MLSE and AWS teamed up for this Immersive Basketball Experience. MLSE and AWS teamed up for this Immersive Basketball Experience. (Photo from MLSE.)

There have been a lot of interesting attempts to work augmented reality and/or virtual reality into sports broadcasts over the years, and those are only increasing. But it’s not always just about the broadcast, with some of these covering in-person experiences as well. And a new wider SportsX partnership between Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE, the Canadian company that owns the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, MLS’ Toronto FC, the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, and more) is growing out of a pair of augmented reality and mixed reality pilot projects the sides have worked on.

MLSE and AWS announced the launch of SportsX Tuesday. This is a deepening of an existing partnership they announced last February, which covered both insights for teams and new experiences for fans. Two particular pilot projects of note MLSE Labs and AWS worked on in that time were the Immersive Basketball Experience (giving users a view as a player or from courtside via mixed reality headsets, seen at top) and the NHL Extended Reality Stats Overlay (bringing broadcast and video game capabilities, including augmented reality elements, to those watching in person, seen below).

AWS and MLSE teamed up for this NHL Extended Reality Stats Overlay.
AWS and MLSE teamed up for this NHL Extended Reality Stats Overlay. (Photo from MLSE.)

Neil Davidson of The Canadian Press has more on how these specific pilot projects worked:

On Monday evening, media were given a hands-on look at the in-progress project at Scotiabank Arena — first in the Raptors’ old practice court attached to the arena and then in a suite as the Maple Leafs hosted the New York Islanders.

A cutting edge “mixed reality” headset helped unlock what was billed as an “immersive basketball experience” that turned the empty Raptors court into a game environment with life-size virtual players racing past or through you. 

In the arena suite, a table with a digital top — think of a vintage Pac-Man tabletop video game but with cutting-edge tech — showed data from the NHL game below. Moving poker chip-like icons with a photo of the player in question mirrored the action on the ice below, complete with puck.

A touch of a button and the table switches to real-time player statistics like distance skated, faceoffs won, hardest shot, total hits, maximum speed and total passes. Another touch of the button and the digital display offers a player’s heat map showing where they have been on the ice.

Putting on another augmented reality headset, attached to a hand-held app, and you see headshots of the players on the ice in your display as you watch the live action. Using a virtual pointer, you can choose a player and see his real-time stats come up in front of you as the game action unfolds.

SportsX won’t be just about end-user-focused products, though. There’s also a team performance aspect here, as there was with the previous partnership. And there’s an aspect of taking ideas from stakeholders, from coaches and players through partners and fans: there will be a submission portal, and then “chosen ideas will be evaluated for viability, developed, and tested in the MLSE environment with the goal of creating solutions that can benefit the sports industry at large.” Here are some quotes on that from an AWS release:

“We’re thrilled to announce SportsX, a new incubator in collaboration with AWS rooted in research, applied sciences and product development,” said Humza Teherany, Chief Technology & Digital Officer at MLSE. “The program is an extension of our ongoing work with AWS and combines the expertise from both of our organizations with ideas shared by our passionate fans, to create a powerhouse in sports innovation.”

…“Just as AWS is democratizing technology by giving businesses of all sizes access to the same cloud and AI solutions, SportsX aims to level the playing field in sports innovation,” said Eric Gales, country manager AWS Canada. “MLSE and AWS will give anyone, from organizations to superfans, the opportunity to take their amazing idea and transform the sport they love.”

…“MLSE’s partnership with AWS was built on the vision of disrupting the sports and entertainment industry and enhancing the fan experience through technology innovations,” said Jordan Vader, Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships at MLSE. “We are proud to deliver on that promise with SportsX and work with AWS to bring to life a pipeline of extraordinary ideas.”

We’ll see what comes of this partnership. But it’s certainly interesting to see these two powerful companies extending their sports technology partnership further.

[Photos from MLSE]

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.