Ep. 15: Real Time Fan Engagement with Cameron Fowler
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.
Cameron Fowler, Founder at Digital Seat Media, joins Rob Cressy to talk about real time fan engagement. What do teams need to do in order to get more fans to attend games, and then keep them engaged while there? What are the biggest fan engagement issues teams and stadiums are having? How can you build more brand loyalty by gamifying the experience? Why would anyone download a team app and what needs to happen in order for mass adoption to happen?
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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 Cameron Fowler, CEO of Digital Seat media. Cameron, super excited to have you on the show.
Cameron Fowler: (00:31)
Thanks a lot for having me. Happy to be here.
Rob Cressy: (00:33)
Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?
Cameron Fowler: (00:37)
Yeah. My name's Cameron Fowler. I'm the CEO with Digital Seat Media. At Digital Seat we developed a fan engagement platform that allows any fan with any device in any venue to instantly engage with the team and what's going on in the venue that they're in, without having to download a specific app to their device.
Rob Cressy: (01:00)
Cool. So what we're going to jam about today is fan engagement. And the first thing that I want to talk about is ways fans can engage in a game. Because I think right now one of the biggest challenges I see is why should I ever go to a game when the in-home experience is so much better? Certainly when you look at it's cheaper, the television viewing angles, my wifi always works. I can always get food. There's no lines. There's no parking. So teams need to go above and beyond to engage the fan. But are they really doing a good enough job of it?
Cameron Fowler: (01:39)
Yeah, no you're exactly right. And that's the question that we get asked a lot is, why should I leave my couch when it's so comfortable and I have what I need here, to go and venture off into the stadium itself. My response to that is always I believe that that sports and the teams in general are a community. I think that, that people get a lot from going to these games. A lot of people growing up go to these games and go to these different sporting events as I did. I think that there is a new generation that is inside these venues and that is being distracted a lot by our mobile devices and things of that nature. But I also think that teams are starting to get creative with different ways to engage these fans while they're inside the venue.
Cameron Fowler: (02:23)
In the past, especially growing up, I remember you went to the game, you sat there at a major league baseball game and you watch the game. You got a hot dog and you ate it. Well now there's a lot more distractions flying around. You've got jumbotrons, you have apps, you're always being engaged with that are always fighting for your attention. What we're trying to do specifically, and I know a lot of other brands and companies out there trying to do also, is to seamlessly integrate kind of that fan experience inside of the seat from the digital perspective and tie into that brand loyalty with the team and with what's going on on the field.
Rob Cressy: (02:59)
So let's get to one of the challenges. And we've talked about this numerous times on this podcast, is WiFi connectivity within arenas. Because without WiFi, it makes it significantly harder for us to post on social or God forbid, we download an app from a team and go on that. So one of the most native ways that we as fans can engage with a team or with brands oftentimes isn't there for us, which leads to the frustration from a fan engagement standpoint.
Cameron Fowler: (03:30)
Yeah, you're exactly right. And that's kind of where we grew out of it. I've worked in a long time in technology and technology consulting. I've been a part of some really cool things over the years. And one of the things we kept seeing and kept hearing was, Hey, we're not able to use these new groundbreaking technologies inside these venues because the cellular connectivity wasn't there and the WiFi connectivity wasn't there. That's really why we built Digital Seat. We said, look, there's gotta be a better way to do this. If somebody has the team app on their phone and it's an amazing app, but it can't be used in the venue because there's no connectivity then you know, what do you really have at that point?
Cameron Fowler: (04:10)
And so that's really what we're trying to combat is I think a lot of people got a bad taste in their mouth whenever they first started using these different platforms inside of a venue and they weren't performing as desired. And so with what we've built is we're allowing people to scan one of our tags, engage with our platform and it's extremely lightweight and extremely small. I always tell people, we're not built for you to watch a 10-minute, 1080p video on our platform. We want to give fans basic information. They're looking for what's the team roster, what are the live game stats, what are upcoming events. Things of that nature. But do it in a really light framework environment so that we're not having to worry about those WiFi connectivity issues. Or there's cellular connectivity issues.
Rob Cressy: (04:53)
The one thing that's important around here is the real-time nature of it. Cause when you said, Hey, what good is a team app if I can't use it while I'm at a game? Because so much of our lives right now is in real time. I can't miss what's going on on social media while the game is on because you want to be part of the conversation. I think about my own consumption as a sports fan, whether it's NBA, Twitter. I mean that's something the second there's a dunk, like literally the entire world knows. So the real-time nature of the community is so important because that's what helps build the community.
Cameron Fowler: (05:36)
That's exactly right. And one thing that we have done over the last 12 to 18 months is, we spend a lot of time working on focus groups and learning about what it is that not just ourselves as sports fans, but about the people that are going to be using our product inside of these venue. What is it that's most important to you? And the overwhelming majority of the answers are, I need that real-time. I need to know what's going on. I need to be able to post and to interact and engage with real time. And so that's one of the things that we've put at the head of our roadmap and whenever we started building this, was saying, look, we need those real-time stats. We have a module on our platform that we called the fan zone, which will import live tweets or live posts from players. But again, in a really light framework environment so that people can still keep up to date with what's going on with their favorite players, but without having to stumble through a potentially cumbersome app. So they're getting that information. But again, keeping it to a minimum so that it's not being bogged down in having a bad user experience.
Rob Cressy: (06:45)
When I think about real-time fan engagement, there's three things that games always seem to crush. One of them is if you go to a baseball game and they've got three different hats and then they put a baseball under one of them and then they spin it around and then all of a sudden it goes really, really, really fast. And then they're like, which one has the ball under it? Everyone's like, "Three!" Everyone really likes that. People love the mascot races or they just watch them do that, and they also love the kiss cam or things like that. What are the digital versions of these and why can't we see more of these? Because we know it works time after time in the arena. But I would love to see, speaking of real time and the extension of this, where you say, "all right, how can we gamify the real time experience so that I can be more part of this interaction?"
Cameron Fowler: (08:22)
So what we set out to do was exactly what you said, is to gamify that and to allow direct fan interaction in a digital environment on their own device. So one of the things that we've built into our platform is just that. So if there is something that comes up on the jumbotron, let's say a dot race and you can actually scan one of our digital tags that are on your arm rest or on your cup holder and you can pick, Hey, I think that the blue dots going to win. And if you're right, then that automatically converts into a digital coupon that goes straight into your device. Then you can use it inside the retail location. So that of you know, fan interaction in getting people involved is what I'm talking about and I know that this is really creating that bond if you will with the team from the fan that's sitting there. So there is a lot of opportunities to take what is digital now, but it's also analog from the engagement side. We're looking at both sides of coins, you've got the digital side on the actual jumbotron, but then you actually have the fan engagement side of it as well. That's something that's unique and it's entertaining for people that are sitting there inside the venue.
Rob Cressy: (09:32)
Yeah. And I think this is a very simple solution because one of the things that people like about the mascot races is that everybody collectively in the arena is cheering together. But there's nothing that doesn't say, Hey, just choose which hot dog you want to root for right here. Here comes the digital delivery and now we can all root together. So like literally they're missing optimization by one touch point. Just giving me the opportunity to digitize this, then do it in arena so that we're all cheering together.
Cameron Fowler: (10:09)
And that's exactly right. That's the biggest thing when we first started developing and kind of creating Digital Seat in molding the idea, we went out and spent a lot of time with brands and a lot of time with agencies and we're like, okay, what are you getting at these different events? Whether it's collegiate, whether it's in music and entertainment, whether it's baseball games, what are you not getting? What do you want? And that really helped us shape what it was we were doing. Because I think you're exactly right. That one touchpoint is a really important touchpoint. And to the fans specifically, that sense of engagement in that sense of bonding and then also to the brands themselves, to sponsor that and say, Hey, this dot race is sponsored by Chipotles of the world or whatever it might be. I think that builds brand loyalty. I think something that's really been missing and there's a myriad of reasons of why it's been missing, but I think now is the time where the perfect storm of network capabilities and hardware acceleration, from the fan sides to being able to offer that in real time inside of these different venues.
Rob Cressy: (11:20)
And I think what also is the missed opportunity right now is the training of fans to think about their phones with fan engagement. Right now we go there and I don't expect anything on my phone to really work when I go to a game. But if I knew every time something on the jumbotron comes or they say, Hey fans, look at your phone on the bowls app where X, Y, and Z. So now you're like, Oh, I know that these activations are going to be run digitally, but right now I don't feel that's the case. If they say, download this app, why would I download the app? It's they're not giving me the value add right out of the gate and we're not trained because let's assume we're now five years down the road and starting today, we're going to do everything digital while still doing the inner arena engagement. Now all of a sudden, it's the trickle. It's like when Uber first started and people were like, what is that? I'm not gonna ride with strangers. Fast forward a few years and everyone's like, this is the new normal.
Cameron Fowler: (12:24)
That's exactly right. And I go back to my same point of people having a bad taste in their mouth from what's happened in the past. I always tell people that when one of the facts is that whenever Apple first launched the App Store, it was a fight with Steve Jobs because he didn't want people to have to go into an App Store and download an app. But the hardware restraints at that point in the cellular connectivity made it a requirement. Well now those lines are kind of blurred. The hardware is where it needs to be to where we can launch app-like experiences natively on a device without having to go into that App Store. And so I always tell people, look, we want to be for sports. What we're trying to do is like what Amazon did for shopping. It's not that Amazon was the first people to figure out how to sell things online. They were the ones to capitalize on the fact that we're lazy as a whole and they made it to where we could do one-click ordering. And it was at your house the next day. So we're trying to do the same thing. We want people that are sitting there. A great example is I went to the Cubs game a couple months ago. I didn't download the Cubs app just because I was there for one game, and I think a lot of people have that same mentality.
Cameron Fowler: (13:33)
So we want to make it to where people can go in there with their device and be able to just simply tap one of our tags and instantly be able to engage with the team that's in front of them, and rest assured that when they do that, it's going to work. Because again, there's nothing worse than having that experience. And that's why we do a lot of testing at different football venues, basketball venues, concert venues around the country. We build these frameworks and send them out for people to test so that we know, okay, this works in this environment. This doesn't work in this environment. Because the last thing that we want to do, I mean, user experience is paramount. And so if people get a bad experience and they go to load up, whether it's an app or whether it's our platform, whatever it might be, and it just doesn't work, it's really hard to get a second shot at that.
Cameron Fowler: (14:20)
I mean, first impressions are everything. We joke because we say we're trying to change, to educate the masses with this and use that jumbotron to tell people, Hey, scan that tag that's on the armrests or the seat in front of you and be able to engage. I mean that's our goal, but I think you hit the nail on the head by saying, Hey, people had a bad experience, we got to figure out how to switch that and how to train them and let them know that this is going to work.
Rob Cressy: (14:55)
All right. Riddle me this for a second. Let's assume a team wants us to download the app. So you use the instance, you go to a Cubs game at Wrigley, something that casual fans do all of the time. And I live in Chicago, and I've never downloaded the app. But if the goal was just to get people to start using the app more, what could the team do? And the first thing that came to my mind is what if the ticketing platform was run off of the app? So the way that you get into the stadium is you've got to download the app as if you would any other ticketing platforms. So what if that's where the integration came in? Because I think the biggest challenge in any app discovery is getting that download. Everyone's like, Oh, if we only can get 1% of the market and all these people to download, as you said, it becomes app fatigue. There's just so many different apps. But if a team can try and say, listen to almost like a windows when they just built in Excel and all these different programs, you're like, Oh well it's already on my computer. So if you think about a team app, if you already had the ticketing there, then maybe that's the opportunity for them to seamlessly say, listen, this isn't just for the ticketing. This is for your entire experience. Almost as if, imagine if Disney did this, Disney would crush it if they had an app and they probably do, but I'm just not the Disney person. You go down there, download the app and they're like, this is gonna make you the best experience possible.
Cameron Fowler: (16:29)
Yeah, no, you're exactly right. And I always tell people, they're like, well, are you out here trying to like just eliminate apps? And we always tell them, absolutely not. We're not. I think there is absolutely a place for sports apps. If everybody downloaded the team app onto their phone, then Digital Seat wouldn't exist. That's just a fact of the matter. But the problem is, like you said, that home screen real estate is extremely difficult to get. 75% of us residents download less than one app a month. And so if they integrated into the ticketing side of things, which a lot of people are trying to do, it's still the case of, for example, I went to an event here a couple of months ago and I had eight tickets on my phone for myself and family and friends, well I just walked up to the door and they scan my phone eight times. Well the team doesn't know the other seven people that are there with me. And the other seven people didn't have the app on their phone so they couldn't interact with anything that was going on inside the venue. I mean if there is a day where everybody, 100% of people inside the venue have that app on their phone, then great. I think that would be a really good use case. But I've sat in these rooms with these pro team presidents and owners and things like that. And there's a reason that we wind up in those rooms. It's because that there's just not the adoption rate that they're for, and so I always tell them, look, we can work in conjunction with what you guys are doing. There's one team that we're talking to that at the end of the game we will push out to our platform for everybody to download the team app.
Cameron Fowler: (18:02)
So whenever they leave the venue and they're outside of the venue and they're at home or whatever it is, then they can use that and it's still a very valuable tool for these teams. And that's what I was telling us. We don't want to replace them, we want to get people educated on it, but until you can get that mass adoption where you have the majority of the people inside of your venue that have that app on their device, you got to find some other way to engage with them. Some other way to let everybody in the venue participate in real time. The last thing I'm curious about is the age of people who may be using these more forward-thinking technologies, but more specifically QR code adoption as a way. I know that you and I have talked about this before and it's like, Hey, if you could use a QR code, um, you may not be as reliant on wifi connectivity, but then I think about my everyday life and I don't use QR codes.
Cameron Fowler: (18:53)
And it's something that I remember when they first came out and then it's like, Oh, look at this cool thing. And then it never really caught on, but I believe there's a younger demographic of this Snapchat era where this is more part of what they do. So talk about QR code adoption, but more specifically on the different age bracket because I think that the people who may be going to games, they might bring their kids who use QR codes but they might not themselves. Yeah, you're exactly right. And that's a question we get quite a lot. So one of the hardest things that we did at Digital Seat is Matt, our co-founder and I, actually came up with the idea about five years ago. And so we were working on another technology project and we said, Hey, you know, we could make these tags that go on seats where people can can use them and engage, but then the hardest thing that we had to do was, but then we had to sit back and wait for technology to catch up for the market to get right until we really can take advantage of it.
Cameron Fowler: (19:52)
Because you're right before, over the last year you had to download a QR code app on your phone in order to scan a QR code. If you were going to do that, you might as well just ask somebody to download the team app or whatever event they were at. Well now with Apple, unlocking the ability to scan to our codes natively on your device where you just open up your camera and aim it at a QR code and it works. That opens up a whole new area for people to be able to engage with a lot of different products and a lot of different features. If you've noticed over the last six, eight months, QR codes are becoming much more prevalent. Just in everyday society. My friend was telling me that she was at an airport recently and that they only way for you to get the map of the airport is to scan a QR code and it was a major airport.
Cameron Fowler: (20:36)
But on the other side of that, you talk about the younger demographic in Snapchat and their Snap codes. That is one of the things that we learned early on is that when we were doing focus groups, they said, yeah, we'd scan QR codes, but if you use Snap codes, we would really use them. So that's whenever we started working with Snapchat and all of our tags, we started putting Snap codes on them because that was the feedback that was overwhelmingly apparent that this younger demographic was like, look, we want to use these, but we want to use them within Snapchat because that's the main way that we communicate. And the last piece of that is every one of our tags also has an NFC chip embedded in it, which is what allows people to make mobile payments. But it also allows you to just take your phone and simply tap it to one of our tags and then you're instantly taken to the platform. So between those three things, yes it is going to take some education, but we also really believe that it's going to be more of a group action and group think mentality that whenever there's someone that's sitting there that scans their tag, hopefully the person that's sitting there beside them go, Hey, how'd you do that? And it'll kind of have that ripple effect. But we're also gonna do pushes at these venues on the jumbotron before the game is on, showing people how to do it. Our tags have directions on them that say, Hey, point your phone camera here. I don't think it's ever been that people are adverse to using QR codes by any stretch. It was just, it was inconvenient. I mean, that's the bottom line. And like I said, we want to be as convenient as possible for everybody opening up your camera and aiming it at a QR code. That's pretty convenient. So we think that people will have a tendency to do that.
Rob Cressy: (22:13)
And that's the bottom line because Stone Cold said so. So Kevin, I really like your forward-thinking mindsets. Where can everybody connect with you?
Cameron Fowler: (22:30)
So, you can connect with us on our Facebook pages and on Twitter. We're on Facebook @DigitalSeatDFW or on Instagram @digitalseatmedia and we're on Twitter @digital_seat.
Rob Cressy: (22:54)
And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. Have you ever downloaded a team app? If not, what would get you to do? So I'm also curious to hear your thoughts about fan engagement within an arena, but more specifically the digital version of it. You're going to hit up FanFood on Twitter @fanfoodondemand, on Instagram @fanfoodapp or online or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms at Rob Cressy.