The logo at the beginning of each video shows a billy goat wearing Virtual Reality goggles. That billy goat represents Hennes VIII, of course, the official mascot of 1. FC Köln, and the fact that Hennes – one of Germany’s most popular mascots across any sport – is depicted in a downright futuristic way is a manifestation of what’s to come: A 360-degree revelation of taking the virtual fan experience to a new level. Welcome to a Bundesliga club providing fans with the illusion of joining the team on the practice pitch. Köln’s claim “Spürbar anders” (“just different”) certainly applies to this forward-looking approach.
The 13th of February 2018 marked the 70-year anniversary of “Effzeh” (pronounced “eff-tseh”), as the club is affectionately known among fans. The German Sports and Olympics Museum is honouring the anniversary with a special exhibit that recaps all seven decades of the Cologne-based team and skilfully merges strong football tradition, pronounced local colour, and technical innovation, all of which 1. FC Köln stands for. Virtual Reality elements are part of the exhibit, which continues to run through the 13th of May, but the Virtual Reality experience is also available to anyone with access to a smart phone and virtual reality goggles, thanks to Effzeh’s “360 Grad” initiative that aims right for the visceral response centre.
To virtually join the club, users simply download the YouTube app to their smartphone, open one of the available Virtual Reality videos provided on 1. FC Köln’s YouTube channel, insert the smartphone into virtual reality goggles, and start the video to indulge in the three-dimensional visual access to the team’s locker room or to seemingly having to dodge sharply shot balls in kicking practice. The virtual observers can change perspective and enjoy panoramic views by moving their mouse cursor around.
Originally, 2,000 digitally affine supporters were selected to receive a pair of club-branded VR goggles along with access to the first 360-degree video and a feedback questionnaire. “We have been innovative in recent years”, said 1. FC Köln’s Managing Director Alexander Wehrle about the immersion of the new technology. “VR is a logical continuation for us after initiatives such as the introduction of mobile ticketing or the implementation of FC-Connect, our social media hub. We are not afraid of progress; we promote the desire to develop together.” Wehrle points out the benefits of including direct fan feedback into the development of new offerings: “You have to act fast, and you should know your target group. The fan who wants to use it later should help shape the product.”
The 360-degree experience is openly accessible and the content has been extended beyond the practice pitch and the club headquarter. At the grand opening of the special exhibit, 1. FC Köln head coach Stefan Ruthenbeck and players Jonas Hector, Timo Horn, Marcel Risse, and team captain Matthias Lehmann donned VR goggles and took a virtual walk through “Gaststätte Roggendorf”, the homely corner pub that provided the backdrop for the club’s inception in 1948. It was here that the Kölner Ballspiel Club 1901 and SpVgg Sülz 07 merged to form 1. FC Köln. When the Bundesliga kicked off in 1963, “Effzeh” was not only one of the then-new league’s initial clubs, but Köln emerged as the first-ever Bundesliga champion, making its birthplace “Gaststätte Roggendorf” a location deserving of its place in virtual reality in 2018 – and proving once again that the club manages to combine tradition and innovation masterfully. Just one of the reasons why they are truly “just different.”