Japanese baseball team Yokohama DeNA BayStars and the Canadian Premier League football competition have launched virtual stadium projects as part of plans to bring fans closer to the action amid COVID-19.

Earlier this week, the BayStars launched a free trial of their ‘Virtual Hamasuta’ project, which the team has developed in partnership with telco operator KDDI, for the home game against the Hanshin Tigers.

The initiative enables BayStars supporters to create their own avatars and virtually walk around Yokohama Stadium from the comfort of their own homes while the game is taking place. The experience is available on smartphones, PCs and virtual reality devices.

The initiative will recreate the experience of being in the stadium and fans will be able to interact with each other while watching the game. Inappropriate behaviour is strictly prohibited and if guidelines are not adhered to fans will be asked to leave. Tuesday’s trial was available for free.

Due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, attendances at Japanese baseball games are currently capped at 5,000. The virtual stadium initiative is designed to engage fans who are not able to attend games.

“This is perhaps the first case in Japan, and maybe the first in the world,” Kohei Shigeta, director of 5G and XR services at KDDI, said, according to the Japan Times newspaper. “We’re hoping to give the fans new experiences that they can only have through the virtual space.”

Shigeta added: “We would like to help sport as a telecommunication company by adopting different technologies. As the areas of 5G expand, it should be easier to do that. We would like to expand 5G technology while partnering with a flagship club like the BayStars.

“We think it’s nobody else but the BayStars that can do things like this drastically and quickly. So if we keep working on things like this, we think it will increase demand.”

Meanwhile the CPL has unveiled what it claims is a first for Canada with a virtual stadium project of its own.

The CPL has teamed up with OneSoccer to launch the project for the Island Games, which will see matches played behind closed doors at Charlottetown’s UPEI Alumni Field.

The virtual stadium environment has been created by wTVision, which specialises in virtual and augmented reality graphics. The experience will allow fans to watch matches as though sat in the stadium, and will deliver unique club and partner branding executions.

Fans can participate in the virtual stadium project by submitting their photos to the CPL, with selected images to feature on the virtual video board inside the stadium during their club’s matches.

CPL commissioner David Clanachan said: “The facilities at the University of Prince Edward Island are impressive and we’re honoured to host the 2020 Island Games in Charlottetown.

“However, the facilities are not a traditional stadium environment for broadcast so we challenged ourselves to come up with an innovative and creative way to deliver a professional-calibre experience for our fans, supporters and partners that also provided a fun way for fans to participate and engage throughout the broadcast.”

Flávio Maurício, wTVision’s US country manager, added: “We needed a visual solution that would guarantee the entertainment and emotional side of football. So, our broadcast design team created the complete graphic design of the virtual stadium, preparing all visual aspects and implementing them in the most effective way. The augmented reality-built stadium is the result of wTVision’s very own technology and we’re very happy with the final result.”

Image: Yokohama DeNA BayStars