With more cities competing to keep fans in stadiums (rather than watching from home or a local sports bar), the pressure is on arenas and franchises to present the next generation of “fan experience.”
At last year’s Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) inaugural Sports Innovation Conference, sports business experts gathered and discussed ways to attract more fans and more corporate sponsorships as well as to better engage with existing fans. The topic, not surprisingly, turned to mobile technology.
“Franchises are looking for ways to capitalize on mobile technology to enhance the fan experience in their homes and as spectators in stadiums and arenas,” wrote Loren Mooney for Stanford GSB’s Web site. “Mobile devices are popular as ‘second screens’ in home viewing of televised sports, but 70 percent of fans bring a mobile device to the stadium or arena and expect to use it during a game there as well, said Mark Craig of Cisco Systems Sports & Entertainment Group, who has been involved with creating arena Wi-Fi systems that will function with a dense population of users.”
In other words, mobile fan engagement is big business, and mobile apps, social media, location-based services and promotions are converging to form an entirely new subset of the growing business of sports in the United States.
This phenomenon is leading to rise in “smart arenas” that are built to accommodate a large number of Wi-Fi users. When it comes to digital fan engagement, expect the opening of the new Sacramento Kings arena next year to set a high water mark. The arena will feature mobile apps that can be used for check-in, to virtually usher fans to their seats, to view and purchase seat upgrade options and even offer information about the shortest bathroom and concession lines. The arena will also offer in-seat wireless charging. NASCAR is planning to go a step further, and offer fans on-board telemetry from the cars streamed directly to fans’ phones. Going forward, fans will see more efforts to blend team or athlete information with sponsored content on their smartphones.
“Sports is a people business, so we’re looking for ways to use technology to further engage with people,” John Abbamondi, VP of the NBA’s Team Marketing and Business Operations division, told Mooney. “Each arena is like a lab.”
Going forward, professional sports arenas are likely to compete to outdo one another, looking for new applications that will increase fan engagement, maximize sponsorship opportunities and boost revenue.