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Snapchat’s Augmented-Reality Lenses Find Their Way to the Ballpark

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Snapchat’s Augmented-Reality Lenses Find Their Way to the Ballpark

In a normal year, the MLB Ballpark app was for use at, well, the ballpark. But this year, with stadium attendance reduced to scattered pods of fans or banned outright, Major League Baseball has added a vicarious layer to its app: augmented-reality lenses built on

Snap Inc.

technology.

The souped-up app has six lenses that users can choose from, for instance, to swing a bat superimposed into a video of themselves, or take selfies wearing virtual hats from this year’s World Series opponents, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers. (The teams are tied 1-1 at present.)

The new lenses are so far the most high-profile use of Snap’s Camera Kit, a system that allows other apps to integrate augmented-reality lenses from Snapchat. Introduced in June, Camera Kit is already being used by Squad, a video chat app from Olabot Inc., and AutoRap, a rap creation app from Smule Inc.

The AR lenses further Snap’s ongoing effort to position itself as a camera company, not just the operator of a social media platform, and might expand the audience for the kind of AR experiences it has on display.

On Tuesday, Snap said its revenue shot up 52% to $678.7 million in the third quarter, as daily active users increased to 249 million on the platform, up from 238 million in the second quarter. The adoption of AR has happened faster than the company imagined, Snap Chief Executive Evan Spiegel said during an earnings call.

“We believe augmented reality is the future of immersive customer experiences like try-on, catalog browsing and showrooming,” Jeremi Gorman, chief business officer at Snap, said on the same earnings call. “Showrooming” refers to browsing through merchandise at a bricks-and-mortar store, but then making the purchase online.

The Snap and MLB partnership illustrates how much companies want to rapidly digitize experiences for their consumers, said Nicole Greene, senior director analyst at Gartner Inc. Taking the Snapchat technology to more apps will also increase adoption of AR, she said.

“They’re really positioning themselves as a utility versus a social media channel,” Ms. Greene said.

MLB is bringing augmented-reality lenses to its MLB Ballpark app for the World Series.



Photo:

Snap

Sports leagues have embraced all types of technology as the pandemic has forced them to leave many seats empty in the stands. Major League Baseball, for instance, put a “Cheer at the Ballpark” feature on its website, team websites and the app. The feature lets fans make their virtual cheers, boos or applause audible in deserted stadiums during a game. Fans have submitted more than 73 million reactions, according to MLB. These types of digital experiences, like Camera Kit, are likely to continue even after fans can return to the stadiums, Ms. Greene said.

On the MLB Ballpark app, users are able to take photos and share the lenses either on Snapchat or on other social media platforms. MLB created four of their new lenses and worked with Snapchat to create the rest.

MLB expects to build on its use of AR to enhance the experience of the real-life ballpark, and introduce features like ordering food or getting directions, said Chris Marinak, chief operations and strategy officer at MLB.

These lenses are part of MLB’s strategy to create experiences for fans who can’t attend, even once stadiums reopen, he said.

“We need to continue to engage with our fan base that way, that’s what younger fans expect, the next generation of fans expect,” Mr. Marinak said. “In order for us to stay relevant and current with our fan base, we need to meet our fans where they are and give them what they’re asking for.”

Camera Kit doesn’t generate any revenue for Snap, but partners that use it can sell sponsored lenses on their own apps. Companies have been running sponsored lenses on Snapchat since 2015, when Twentieth Century Fox bought one to promote “The Peanuts Movie.”

Snapchat wants to work with more partners to expand the range of uses for its lenses, said Ben Schwerin, vice president of partnerships at Snap.

“Whether it’s working with a sports league, like MLB, or it’s working with a partner that’s focused on education or remote work, it’s going to open up a lot of innovation,” Mr. Schwerin said.

The addition of AR to more apps will increase its potential and reach, said Liam Walsh, creative technology director at Nexus Productions Ltd., an interactive agency. But companies need to find virtual experiences that are meaningful, not just gimmicks.

“The challenge is always to make it relevant to people and move beyond novelty,” Mr. Walsh said.

Write to Ann-Marie Alcántara at ann-marie.alcantara@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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