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NBA, MLB and PGA roll out apps for Apple Vision Pro

Sports leagues have been eager to embrace augmented and virtual reality technology even in its nascent form.
Scott Joachim tries out an Apple Vision Pro headset during the first day of sales at an Apple store in Palo Alto, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.
Scott Joachim tries out an Apple Vision Pro headset during the first day of sales at an Apple store in Palo Alto, Calif., on Feb. 2. Noah Berger / AP

The launch of Apple’s much-anticipated Vision Pro headset has been met with a tough question: For all its fancy augmented reality technology, what’s it good for?

Professional sports leagues might have an answer.

The NBA, MLB and the PGA Tour have each introduced apps for the product that seek to take advantage of the product’s “infinite canvas” — the term Apple has put forward to describe the three-dimensional floating display users can control with their eyes, hands or speech.

For now, most of the new sports apps appear to mirror the experience of watching games on TV and using the leagues’ existing apps, but efforts are underway to create fully immersive experiences that can replicate what it’s like to be at an event.

The PGA Tour’s app is working to bring all 18 holes of the coming Players Championship tournament to users so they can virtually sit in the tee boxes or on the greens to watch players and track their shots.

The PGA Tour app to be used with Apple Vision Pro.
The PGA Tour app to be used with Apple Vision Pro.PGA Tour

“This is about what we believe people may be in the future, and how people will consume things in the future,” said Scott Gutterman, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president of digital operations. “Now, our goals are to bring our players and events to people no matter where they want to consume our events and how they want to consume it.”

Apple’s entry has added a jolt of energy to the world of augmented and virtual reality, which has been around for decades but often felt years away from relevance. The headset has been met with generally positive reviews, though its price tag of $3,500 means widespread adoption isn’t expected. Other investments in VR technology have struggled to gain traction.

Sports leagues have been eager to embrace AR/VR technology even in its nascent form. The NBA offers courtside experiences on Meta’s Quest headsets, and the PGA Tour created an augmented reality app on Microsoft’s HoloLens. The NFL licensed a virtual reality football game for Meta Quest and PlayStation VR.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver met with Apple CEO Tim Cook on the day of the Vision Pro’s U.S. release, an Apple spokesperson said. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter after the meeting, Silver said, “This, to me, will be how people over time experience sports through the media.”

Silver predicted that other content creators might begin to invest in their own developers and engineers, as the NBA has, to invest in a longer-term future.

Mike Proulx, a vice president at the research company Forrester, said sports leagues want to get ahead of the generation that eventually embraces this kind of technology.

“Leagues like the NBA and MLB who experiment now on this brand-new media canvas will leapfrog in innovation as future versions of the Vision Pro become more accessible, less cumbersome and attract more users,” he said.

Apple is promoting its headset as a revolutionary tool especially for sports fans, touting it as offering the “best seat in the house.” Sporting events are frequent, drenched in data and emotionally charged. Proulx called live sports a “fertile use case for the immersive and interactive nature of spatial computing.”

The Vision Pro has already made some waves among content creators who have featured its apps in videos. YouTuber and Lumosity content creator LG Wynnsanity tweeted a video showing how he could stream multiple NBA games at once, view real-time player statistics and continually add new screens to his interface. The video has gained over half a million views.

The PGA Tour app.
The PGA Tour app.PGA Tour

The MLB app doesn’t offer quite the immersive experience of the PGA Tour app, but it does allow the user to monitor a 3D reconstruction of the batter’s box and the strike zone.

“Apple Vision Pro provides us an entirely new way to present the national pastime to fans in their own space, no matter where they are, with remarkable depth, clarity, and sound,” MLB’s deputy commissioner of business and media, Noah Garden, said in a news release.

Apple has shown a growing interest in sports, most notably adding Major League Soccer’s “Season Pass” to its streaming platform. It has also expressed interest in obtaining the rights to Formula 1 races.

“Live sports is one of the last remaining legacy TV programming genres that still drives ratings,” Proulx said. “And that’s why all the major streaming services are jockeying for sports rights. Big audiences mean big ad revenue.”