Ep. 17: How The Baltimore Ravens Are Engaging Fans Digitally with Dave Lang
In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently.
Dave Lang, Director of Digital Media for the Baltimore Ravens, joins Rob Cressy to talk about how the Ravens are engaging fans digitally with a forward thinking mindset. How have the Ravens used gameification within their app to help elevate the game day experience? How do they get fans to download the app? What is their fan engagement mindset for the offseason? How are they using AR, VR, and AI Chat bots?
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Rob Cressy: (00:04)
Welcome to the Gameday Playbook presented by FanFood, a discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host Rob Cressy and joining me today is Dave Lang, director of digital media for the Baltimore Ravens. Dave, super excited to be jamming with you again.
Dave Lang: (00:32)
Rob, thanks so much for having me on. I'm really excited to be here. I hope that my energy level can equal yours today on this podcast.
Rob Cressy: (00:38)
Well good. I'm always going to bring the energy and you and I connected years ago we jammed on another podcast of Sports Marketing Huddle that I host, and I really enjoyed your forward thinking perspective of what you guys are doing in the Baltimore Ravens. So what we're going to talk about today is what the Ravens are doing to engage fans digitally. And one thing that you mentioned to me that you've seen a lot of success with is the gamefication within your app. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Dave Lang: (01:14)
Sure. I mean, we all know that gaming has taken off and it's not just with e-sports, but just mobile gaming, you know, back in the days, a few years ago, Candy Crush and Pokemon Go. So people obviously spent a lot of times on their mobile devices playing games. So we just saw this as another way to engage fans. Maybe the fans who are a little less avid, more casual, that tune in once a week to games and follow along. But give them another way to interact with our team and be connected to the game. So we launched last season at first a game day bingo, in which there's a few teams around the four major sports that utilize this. And again, it's as events happen in real time in the game, they check off on the person's bingo card. All everybody's bingo cards are different and they can win prizes, autograph, merch.
Dave Lang: (02:07)
We have Papa John's as a sponsor, so we're giving away free pizzas. And we extended this also beyond game day, but we also did it during a draft weekend, and a few other events during the year. And so we saw success with that with a few thousand people playing every week. So we investigated other alternative games that we could roll out to people on game day and we wanted to try to have a good mix of things. And we thought, it's always great to experiment. So we had done previously in stadium trivia, which you go to a lot of sports games and you see the trivia up on the jumbotron. So we added a Trivia Tuesday feature this year. It's a live trivia game, compete against other fans, test their knowledge, compete for prizes, and we've really positive feedback from fans on that.
Dave Lang: (03:01)
This year we added an arcade style game called the QB Challenge where you're the quarterback and you swipe up and tilt your phone to throw passes and hit targets. We've seen a lot of engagement in stadium with that. And then the newest that we just launched recently is a predictive game called Call the Drive. This one is really intriguing because it's essentially laying the groundwork for legalized gambling, when that becomes available in Maryland. So people can predict the outcome of every drive during our games. Are we gonna score a touchdown? It's going to be field goal, turnover, punch, and they can earn points again, win prizes. Just another way to kind of reward our fans for engaging with us and keeping it locked in during our games. So huge opportunities to integrate sponsor branding and sponsor pricing. And then again, just reach a different demographic of fans who are tuning into our games or coming to our stadium to watch the games in person.
Rob Cressy: (04:04)
So one thing that has been mentioned often on this podcast is how do you get fans to download an app? And a good example that we always use is, Hey, you go to Wrigley field to catch a Cubs game. What's really going to be the incentive for a fan to say, Oh, let me go and download the Cubs app. So I'm curious to hear from you, how much of an emphasis for you guys or how are you going about getting fans download the app?
Dave Lang: (04:33)
Sure. And this was another thing that we felt. We have these four different games and maybe a fan is not interested in one or they're not aware of one, but they're interested in another one. And then that might get them into the app and get them to see the other games or just the other content in our app. So when we are in stadium on game day, we obviously promote the app on Raven's vision, which is our jumbotrons, throughout the game. And, and again, it's great because it's kind of like a rising tide raises all ships. If we promote a game that's an arcade style game that somebody might be interested in, that might get them to download our app. Or if we promote just you can watch live video, you know, then you might go there and see all the other features and content that we have. And then we obviously use all the other channels that are available to us. Social media is a big one, ads in our game day program. But we're kind of trying to highlight all these different features that are available in our app, and hoping that we wrote people in for one thing and then they stick around and they utilize it for the other features that are available.
Rob Cressy: (05:45)
How much are fans playing? Not just on game day but in everyday usage as if it was any other app, whether it's Instagram or something where right now someone can extend their Raven's fandom and say, you know what, I really liked these games in the app because people traditionally don't just play a game one day out of the week.
Dave Lang: (06:07)
Yeah. And that was a big draw for it. With the arcade style passing game. You can compete for prizes only on home game days, but you can play it for seven any day just for fun and you can see where you stand in the leaderboard compared to other fans. So again, it's another way to keep fans engaged throughout the week and even the predictive game. Most of the game play occurs while the game is happening. But there are questions that people can go in and answer and predictions they can make during the week to earn more points. So another thing too is we see our highest amount of traffic as you might expect coming on game days. 90% of our total digital traffic on a game that goes to our mobile app and our game day bingo is typically ranked among the top 10 pages, visited on a game day within our app on Tuesdays. Trivia Tuesday ranks pretty high, probably top 15 pages every week. So you see that there is an appetite for these games on even our busiest, highest consumption days of the year.
Rob Cressy: (07:09)
I'm curious what you guys can do in the off season to keep this fan engagement high because I love fundamentally what you guys are doing. Game day Bingo. Sign me up. That's Twitter 101 any sports publisher's going to say, let's play NFL draft bingo or anything. It's simple and it's fun there and it's built around fan engagement. But what are your thoughts on the off season to keep the fans? Because we know football is a 365 day a year sport when it comes to fandom.
Dave Lang: (07:42)
Definitely. I mean you're an avid fan so you know that the football season is not just September to January. You have free agency, you have the draft mini camps, training camp. So it really is a 24/7, 365 animal here. And I think a big area where we're pretty strong is with our content we have, we are posting multiple pieces of video and audio and written content 365 days a year. We do not take a break in the off season. And I think that is where you really see our strength. The league will send us weekly and monthly rankings for both our app and our website and see how we compare it to other teams. And we are definitely one of the stronger teams in the off season because our content machine never ends. And I do feel like this has become a learning that all teams have kind of figured out is you can't take days off, you can't stop the content production in the off season and fans just have this insatiable appetite to consume all things Ravens and stay connected all year round.
Rob Cressy: (08:55)
Let's look forward. And one thing that you guys are dabbling with is virtual reality. And it's something that I know has been on the minds of a lot of people, probably the same way that back to the future hoverboards has always been on the minds of people where you're like, Hey, what are those things going to be coming out? And you always hear virtual reality and you're like, Oh, this is cool. But the adoption has been slow because we're not all walking around with VR goggles on. So tell us a little bit about what you guys are doing with the VR and the adoption of it.
Dave Lang: (09:28)
Sure. And I agree with you. I think everybody talks about it as they've been saying for several years now as it's the next big thing. But I think the adoption rate is not there. And because as you mentioned, the goggles, not everybody owns a headset.
Dave Lang: (09:43)
I think the numbers show maybe 10% of the population owns a VR headset. But there's still other ways that people can consume the content. And again, while I realize that maybe right the usage is not widespread. I do think it's another way that we could provide our fans with a really cool and unique way to engage our team. So like you mentioned, we've dabbled in it a little bit. We have shot several VR videos on game days and during draft weekend, and really taking a look at how can we provide our fans with this access that they could not get anywhere else and give them a peek into the environment where they physically could never be standing. So, you know, standing inside of our draft room next to our GM on draft night while he's on the phone with the pick, or running out of the tunnel, I mean we literally had our VR shooter run out of the tunnel behind Lamar Jackson.
Dave Lang: (10:40)
So, you know, it's probably the coolest part of game day and to give fans that feeling of what it's like to come out of the tunnel and into the middle of the stadium with 70,000 people. It's just an unreal experience. So we do have headsets that we set up at a VR station on game day and at all of our events that we put on training camp. But for fans that can't attend those events or games, we also post the videos on YouTube and Facebook as well as in our app. And it's definitely not as cool as wearing the headset, but it's still pretty amazing when you're looking at on your phone, you can move the phone all around in different directions and see what it's like and feel what it's like to be there. Again, it's just another way to just have our fans connect to us and provide really cool content to them that nobody else can give them.
Rob Cressy: (11:31)
Yeah. And what I like about this, this is a forward thinking mindset. And oftentimes in marketing you need to do things that don't scale because it's about the personalization of something. Because the people who get to experience this on a one on one basis, like you said, not everybody gets that opportunity, but those people who do, guess what they're going to say, Hey, next time you're in a Raven's game, you've got to go to the VR experience because it's super cool and unique and that's how you get word of mouth to spread by doing something that others aren't
Dave Lang: (12:02)
Sure. And I think also while you might not see the numbers, the tens or hundreds of thousands of numbers on these kinds of things for the smaller number of people that do consume that content, they all walk away with a really positive feeling. We hear a lot of positive feedback. Fans want us to do more of this stuff and I think it just elevates the brand as a whole. And people look at us and say, you know, the Ravens are doing real producing really high quality content.
Rob Cressy: (12:31)
Yeah. So another thing you guys are working on are your AI chat bots and you're giving your fans and opportunity to get an immediate answer to questions. And can you explain it a little bit more about how you guys are using them?
Dave Lang: (12:47)
Sure. The experience is a really huge focus for us. We have a whole team of people whose sole focus is guest experience and making our 10 home games a year the most enjoyable they can be for our fans. And part of that is answering questions. So we receive contact us emails from fans all the time inquiring about anything from what time do the gates open to how do I buy season tickets to, you know, what kind of food is in the stadium. But you know, always requires somebody to maybe the next morning or when they check their email read and respond or are forwarded over to the appropriate person. So we built out a chat bot so we could deliver more immediate answers to our fans because a lot of the questions are pretty common and get asked frequently. So if we have a way to instantly provide a response to a fan, that's obviously a much better experience for them than having them wait a few hours back.
Dave Lang: (13:41)
And the thing that we're seeing and we kind of expected was a lot of these questions pertain to tickets as well as to game day and the stadium. So again, everybody's talking about what can you do to enhance the game day experience, and keep people coming to your stadium versus staying at home on their couch and watching on TV. You providing this helpful information and making their day as seamless as possible, is a huge part to impacting our guests experience, which we actually have one of the highest guests experience and game day experience ratings in the NFL. So this is a small part of that whole larger effort.
Rob Cressy: (14:22)
How have you guys humanized the AI chatbots? Because I think that's one of the biggest challenges is you've got these questions that people are traditionally asking, but there's the information and it's almost like art versus science. How do people come in with the expectation that I know that there's a chat bot or is it, Hey, I think there's a human here and this talks like a human.
Dave Lang: (14:48)
Yeah, it's funny. We don't want to confuse people and them think that this is a live chat with a real person, but we also didn't want the responses to be robotic and I tried to make them a little bit conversational in tone. But we are upfront that this is an artificial intelligence concierge that you're speaking with. And you know, we often the end of the responses, if people need additional information, we will direct them to a phone number or an email so they could speak to a real person. But we're also looking to enhance the chat bot and make it a little more fun. So that'll come and a little bit after we've had a little time to kind of get our feet wet with it.
Rob Cressy: (15:39)
Lastly, I'm going to talk about is augmented reality. Where is that in your guys' world?
Dave Lang: (15:45)
I am actually a huge fan of AR. I am more of a fan of AR and VR, just because like we mentioned earlier, not too many people own VR goggles. But everybody's got a mobile phone in their pocket, which they can utilize for AR. We were one of the first teams to do a virtual face paint, which we integrated into our app three years ago. And it's very realistic looking. We worked with a company that does special effects for Hollywood movies. So it people look like they actually painted their face and then we extended that onto our jumbotron in stadium so we can put a camera on fans, a regular crowd shot, but then put virtual face paint on them. So that's been fun. There's a million other ways that you could extend. They are in fun ways. We have explored multiple things. I love it. So I think we're going to be doing more of that in the future. But yeah, I'm a big proponent of AR.
Rob Cressy: (16:42)
Dave. I'm a big fan of the way that you and the Ravens think about fan engagement cause you're certainly on the forefront of how to make the experience better. Where can everybody connect with you?
Dave Lang: (16:56)
The best place to reach me is on LinkedIn. I'm on Twitter, although I don't really tweet a whole lot. I'm more of a Twitter follower. Instagram, Facebook. But yeah, LinkedIn is definitely the best way.
Rob Cressy: (17:09)
And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. What is something that a team has done that's been forward thinking that you have liked? Like some of the things that Dave has talked about, you can hit up FanFood on Twitter @fanfoodondemand, on Instagram, @fanfoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms at Rob Cressy.