Driving Fans Back to the Stadium – One Data Point at a Time

The modern day sports fan is likely the most catered to sports fan in history – or, at least, that’s the goal of nearly every stadium or sporting arena in the country. 

See, the past few years have seen a dramatic decrease of annual ticket sales, with many fans preferring the big screen at home to the behind-the-dugout view. Instant replays, commentary and, honestly, budget has kept the typical season-ticket holding fanatic on the couch rather than at the game, and that’s a real problem for teams. 

“The at-home experience has gotten better and cheaper, while the in-stadium experience feels like it hasn’t,” said Eric Grubman, the NFL’s executive vice president of ventures and business operations, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in 2012. “That’s a trend that we’ve got to do something about.”

Fast forward two years and sports teams across the country are wising up to what makes the in-stadium experience competitive against the at-home one: convenience. From the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium to Barclays Center in Brooklyn to TD Garden in Boston to the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, arenas are using modern technology to remove the annoyances of an in-person game experience and delight and surprise fans in creative ways.

“Arenas are using modern technology to remove the annoyances of the at-stadium experience.”

The solution for these arenas is a WiFi connection, mobile apps and push notifications, all of which combine to let fans know where open parking spots are, which bathroom lines are shortest, which concession at the game is the cheapest and provide instant replays via a fan’s smartphone in case they were busy loading on the relish during that last touchdown. 

“We have a very fan-centric approach to everything we do,” said Randy Lewis, the Nets’ vice president of global marketing. “It really is a fan-first approach because that’s how we’re going to get people to come back.”

The benefits here for the stadiums themselves are two-fold: a fan experience that keeps the fan in their seat and fan data that allows stadiums to optimize future experiences in fun, unexpected ways. Take the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium for instance, where WiFi access and an app download are creating a new type of fan experience: a smartphone-initiated cheer.

Fans using the AT&T Stadium app will be sent a push notification with text stating, “Unite This House.” Fans that agree to do so will be given a countdown, and then, all at once, the smartphones of those who agreed will go off in unison, vibrating and flashing to create a unique, ultra-contemporary cheer. 

“It’s unmatched,” said Esther Lee, Senior VP of Brand, Marketing, Advertising and Sponsorships for AT&T. “Nobody else is doing this. I think a lot of people are looking at how you bring technology in to enhance the fan experience. We’ve done a human wave in past years. This is like an electronic wave.”

“A lot of people are looking at how you bring technology in to enhance the fan experience.”

Yes, the at-stadium fan experience is changing, and for the better. But, how exactly are these teams notifying fans without simply distracting them?

The answer is beacon technology. With beacons, fans who have connected to WiFi and downloaded the stadium’s app will be pushed notifications when they are within a certain range of a beacon’s location. For instance, if a fan in standing in line for a hot dog, a beacon can notify that fan of a shorter line just a few sections down. Or, with first-party uploaded ticket information, beacons can help fans find their seats, and then locate for them the closest bathrooms, food areas and the like. 

And while beacon- and WiFi-driven fan experiences are gaining popularity this year, the real benefit is yet to come. 

Using mobile apps along with beacon technology, stadiums are collecting more first-party data on the stadium fan than ever before. How often do they come? Where do they go in the stadium when they are there? Which photos do they upload? Which instant replays do they watch? How many friends do they bring? How many beers do they drink? How many hot dogs do they eat? All of this is answerable with beacon tech, and, with a proper data warehouse, even more insights can be drawn. 

“With a proper data warehouse, even more insights can be drawn.”

For instance, allowing a fan to connect via social authentication to a mobile app allows a stadium app to collect both first- and second-party data, ethically no less. With second-party data, stadiums eliminate the need for preference surveys, which will only attract a small number of fans actually filling out the form. Instead, using, for instance, Facebook “like” data and history, a stadium can receive a granular view of their audience at scale, and notice, for example, that the majority of fans like Shiner beer (if you are at a Cowboys game), a beer not currently on tap at the game. 

Of course, a good marketer will make sure that Shiner beer is at every concession next year – and get some great press for the stadium and momentum for stadium during the off-season. 

The point here is this: WiFi, mobile apps and beacons issuing push notifications are making today’s at-stadium experience as convenient and much more fun than simply watching at home. But, utilizing a data warehouse to store and visualize the brand affinities and at-stadium fan movements and interactions will create an unparalleled fan experience of tomorrow, where no sponsor goes without engagement, no fan goes without their favorite food or drink and no stadium loses any more money to poor ticket sales.

Umbel, already working with TD Garden, COTA and more, is making this tomorrow a reality – today. Check us out for a demo to see how your WiFi, mobile app and beacon first- and second-party data can be combined, visualized and then acted upon, no data scientist or tech team needed.