Top 5 Tech Trends Transforming In-Stadium Fan Experience
The in-stadium fan experience is not what it used to be. The vast difference between a stadium or arena in the year 2000 compared to present day is nearly incomprehensible. The focus has shifted from a purely “game-focused” experience to more of a, well, experience-focused experience.
No longer is everyone coming to the ballpark, grabbing a bag of peanuts and sitting down for nine consecutive innings to take in a game. Now, if you’re a traditionalist, you may still do this — and that’s more than okay! Though many are looking for more. People want to be entertained in ways outside of the event itself — and in a streamlined, engaging manner.
As a matter of fact, according to a survey conducted by Deloitte, one of the four core expectations from the modern fan is “an exciting atmosphere within the stadium.”
Here we take a look at a few technological trends being deployed around the world by stadiums to provide that ultimate, exciting and streamlined fan experience.
Immersive Fan Experiences (Augmented/Virtual Reality)
Ever since professional sports became a thing, people have asked: “What would it be like to hit a 100 mile-per-hour fastball?” Or “what would it be like to throw a touchdown in the NFL?”
Thanks to a popular new tech trend, many fans are getting an answer to questions like these.
Among many other franchises, the Boston Red Sox have done a great job bringing virtual reality (VR)/augmented reality (AR) to the fans. These technologies provide fans with an immersive experience as if they are the players on the field. Installed back in 2017, the Red Sox have a “VR Home Run Challenge” in which fans try to…you guessed it, hit home runs:
It sounds as though Boston is expanding its use of AR/VR too with CMO Adam Grossman’s recent comments to the Visionary Group. The Red Sox began deploying AR during their Fenway Park tour, using it for various “fan engagement initiatives.” Thanks to a resoundingly positive response from fans, Grossman explained that the team plans on launching even more AR/VR experiences — similar to their Jackie Bradley Jr. bobblehead promotion that involved a scannable code leading to digital experiences within the MLB Ballpark App.
Mobile, Cashless Transactions
Who likes cash anyway? Just kidding, everybody likes cash. Still, venues are heading in a direction where any and all transactions will be entirely cashless. The Tampa Bay Rays and Atlanta Falcons are two of those that have gone cashless in 2019.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Falcons and MLS’s Atlanta United, is already enjoying the fruits of a cashless system, according to Greg Beadles, the EVP and COO of AMB Sports & Entertainment. “It’s gone very smoothly so far — the feedback we’ve been receiving from fans has been very positive,” said Beadles to bizjournals.com. “The last few [Atlanta United] matches, in particular, we have seen about 50% of our respondents saying the lines are noticeably faster.”
That’s right — instead of fumbling for cash, fans are moving through concessions lines at a swift pace, leaving more time to watch the game or take part in some of those AR/VR experiences we previously mentioned. Going cashless is one of the more feasible tech upgrades that venues may be able to look into in the coming years. With success stories like Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it’s hard to imagine venues of all sizes, professional or not, not being completely cashless in the coming 5–10 years.
Implementation of 5G (or just WiFi upgrades)
As teams and leagues bring about more and more advanced mobile activations, your venue needs to make sure that network bandwidth is up to the test. This is where the recent implementation of 5G networks comes into play. 5G allows for a greater data capacity and faster download speeds — it’s roughly 100 times faster than the typical 4G network!
5G (short for fifth-generation) will provide a lower latency, meaning fans can stream, download apps like FanFood and much more — all while sharing a network with thousands of others.
The NFL and Verizon reached a two-year agreement just this year to bring 5G to many of the league’s stadiums. While nationwide use of 5G is still a few years away, Verizon will be testing out its network by bringing fans specialized mobile games and VR experiences, as well as in-stadium video feeds and multi-angle camera positions for home viewers.
Fans’ in-stadium expectations will only continue to heighten as stadiums continue with this mobile revolution. 5G has the ability to meet, or even exceed those expectations.
Biometric Screening Technology
If there’s one thing that really discounts the fan experience, that’s probably long wait times. Many tech companies have been coming up with solutions to bring greater convenience to the stadiums, and one of the most cutting-edge solutions is probably biometric screening.
This technology has been adopted at certain stadiums and airports for an expedited, painless way of gaining entry (by the way, they also make something like renting a car easier!) With the simple touch of a finger to a screen, the technology can turn a slow, arduous process into something much different. Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, has begun using CLEAR’s technology and offers “fast lanes” around the ballpark. All it takes is a one-time enrollment at a nearby kiosk to bring about a “frictionless and personalized experience to ticketing and concessions.”
Fan-Tracking Systems/Smart Stadiums
Speaking of understanding the fan, some venues — like the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center — are doing everything they can to track you (not in a creepy way though). By using a Salesforce software package, the Kings are able to see whether or not their season ticket-holders are consistently attending games. If, for example, the software detects string of absences it can notify the ticketing office and they can then reach out to the fan to see if there is reasoning behind it. If there is, and it’s a simple fix, then the Kings have done a better job of pleasing and retaining another customer.
The tracking can go much deeper, however.
“We collect data on every part of the fan experience,” said Kings’ owner, Vivek Ranadivé, to CNBC. “We have a room called mission control that has a whole number of screens with people from all parts of the business — guest services, security, local police. We control everything, including traffic flow, to minimize the time to get to the arena.”
The Golden 1 Center is just one of many stadiums across the U.S. that are using fans’ movements around the stadium to better cultivate fan experience. Take, for example, the Buffalo Sabres’ KeyBank Center. Their app, “One Buffalo,” provides wait times on both restrooms and concession lines. Sensors are placed above the entrances to bathrooms and concessions, gauging the crowd volume. By giving this information to the fan, the Sabres are able to self-regulate wait times, thus allowing fans to spend the most time where they want to be, i.e. watching the game, participating in AR/VR experiences, etc.
The reality is that there are plenty more directions for venues at any level to go. No matter how small or large your budget may be, there’s a way to bring fans in, and keep them.
One thing is for sure; there’s no room for complacency in making sure that fans are having a great experience when they step foot inside your venue.Sure, the game or event might do a majority of the work, but supplying memory-making opportunities and making the life of the fan easier every step of the way is what will keep them coming back.