Late last year, we were the first to tell you that the UFC was testing virtual reality live broadcasts.
Now the testing is over—and we’re a few days away from seeing our first live mixed martial arts fight in VR.
“We’ve always felt that the potential of combining UFC events with virtual reality would give our fans the ultimate enhanced experience,” said UFC chief operating officer Lawrence Epstein in a statement released by Samsung. “This game-changing initiative [will] further revolutionize how fight fans consume our content and live events around the world.”
If you launch the Samsung VR app, you can already see free VR previews of the fight, as well as a short feature that allows you to see what it’s like to spar with Max Holloway in the UFC octagon.
And while the UFC’s growing profile in the sports landscape will only be enhanced by this new immersive channel, the actual popularity of live VR sports broadcasts is still mostly a mystery. That’s because none of these VR sports initiatives have released viewer numbers.
Whether that’s due to small-but-growing VR headset ownership or lack of interest in the format itself remains to be seen.
Despite the fairly quiet fan response to VR broadcasts from the likes of the NFL and soon Major League Baseball, we continue to see leagues trot out VR livestreams. In my own live VR event viewings, I’ve found the presentation to be incredibly engaging and definitely worth the extra effort of strapping on a VR headset. But unless more fans begin sampling these immersive experiences, live VR events may turn out to be a brilliant entertainment innovation that eventually fades into the background, having never found its audience.
The X Games event will be broadcast in VR beginning on July 13, the Live Nation events will come in August, and the José Aldo versus Max Holloway UFC fight will be broadcast for free to Gear VR owners on June 3 live from Brazil.