Two of Sports Illustrated's four regional covers for their college football preview.

A key part of Sports Illustrated‘s recent strategy has been emphasizing elements beyond their print magazine, from website innovations to cross-platform virtual reality documentaries to promoting Swimsuit as its own brand and apparel line. The latest comes with their college football preview double issue, which hits newsstands today, and will feature four regional covers spotlighting different quarterbacks.

The change this time around? This issue will include augmented reality content, meaning that readers can scan the cover and special sections inside the magazine with their smartphones and the free Life VR app to see special 360-degree videos and more. Here are further details from SI’s release:

The special 2017 College Football Preview double issue of Sports Illustrated features an innovative augmented reality activation presented by Holiday Inn Express. Readers of the just released issue can unlock an immersive college football experience by activating the AR camera in the LIFE VR app—Time Inc.’s advanced storytelling platform—and pointing their device at any of the four covers to launch into an exclusive video experience from SI, previewing all the action from the upcoming college football season. As part of this unique activation, Holiday Inn Express “Creative Director” Rob Riggle will get football fans “The Readiest” in a short clip introducing SI’s exclusive edit content. Inside the new issue of SI, readers will find additional augmented reality content connecting the pages of the magazine with 360-degree video. 

This is the second time SI has put AR content in their magazine, with the first one being around that story about climbing Everest back in May. And there’s some merit to it; it provides extra impetus for some to pick up the print magazine, and it also may get some print readers more connected with SI’s online offerings. This isn’t going to appeal to every reader, but it might be some added value for some. And teaming up with a presenting sponsor seems smart, too; if this is something SI can get a brand to sponsor, that’s yet another revenue source.

And as with the Everest issue, there’s still solid traditional written content here to build everything else around. That issue featured an excellent story by Austin Murphy on amputee climber Jeff Glasbrenner, and this one features SI’s preseason rankings, a strong feature story by Lee Jenkins on USC QB Sam Darnold, and more. Thus, this isn’t really SI “pivoting to video,” or shifting away from their bread and butter of quality written content. It’s more them testing out a few added features to see how that will work for sales and readership. We’ll see how that pays off for them.

[Sports Illustrated]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.