If you’re a sports fan, imagine this scenario for a second. It’s gameday, and you’ve just woken up. An app on your smartphone tells you how warm or cold it is at the stadium so you can dress properly. Once arriving at the stadium, that same app notifies you of available parking lots with the best prices.
A few seconds after your ticket is scanned at the stadium — it’s on your smartphone, of course, which also guided you toward the least-populated line — the app pushes content to your phone so you can easily see the starting lineups, injury reports, etc. As you walk around the concourse, beacons provide relevant information to you, depending on where you are and what attractions are around. For example, when you walk by the team shop, a 20 percent coupon pops up on your screen for that sweet jersey on your Amazon.com wish list.
When you’re ready to find your seat, the app provides step-by-step directions. Once the game begins, you’re a little hungry, so you press a few buttons and the app shows which concession stand has your favorite food and beer, as well as the shortest line. You don’t want to miss the action, so you order from your phone, and someone delivers the food minutes later.
A little later, you have to pee. The app shows you the cleanest bathroom with the shortest line, letting you take care of business in the most efficient manner possible.
Once the game ends, instant replays of every big play are available on your phone to watch. There’s also a live stream of the post-game press conferences you can access. Finally, the app helps you find your car in the parking lot and tells you the fastest way to get home.
Yes, attending a live professional sporting event could be a little different in the future. That much was clear during a panel discussion on Tuesday evening for the Seahawks CIO Summit, an event at CenturyLink Field that brought together top CIOs and industry leaders from teams like the Seahawks and Mariners, as well as organizations like Microsoft, The White House, the NFL, and Extreme Networks.
The smartphone has changed the way we live and the way businesses operate; it’s also changing how people attend games. Chip Suttles, vice president of technology for the Seahawks, noted how his team has been testing 75 beacons at all entry points and around attractions at CenturyLink Field like the 12th Man flag wall. The beacons, which are also being tested by MLB’s Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field, push out notifications to smartphone owners and provide relevant information like digital game day guides.
“We’re trying to find the right utilizations of technology for our fan base,” Suttles said.
What technology is best will differ for each fan base, said George Scott, director of digital for the NFL. For example, Scott said that in-seat food ordering might be great at a place like Levi’s Stadium in sunny Santa Clara, Calif., but not so much in freezing cold Chicago.
“If you’re at the Bears game and it’s 10-below, you probably won’t use your phone unless it has a handwarmer,” he noted.
And it’s not just building the right app or service for each team, but rather for each individual. The panel agreed that providing the right content at the right time to the right individual is what will be important to improving the digital fan experience on gameday.
As for what exactly that experience will look like, well, no one really had an answer.
“I don’t know what the perfect digital experience is for me at a game because I don’t know if I’ve had it yet,” Scott said. “It is very subjective and very personal. You can’t say, ‘here’s the perfect experience for 80,000 people.’ Some people may not care about taking selfies. It’s very different for every person and that is what we’ve got to solve.”
Jeff Tran, director of sports marketing and alliances at Microsoft, noted that it’s all about reducing the friction between a fan and the appropriate content he or she desires at the right time.
“In general, fans have a desire to be more efficient and productive,” said Tran, who’s helped NFL coaches and players use the Surface tablet on the sidelines this year. “I know that sounds like a Microsoft tagline, but we very much believe in that. It’s about understanding various inefficiencies in various experiences and building a better mousetrap around that.”
One thing is for sure, though — to enable all this cool technology, and to make sure fans can upload their selfies and watch those instant replays, each stadium must have the right infrastructure in place. The Seahawks took care of that prior to this season when the team made a big investment in a new robust WiFi network that has enabled the front office to explore new ways to roll out new tech-enabled features that help improve the gameday experience.
“It just gives us a platform to do all these things we can come up with now,” Suttles said of the WiFi network. “Now that we have it established and it’s robust, tested, and tried, it’s just a matter of coming up with ideas. There are some things you have to invest in that don’t have a direct ROI, but lend to supporting the whole fan experience overall.”
But while the focus seems to be on developing the best individualized app or service, David Curry, VP of IT for the Mariners, said that teams should remember that their technology investment must be made with the entire fan base in mind.
“When you make that investment, you just really need to believe that what you are doing correctly addresses the broadest number of solutions and touches the broadest number of fans in the way intended,” Curry said.
After listening to the panel speak about the digital fan experience, it’s likely that any huge technology changes on gameday are at least a few years out. For now, teams and leagues are experimenting to find what is really best for their fans.
“We’ve developed a very linear experience that says, a play happens now, so let’s show the replay on phones,” Scott explained. “But maybe fans want to watch during a timeout, or while they’re standing in line at the concession stand. We haven’t tailored that experience. We are pushing all this to fans and giving them some friction-free utility — but we haven’t tied it all together yet.”