It’s no secret that professional sports attendance is down, in large part due to rising ticket prices and better at home digital experiences. Professional sports organizations are scrambling to upgrade stadium technology infrastructure to create better at-the-game experiences for their fans. As big investments made years ago are finally coming to fruition, we can look ahead to how technology is changing season ticket ownership in your favor. Here are 15 evolving professional sports stadium technologies to keep your eye on:
1. Wifi (and Data) For All
All MLB and NBA sports stadiums are now wifi-equipped, as well as 21 of the NFL stadiums (Commissioner Goodell has asked owners to make all NFL stadiums Wifi-equipped by 2016). More interestingly, 50% of venues believe upgrading and improving in-stadium wifi to be a constant need, which means that as stadium apps improve and video content becomes more readily available, connecting at a game will continue to get faster and more reliable.
With the release of iOS 8, iPhone users can now use Wifi to make calls in low service areas like, say, a stadium with 50,000 fans. At the same time, 80% of stadiums now have DAS antenna installments (up from 71% last year), bolstering cellular service as well. The installments are costly, but MLB figured out that carriers, who often take the blame for shoddy service at a game, are willing to pay a large portion of the installation costs. Without the big bill to slow owners down, upgrading cell service is a no brainer and should be ubiquitous within a year or two.
2. Upgrade Your Seats at the Game
In 2013, the Golden State Warriors team offered fans the opportunity to upgrade seats when they checked into the stadium – an experiment that generated an additional $80,000 in extra revenue. In 2016, nearly half of stadiums will offer seat-upgrading programs, giving fans cost-efficient ways to get closer than ever. Same-day ticket sales typically account for a third of a team’s ticket revenue; upgrade programs could see that number increase dramatically as teams look to take advantage of extra inventory while also creating better experiences for fans. Still not convinced? Consider this – 45% of premium fans who always or often buy season tickets said they would pay more for better experiences.
3. Digitally Transfer Tickets and Parking Passes
Levi’s Stadium, nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley and home to the San Francisco 49ers, offers the most comprehensive Stadium app available (for now). Alongside a slew of game-day changing features that we’ll get into, the app allows fans to purchase, then transfer tickets and parking passes. With the rise of secondary marketplaces like Stubhub, re-selling and transferring unused tickets is now easy enough that season ticket owners don’t need to worry about wasting tickets when they are deciding whether to pull the trigger on a package of games.
4. Live Replay on Your Phone…in Real Time…from 4 Different Camera Angles
As great as the live game is, watching at home offers a key advantage: slow motion replay. Cisco’s StadiumVision means HD video replay is no longer just a household item – now you can stream replays at the game from 4 different camera angles, as soon as 7 seconds after the play happens. Already widely adopted at the professional level, college stadiums (which can hold 2-3 times more fans) are next in line to tap the game-changing technology for their younger, more connected fan base.
5. NFL Redzone at the game
One of the best reasons to stay home and watch is the NFL Redzone, which cuts between games to show the most exciting plays as they develop. The NFL Mobile App now offers RedZone channel streaming to Verizon users. Before long they’ll likely open up the content to stadium apps and other carriers’ users.
6. Really Relevant Notifications
As far as enhancing the comprehensive in-stadium experience, beacon technology could be the glue that ties it all together. Beacon technology uses low-level bluetooth technology to perform actions when you (or at least your phone) come in close proximity to a beacon. Imagine getting a video greeting when you walk into the stadium, a discount code when you enter the merchandise store, a suggestion to order food when you get to your seat, and an alert that the bathroom nearest to you has no line.
7. Unique, Memorable Experiences
In the race to make in-stadium experiences more memorable, teams and sports marketers have begun exploring creative offers that fans can activate through stadium apps. Last year, the Falcons offered users a fast track lane through stadium lines, the Seahawks let fans buy the opportunity to kick field goals after the game, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I kid you not, let you order cheerleaders to your seats. Unique fan offers provide a new revenue stream for owners while also creating social media shareable experiences for fans – a win win. By the way, all of the unique fan experiences that these teams tested sold out.
8. “Pit Stop” Efficiency
Multiple companies are working to improve the, um, bathroom experience at professional sports venues. Smart drink holders and in-bathroom digital stands are nice, but the best thing venues can do is keep people at the bathroom for as short a time as possible. That’s why the Levi’s Stadium app added functionality to monitor bathroom lines (and lines for beer and concessions) at the game. Other venues are racing to catch up and offer similar stadium apps with similar functionality.
9. Food and Beer Delivered to Your Seat
Another beautiful feature every venue is working on (and some already have)? Food and beer delivery to your seat, often in under 10 minutes. The technology earned the Niners an additional $800K in revenue in 2014 ($2M when you include merchandise, parking, and other cost savings associated with the app), which is a pretty nice incentive for other teams to get on board with food-to-seat delivery. You can expect most stadiums to offer this within a year or two.
10. Loyalty Programs
As the stadium experience further digitizes, it will become easier for teams to track their best fans…and to reward them accordingly. Expect to see loyalty programs that consider ticket sales, concessions, social media posting, and other fan actions when rewarding fans, possibly with the aforementioned seat upgrades and unique experiences.
11. Virtual Reality…in the stadium
When the Warriors kicked off the 2015 NBA season, they had a special guest sitting courtside: a 360 degree 3D Virtual Reality camera. For the first time ever, fans could put on a VR headset and watch the game court side. Pretty great right? Except the experience raised concerns on the viability of VR technology in sports. You see – watching with a helmet is isolating and sports are best enjoyed socially. But imagine wearing the helmet surrounded by 50,000 fans? No matter how big the (Oculus) rift, you can’t escape that much noise and fervor. With VR headsets now available for under $20, there’s a good chance you’ll start seeing nose-bleeders switching from beer helmets to VR headsets.
12. Next Gen Stats
The NFL’s Next Gen Stats platform tracks how fast and far players are moving on every play. At the start of the 2015 season, 17 stadiums were equipped to track Next Gen Stats. The NBA has a similar system in SportVU, already equipped in all stadiums. These complex camera and sensor arrays provide broadcasters with real time overlays presenting the location, speed, and acceleration for every player. It won’t be long before this data is provided to app developers and somebody creates an augmented reality app to give fans a real time overlay on game day. Just imagine putting on Google Glass and watching the game like this:
13. Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality has its obvious applications when paired with Next Gen Stats, but it is just getting started. Imagine looking through your phone’s viewer and seeing a video replay on top of real action, or highlighting where your friends are sitting from across the stadium, or identifying nearby landmarks like bathrooms or exits, or tapping into the sky cam to augment your view with different angles, or zooming in to the action with the assistance of on field cameras, or showing social media content from friends and family that directly relates to the action on the field…should we keep going?
14. Better Social Media Content
86% of venue owners now employ full time social media staffers, with 30% employing 3 or more. Teams regularly provide exclusive content via their social media channels and are now hosting digital tailgates where fans can interact with announcers and players to talk about the game. Add that to the fact that social media is the #1 engager of wifi-connected devices at the stadium and it’s hard to ignore the role social media plays in bringing together fans, teams, and ownership. As such, we can expect to see social media content getting better with the addition of real time player interviews, live streams from the locker room to your phone, player-fan interactions (Q&A sessions are already popular), and athletes snapchatting from the sidelines. This will help make social media content fresher and deeper than ever before.
Bonus: with this many resources dedicated to watching the conversation, you can also expect better customer service and tech support from stadium employees monitoring the activity.
15. Faster entry, less security
Have you ever been TSA approved at the airport? If so, you’ll know that fast-tracking through lines can be as thrilling as a game-ending hail mary. Now venues around the league are incorporating solutions to address lines at the front gate, including offering premium fast-lanes and integration of biometric scanning.
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Ken Martin, General Manager of global sales in Cisco’s sports and entertainment group
State of the Stadium 2015 Technology Report
State of the Stadium’s survey Report