Where Is Fan Experience Going? To Mobile, According to Industry Experts
Updated: Feb 21
Since last summer's launch of our podcast, The Gameday Playbook, we have just recently reached a major milestone: our thirtieth episode.
Those were 30 engaging conversations about all things fan experience and game day operations through the lens of technology; 30 industry veterans sharing years worth of experience and expertise; 30 times when our host Rob Cressy started his recording by saying: “Welcome to The Gameday Playbook presented by FanFood, a discussion around....”
In this blog, we look back and compile some of the gems scattered throughout our 30 episodes so far. Think of it as your cheat sheet for what's to come for sports and live entertainment in the next decade.
In the words of our guest Tod Caflisch, former CTO at the Minnesota Vikings, “mobile really is the key.” Let’s break down how that’s manifested in all aspects of game day fan experience.
1. Venues are focusing on not just the main event, but also pre-event activities.
George Cunningham, COO at The Rose Bowl, shared with us that on top of the roughly 90,000 fans who attend to see the game, approximately 40,000 additional fans show up just to experience what’s going on outside the stadium. The stadium engages with this non-attendee audience segment by providing them value (and of course, monetizing it) through outside festivities, such as The Rose Bowl Game Public FanFest and the stadium’s breadth of tailgating areas.
Through pre-event activities, venues can grow their audience in attendance to a size well beyond their seating capacity. In the case of the Rose Bowl Stadium, they’re essentially serving a full game day experience to about 40% more attendees than there are seats in the stadium.
That means greater revenue opportunities but also, greater technological challenges.
As a result, George and his team have invested heavily in both stadium wifi and 5G cellular partnerships to ensure a smooth game day experience for their fans.
Other professional stadiums are also upgrading their tech infrastructure to satisfy the crowds. The NFL is backing a stadium-wide wifi rollout at SoFi Stadium, future home of the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams for the 2021 season, while NASCAR recently announced a major partnership with Verizon to significantly improve the cellular connectivity at 12 tracks over the next three years. To venues, making sure that technology is up to par throughout their entire facility, even adjacent on-site events, helps them heighten game day anticipation and deepen fan engagement throughout a fan’s game day journey.
2. Mobile technology is making the in-venue experience truly frictionless.
Imagine you’re taking your family of 4 out to a baseball game. The last things you need are printer gaffes for last-minute ticket printing or harsh weather and crowds just to pick up your tickets from will-call.
If only these problems could be clicked and swiped away. Guess what — wish granted.
Mobile ticketing has already made waves over the old guard of printed tickets. Michael Conley, CIO for the Cleveland Cavaliers, credits mobile ticketing to enhancements around their customer service for guests at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
“What we’re doing with that data now is repurposing that in real time to make actionable insights or actionable conversations between the organization and these [member] fans,” Conley said.
There are other traditional fan pain points that mobile technology solves for. For example, fans don’t want to be stuck in concession lines (especially not when there’s a crucial playoff match, or when the weather is frigid and cold, or when your kid is actually playing on the field...). A study by Oracle indicates that 74 percent of fans would like to pick up from an express lane if possible, and that’s what FanFood is dedicated to achieve.
We have been constantly improving our mobile app experience and have recently released a web app as well, for fans who don’t feel like downloading the app.
“Fans can literally place orders in a matter of seconds,” said Carson Goodale, co-founder and CEO at FanFood. “And we love that.”
Carson also mentions FanFood’s upcoming self-service solution for premium suites, a better, faster, and more efficient way for premium suites customers and their VIP guests to order food and beverage. “Every suite will offer the capabilities for guests to order food, drinks or merchandise and have it directly brought to them by serving staff.”
Related: 2019 In-Venue Mobile Ordering Report
3. Initiating engagement with the fan who’s always on the phone.
Today’s fan is pretty much wired to their device. You’d think you’ve captured them physically in the seats, but their attention is probably still on the phone: social media, group chats, news sites, team scores...
That means it would be a missed opportunity not to meet the fans where they are. In episode #15 of the GameDay Playbook, Cameron Fowler, co-founder at Digital Seat Media stresses the need for digital engagement and content intended for consumption at a stadium. By conducting focus groups with consumers, Cameron said the company realized “an overwhelming majority of answers [from fans] are ‘I need to know what’s going on,’ ‘I need to be able to post, interact and engage in real-time.’”
Tom Weingarten, Head of Social Media at Overtime, shared that fans find immense value in having their social media posts engaged with by the venue or team. A little surprise and delight while they’re there in the moment, whether it be a like, comment or even share, can go a long way to strengthen a fan’s preference towards a venue or team.
There are so many ways you try to grab some of your fans’ attention in the digital space. Below is just a few examples:
- Real-time promotional offers (the FanFood app makes this very easy)
- Coupon codes and links
- In-venue contests (games within the team apps, for example)
- Social media engagement (you can encourage fans to post photos and tag you)
Today’s fan experience is very much two-way - it’s all about letting your fans know you truly care about their experience (hey, you’ve read this far, after all 😉).
4. Creating a sense of belonging in the physical space.
Bob Jordan, founder and CEO at Venue Road, shared with us how professional stadiums are being built to accommodate more and more layers of premium product. Instead of stadiums building out 200 smaller suites as they did decades ago, that number of suites today can be down to anywhere as low as 15 units (such as at SunTrust Park in Atlanta). What’s important to note here is that SunTrust Park has multiple levels of premium product; “the fan today wants an experience that is tribal, but they don’t want to be locked into a sedentary environment.”
Jordan elaborates by touching on the rise of communal areas, and how these provide fans with greater flexibility and preference in how they enjoy the game. AT&T Stadium makes use of malls and expansive plaza areas, while the Colorado Rockies embrace loft rooftop-like areas for fans. With just one ticket fans can have access to all sorts of amenities: unobstructed seating, food, bottle service, video, even fire pits.
“All of those things are coming. I think what you’re seeing is the sports industry having to look at other industries, such as hospitality, gaming and retail to see they do fan engagement,” Jordan said.
5. Fostering fan relationships post-event.
After a fan has left the stadium, the engagement doesn’t end there. How quickly does their focus shift away from the game day experience they just had? As a venue, what actions can we take to stay in their ear and maximize the probability that each fan will return?
Jonathan Harris, founder at JHsports+, touches on how sports clubs can use data creatively to let fans know that they truly do care about ensuring their experience was positive and want them to come back.
“It’s how do you really market? How do you engage your fan to a point where they feel ‘you know what, [the team] really seems to get it?’ I got this email and they knew exactly that I bought nachos that day - that makes me feel special that they know I like nachos, so here’s a coupon for 20% off nachos, or your next order of nachos with us are on me or on the team.”
Harris brings up that whenever a club can, it should strive to make its customer engagement as unique and special as possible, rather than a “boilerplate” automated feeling.
Email is still a surefire medium through which to reach your fans and attendees — the question is, are you currently making use of it, and are you currently applying your venue data towards heightening your event’s overall guest experience?
As mobile technology continues to advance and consumer behaviors shift, venues should keep inventory on the technologies available to them so they can strike first in uncovering new ways to engage their fans. Digital makes the fan experience measurable, scalable, and trackable, and venues seeking to retain fans in the digital age need to continuously be learning and adopting the best practices surrounding fan engagement to make it a reality for their organization.