we make it better when you're coming out to the stadium?''
The technology is constantly evolving and could potentially someday be run on a hand-held device instead of a laptop.
''I think you'll see this a lot in the mainstream consumer marketplace, like video games and other things,'' Rabinowitz said. ''You're going to start to see it very quickly and, by spring, it's going to be all the rage.''
And, Jets fans will be able to reach out and - virtually - touch their favorite team.
''This is a walk-before-we-run thing because it's great for a handful of people to check out and get feedback,'' Glat said. ''But if you really want to get hundreds and thousands of people through on game day and we're going to put our name on it, we want it to be really good.''
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