Major league sports looks beyond Wi-Fi for mobile-enabled gameday excitement
October 11, 2013
Mobilizing the game
Mobile is becoming the dominant digital engagement platform for major league sports teams, driven in part by increasingly sophisticated in-stadium experiences.
As the mobile expectations of sports fans grows, sports organizations are working harder than ever to enhance the gameday experience, with in-stadium exclusive features such as in-seat ordering and bathroom line updates. The New England Patriots is one team seeing mobile engagements outpace desktop as it looks beyond in-stadium Wi-Fi to enhance the gameday experience for smartphone users.
“Mobile is where it’s at,” said Fred Kirsch, publisher and vice president of content at Kraft Sports Productions, Foxborough, MA, home of the Patriots.
“We’ve seen engagement for our mobile apps now exceeding our traditional dot-com,” he said.
“Whether it’s creating tools like we’re doing for fans coming to game day or simply putting your content on mobile so people can get it whenever they are wherever they want to get it, every team needs to look at mobile as the core way that they’re servicing their fans. There’s just no two ways about it.”
Sports fans have higher expectations when it comes to the game experience. They expect to be able to access stats and content on mobile, and they expect to be able to do that at a game via free Wi-Fi.
Internet provider Enterasys has worked with a number of teams in the NFL - including the Patriots and the Eagles - to provide full-stadium Wi-Fi. This enables the football teams to satisfy their fans’ desire to be online during the game, but it also allows the teams and stadiums to direct personalized offers and content to in-stadium fans.
For example, Gillette Stadium and the Patriots provide stadium-only features in its Gameday Live app. More than 40,000 people have downloaded the app.
Gameday Live offers exclusive video that is only available within the stadium. It offers the RedZone, four unique camera angles of the live game and replays.
When fans are not in the stadium they cannot access that content within the mobile app.
The stadium is also experimenting with enabling fans to order food from their seats as well as the ability to see which bathroom line is the shortest.
According to Mr. Kirsch, users that have tried the in-seat ordering feature are using it repeatedly, pointing to the fact that the feature may be valuable for fans.
“There’s a base-level expectation, you simply need to have connectivity because that’s what you have at home,” said John Brams, director of hospitality solutions for Enterasys, Salem, NH. “If you go to a game and don’t have that, it becomes a big thing.
“It’s the way you not only attract but retain fans, so they know the next time they go back it won’t be a productivity black hole,” he said. “They can watch and do other things that the same time.”
The Patriots' Gameday Live app
Part of a team
It is important that teams remember that mobile is not the end-all-be-all when it comes to driving game attendance, rather it is a way to enhance the game experience and draw in consumers that may not be die-hard fans already.
“I think macro-economic factors and the product on field have a much bigger influence, but there is no doubt in my mind that mobile can effect ticket sales,” said Bryon Morrison, president of the mobile marketing practice at The Marketing Arm, Dallas, TX.
“The promise of great experiences, the ability to sell tickets associated with search and social activities, the use of time and location to reach people with offers when they're most relevant, the utility of platforms like Passbook are all reasons that mobile is considered a requirement now for sports and event marketing,” he said.
Obviously a winning team will draw more fans than a losing team, but mobile has the ability to add an extra spark that may convince a fan that watching the game from his TV pales in comparison to the all-encompassing mobile-enabled in-stadium experience.
With all of the possible innovation in mobile sports, marketers will find new opportunities to reach fans.
“Our clients that activate a sports sponsorship know it's not about a sign in centerfield or a logo on the wall anymore,” Mr. Morrison said. “All savvy sponsorship marketers are trying to create unique experiences that leverage the emotional connection with their sponsorship and mobile is one of the primary ways we do that.”
Now that the Patriots, for example, is offering a feature that predicts bathrooms lines, perhaps Charmins would sponsor the section within the app.
Or with the new in-seat ordering, food vendors could send deals through the Wi-Fi to convince fans to order from them.
The Patriots are not the only ones leveraging mobile for gameday.
One team that is utilizing mobile to draw fans to games is the Cleveland Cavaliers.
According to Nate Ferrall, senior marketing manager at Cavaliers Operating Company, LLC, the basketball team has a number of different mobile initiatives to attract fans.
The Cavs use SMS to send out game alerts, and within the link, they include a mobile link to purchase tickets. There is also a Cavs app for iOS and Android that has a gameday countdown clock with details about the game and a link to purchase tickets.
“Mobile is more about fan engagement than actually driving a significant portion of our attendance,” Mr. Ferrall said. “The more people are interested the more likely they are to attend our games. That said, we have had measurable sales through both of these platforms. As we continue to develop our mobile app the opportunities will continue to grow.”
Another team that has been leveraging mobile is the Philadelphia Flyers. The hockey team recently released an app that provides live scores and stats, live game simulation, post-game highlights and other features.
Most importantly, however, the app links to ComcastTIX and StubHub to let fans purchase tickets to Flyers games.
“Beyond connecting the team with our fans, the Flyers app has opportunities to purchase tickets to all games and Flyers related events,” said Rob Johnson, vice president of business development for the Philadelphia Flyers. “In future updates, the app will be integrated with the Wells Fargo Center, giving fans a whole new mobile experience when attending games.”
The Flyers also keep a mobile-first mindset when thinking about email. The team makes sure that emails are formatted well for mobile devices to ensure an optimal viewing experience.
“I think what’s going to happen over the next couple of years, I think you’re going to see some really creative things to do to enhance the experience,” Enterasys’ Mr. Brams said.
“In the NFL, they mike up a quarterback, but wouldn’t it be neat if you could hear that in the stadium,” he said. “Once the connectivity is strong, you can open up a bunch of new services. I think the applications will get stronger particularly over the next two years.”
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York
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