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LA Football Club takes a kick at immersive audio to enrich fan experiences

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LA Football Club takes a kick at immersive audio to enrich fan experiences

LAFC Mixhalo

Christian Lau is not about to name names. Next month, however, he says that “a very famous tennis player and one of the funniest comedians on the planet” will appear at an LA Football Club home game.

“We do want to do that type of programming. There is an appetite for it,” the sport team’s chief technology officer says. “People love to have those types of experiences, and we want to bring that over audio to them.”

By “audio,” Lau is not merely referring to whatever gets blared over the speakers in the Banc of California Stadium. He means audio that will be broadcast directly into the Airpods of whichever fans want enjoy that experience in the most immersive way possible.

Speaking at last month’s Collision technology conference in Toronto, Lau discussed how LAFC became the first major league sports team to adopt technology from a company called Mixhalo. Using an app that fans can download directly to their smartphones, Mixhalo promises crystal-clear sound without latency.

That means fans not only have a more intimate way to listen to special celebrity guests, but the kind of commentary that is normally reserved for those watching sports at home. Lau suggested the technology is more than a mere enhancement to the fan experience it is trying to deliver, but a way to promote greater inclusivity.

Christian Lau, LAFC
Christian Lau, CTO
LAFC

“We spend a ton of time, effort and money on the visual experience for soccer,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to allow folks that are visually impaired to participate in an LA FC. And those rich experiences with the color commentary really makes them feel like they’re in the game.”

According to Corey Laplante, Mixhalo’s chief operating officer, the company originally targeted the live music industry to improve upon what concertgoers typically hear through a PA system. The technology can not only broadcast audio but isolate specific sounds, like a guitar during a solo or the drums. Working with LAFC is a way to welcome fans back to live sports with more than the traditional experience.

“At home, the fans increasingly are having better and better experiences,” he said. “Especially over the course of the pandemic, everybody upgraded their home entertainment system. The visuals got better, the audio got better. Your couch got more comfortable. You’ve got beer in the fridge that doesn’t cost $12 . So it’s hard to get people back in a venue.

Besides colour commentary, the possibility for audio content includes profile information about specific players, team statistics and more. LAFC can also offer this content in multiple languages, and the Mixhalo app allows fans to browse different channels while watching a game.

“For the younger folks, like the Tiktok crowd, they’re not super excited about the idea of sitting in a stadium for two hours. It’s pretty foreign to them,” he said. “We we want to curate new experiences that are exclusively available in-venue.”

While sports brands have used cameras to offer fans close-ups on large overhead screens for years, Lau said audio opens up additional possibilities, such as giving them a greater sense of what the players are going through behind the goal, or connect fans from the “cheap seats” to courtside.

“The LAFC experience is a very loud one,” he said. “They’ve got this crazy supporter section that’s just banging on drums and chanting the whole game. It’s really an insane experience. If you haven’t been you should go, but it is quite loud. But that’s really the whole idea — to give the fans the option to have the audio experience and the visual experience that they want.”

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Laplante said Mixhalo originally focused on delivering immersive audio via Wi-Fi but added cellular given it may not meet fan expectations at many sports venues. Getting around those potential technical limitations is key to unlocking experiences that a sports brand might not have been able to offer otherwise.

“We’re basically capturing audio at the source whether that’s the broadcast, or the musician sound,” he said. “We’re sending it up to the cloud and back down in 40 to 80 milliseconds. So you’re talking about lightning fast delivery of data at scale.”

Lau admitted that LAFC is fortunate in that it owns its stadium and therefore can do what it wants. However he also suggested sports teams and venues need to be more open to the innovative CX opportunities that could come their way.

“We’ve leaned into working with partners,” he said. “They’ve come to us to develop products to get in front of our audience, which a lot of venues are very risk averse to doing. They would rather not let you have access to their customer, in a live situation but we’ve done that. We’ve proven time and time again that taking calculated risks in our space and focusing on building out platforms has actually been quite successful.”

While fans currently can experience the audio content using the Mixhalo app, Laplante said the two firms plan to integrate the technology directly with the LAFC app.

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