Fan experience and engagement in the stadium have to change a lot in order to be competitive going forward. We discuss 10 awesome ways how this can be realised.
The fan of today has changed a lot
Stadiums have evolved over time, but one thing has been a stable factor all this time: the fan! It doesn’t mean the fan hasn’t changed. In fact, he has changed a lot. Whereas the fan of the past was particularly interested in a good match, the fan of today and of the future wants much more. Besides a high quality game, he also very much wants to have a good experience, varying from onsite entertainment, a safe and comfortable environment including good food and an exciting atmosphere. The game alone is no longer leading, it’s the total experience that gets the future fan engaged.
Also interesting to read: 12 awesome ways to improve fan engagement in the future
Stakeholders have to change offering
It means that stadiums, event organizers and clubs or rights-holders have to change their offering in order to get that fan. For all of them it is essential to offer fans a great package as they are the engine behind their existence. Fans drive revenues. If you realise that the bulk of revenues is derived from ticket sales, media income, sponsoring and merchandising, you will understand why this is the case. They are all fan related. In the end their existence is determined by that same fan.
Unique personal experiences essential
Gen Z and Gen Alpha as well as many millennials will be the future consumers here and they are different from the Boomers. These cohorts of people place importance to unique experiences, experiences that match their personal interests. They want to have different entertainment options before, during and after the game, they want to socialize while watching the game and they want to have great service! Given these characteristics it is not difficult to predict that the future fan experience will be different, the question is to what extent.
Technology, better infrastructure, service levels and entertainment options are key
What to expect? Expect technology to enter the arena big time, expect service levels to go up, expect infrastructure to improve and expect tailor made entertainment options. Can that be done in today’s stadiums? Short answer, no, unless adjustments are being made.
Also interesting to read: 10 great technologies that will change sports
Seating capacity of stadiums might come down
One of the main adjustments to be expected is that seating capacity in many stadiums might well be reduced. The current Covid 19 crisis might even be a catalyst to accelerate this phenomenon. The current crisis shows how vulnerable clubs, stadiums and events are in case the fan stays away. It shows that it is important to connect with the fan in- and outside the stadium and realize different revenue streams.
From a high volume/low margin to lower volume/higher margin strategy
Inside the stadium the choice is to have a high volume/low margin (many fans paying for their ticket and some F&b) or a low volume/high margin policy (fewer fans spending a lot on alternative activities and services in the stadium). The trend undoubtedly will be to the latter given what todays fan really wants. Adding the fact that alternative revenue streams also can be tapped outside the stadium both on and off game-day, it is in fact a nobrainer. Spending more bucks and staying longer in the facility, that’s the engagement strategy!
Hence expect stadiums to become more and more interactive datacollecting entertainment temples rather than just seat providers.
10 ways to deliver the fan a better stadium experience
Ok, you might wonder, what can I expect in the future? What will that fan experience look like. Hold your seats. Below you will find 10 ways how your future stadium visit might look like and I can tell you that technology plays a key role in it!
1. Traffic infrastructure will change and improve
Imagine yourself on your way to the stadium in a self driving car with a smart navigation system. Your car is parked automatically after you have been dropped of at the stadium. That should make your traveling experience an awful lot more pleasant I would imagine. No long walks from the parking lot, no traffic jams, just straight delivery. The alternative for the ‘green ecominded’ future fans clearly is to take their bicycle to the stadium with purpose bicycle lanes to and from the stadium.
2. Ticketless entrance and no queuing
Nobody likes waiting, long queues often are a nuisance. It takes away drinking or playing time with your buddies. It also means that stadium owners lose potential revenues. Hence avoiding queues is essential. With todays technology, this is not that difficult. Ticketing will increasingly be paperless due to new technologies such as facial recognition and other biometrics. Users will be identified within a second, which should be much more efficient and hence convenient. Moreover fraud is now excluded, whilst it also is an awful lot more ecofriendly I would say.
Conclusion: fan happy and stadium owner and right-holders happy!
3. Food and Beverage: quicker, better, more variety and ordered by app
Food and beverage consumption is one of the most important rated elements when visiting a sports event. It means it also is one of the main revenue generators besides ticketing. Nevertheless many fans do not like to wait in line as they don’t want to miss the game. Almost half of them actually have decided more than once to abandon concession lines as this Oracle report explains.
In order to improve the fan’s F&B experience, more attention will be paid to quality, speed and costs I believe. Again, technology will play a big role. The widespread use of ordering your food by means of an app whilst watching the game from your seat, will be a matter of time. This will save you queuing time or even better, your order will be delivered to your seat. Who knows, possibly by a drone. With that same app, it also will be much easier to implement loyalty programs.
Besides technology, also expect variety and quality of food to improve. In order to improve your experience and raise your engagement, it will mean that a larger part of the stadium will be attributed to this.
4. Casual fan entertainment features all around the stadium
As soon as a fan enters the stadium, he wants to enjoy the experience: before, during and after the game. We all can remember the times that we were waiting in our seats without anything else to do except chatting with our the people around us and watching the odd marching band playing some music. For the new Gens this will be unacceptable. They have to be entertained!
Again technology will come to the rescue here! For a start GenZ and GenAlpha are ultra connected and want to use their smart devices where ever they are. It means they want to always have free and fast access to the internet, it means multi screen and interactive personalised experiences, it means shareable and unique content, that cannot be experienced by watching the game at home or outside the stadium. 5G (reduced latency), AR, VR and AI (think data and learning to know the fan) will play extremely important roles going forward.
Let’s wharp ourselves for a moment or two into the customer journey of the average younger fan in the future. Imagine we are entering the stadium with our friends and are walking on the concourse. On our phone we have installed an app for the stadium and the match. The app tells us where our seats are or where there is food to our liking, but also where there is entertainment on the concourse level. Lets take a picture with our favorite player! Consider it done! In fact at the AT&T Stadium, home of NFL team the Dallas Cowboys, this is already a feature, as you can see below.
Expect other creative experiences and prematch games with the help of new technology. Shareable and memorable in stadium experiences, that’s what the fan wants! That’s why he comes to the stadium! He has come here to enjoy and share experiences, remember! It’s not just the match…..
Ok, let’s continue our journey. Once we are in our seats, we will put on our AR goggles and we will see mascots flying over the stadium, giant player avatars on the field, we will start to order food and drinks, there will be quizzes and sweepstakes etc, etc. By aiming our phones on the field, all kind of information and statistics will pop up. We will share the latest info with our friends at home or elsewhere in the stadium through social media. All our senses should be satisfied, whether it is viewing, smelling, tasting, touching, hearing.
Everything is basically possible. The fan’s experience will be personal and interactive as through time AI will learn what he likes and what not. Only the match is not enough! We have our device at our fingertips and our glasses on and there is much on offer and to play for. Actually it’s not that far away. Part of what we describe is already there! Take for example the Golden 1 Center of the Sacramento Kings. It’s probably the most advanced in the world where technology is concerned and it definitely takes care of a great customer experience and engagement.
5. Expect die hard fan features all the way
As said, experiences are tailor made and personal. Whereas the casual fan is often mainly interested in entertainment, the diehard fan is interested in the game and everything related to it. He wants to have all the latest info and statistics to be available at his fingertips. He wants to be able to see a play from different camera angles. He wants great storytelling, he wants player and match statistics before the game as well as real time in order to see how his fantasy team is performing etc etc.
It all will be there. With augmented reality (by means of his phone and or glasses) and mobile apps, this fan will live in dual worlds and have the time of his life.
6. Real time betting will become the new normal, microbetting the new opportunity
Betting is one of the big opportunities going forward and no doubt very engaging to the fans. With rapidly evolving technology, it is now possible to have real time live betting in stadiums. This is important as any delay in streaming data results in a non equal level playing field. Actually in stadium betting has already been around for some time.
In 2014 Celtic in partnership with Unibet allowed fans to bet from their smartphones while watching the game. Also in the US in stadium betting has been introduced. In fact in September 2018 in the Metlife Stadium in New jersey, the first NFL game was played where fans could place a bet by using a mobile app. It means live betting while watching the game. To many this gives the game an additional dimension.
The big opportunity here is micro betting! Huh? Yes, micro betting. This is the idea of betting on every down in a football game, the number of tackles made, yardage run, the winning high jump, the number of penalty kicks, heartbeat of a player etc etc. You can track it online as it happens and will immediately know whether you have won your wager. Look for example at Fanduel, they are already pretty well advanced. Taking it a step further, what about the opportunity in the future to fabricate your own bet with your friend.
Although micro betting is still in its infancy, everything is basically there: the data, the stats, the fan, 5G and a seamless functioning Wifi network and the arena! It will still take some time, but it will be there sooner than you would think. No doubt it will put an extra layer to the fan experience and it will generate big bucks.
7. Crowd management systems will improve safety
Fans do want to feel safe and do not want to worry about terrorist threats or hooligans. If they feel safe, they will stay longer at the venue and spend more money. Facial recognition, smart blockchain ticketing and crowd control systems are just a few examples of how fans might feel safer in the future.
8. Holographic representation might well become the next big thing in fan entertainment
Let’s take a sidestep for a moment. You might think holograms are something for the far future, although most of us know it is already possible. Some of you might remember the first holographic concert of Tupac in 2012, which was a big thing. Holographic representation has come a long way since then. Look at the video below which is great for the experience of the fan. This hologram was projected during the reopening of the Estudiantes stadium. It’s awesome.
But there is much more! How about holograms being beamed on to the field from thousand miles away. Remote viewing as if it is the real thing. Do you also want to visit the Olympics some time? The problem is, you can’t get tickets or it is too far away. With holographic representation your sorrows will be gone. You can have the same collective experience just a few miles away in your own stadium with thousands of fans. It would solve a lot of problems, not only yours! What to think of lower airtraffic, lower infrastructural costs etc.
Let’s give you another example. You now can watch the away games of your favorite team at home in your home stadium! It’s great, isn’t it? For club and stadium owners excellent news as it would increase revenues once again. The technology is there, it will be a matter of time. If quality of the holograms will be right and the collective experience is the same, it will be a huge success!
Also interesting to read: How will the blockchain impact the world of sports
9. Fans will be involved before, during and after the game
Fans increasingly want to be involved in the decision making of their club, a trend which is unstoppable. Imagine the young kid, who decides when playing Fifa 2020 what his line-up is, which tactics he is going to use etc etc. Imagine the fantasy sports player, who also calls the shots. New generations are used to making decisions. They are tech savvy and know what is best for them. It is not that different in the real world. Fans want to be involved.
There are already plenty of examples of fans being involved in decisions like logos, clubjerseys, appointment of general managers etc. Socios.com is a very good platform for this. But there is more. Fans also have a strong opinion what has to happen during the match whilst in the stadium.They want to have a say when a manager wants to substitute a certain player, they want to have a say in the line-up etc. You can think of many other situations. Read the quote of Arsene Wenger, the famous French football manager.
In the next five years, it might happen that social media substitutes players during a match. They’ll have a hook-up at half-time and determine which players get substituted and who will be brought on during the second half. This will happen.”Arsene Wenger
If you think about it, it makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s wisdom of the crowd and it has proven over and over again that this wisdom is very valuable. Remember the Volvo Ocean Race of several years ago, where the crowd could decide on certain moves of the Green Dragon during one stage. Often the decisions made were counter intuitive but the boat had its best result in that particular stage. Another example where fans are calling the shots is the Fan controlled Football League. It’s growing rapidly and will be streamed on Twitch in the coming season.
Don’t be surprised if some clubs will test the water and let the fans decide on certain matters during the game. It will create huge engagement as every fan will feel responsible for the outcome. It will make their experience better.
Clearly the technology is there as apps will make it very easy to generate the votes of fans. As a start it would be nice to experiment with a coach that would at least consult the fans. Obviously consultation does not mean, he has to follow the advice, but it would be a great start. It’s beneficial for everybody. Clubs could tie it to a membership model and generate revenues, fan engagement would increase and possibly results would also improve. Read my blogpost on fans calling the shots for some other examples. If it was me, I would be game!
10. Let the fan become part of the collective and player experience. Connect!
Atmosphere and connection with your favorite player are key for a good experience and for great engagement of the fan and certainly if you can play a major role in it. Content should be created where fans can create their own collective experience. No doubt you are familiar with the wave. It is a phenomenon where fans create a wave through the stands. It always is a hit with fans.
With technology there is an awful lot more possible. How about stamping your feet with all the fans or clapping until a giant balloon explodes or a noise barometer creating new noise records and giving the fan loyalty points if the crowd sets that new record. There are plenty of opportunities for the creatives amongst us. Think about bracelets,team coloured jerseys equipped with sensors and connected to apps etc.
Additionally there are also already loads of opportunities where the player can interact with his favorite player. Sensors can help a lot in this perspective. How about little sensor cameras that can give you a birds eye view from the player perspective. How about Foxtel’s alert shirt. By wearing this fans can experience the sensations a player has. He can feel his heartbeat, he can feel the impact of a tackle etc. There are loads of opportunities.
Well, I am sure the customer journey of the average fan will change tremendously in the coming few years. The average fan will change and no doubt he will get what he wants: a better experience. If he gets it, his engagement will grow, it’s as simple as that!
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