Fans demand ROI

January 7, 2014 by Gary Heise

It’s ironic when you think about it.

Television networks have long been the lifeblood of professional and collegiate sports. Broadcast rights fees, which have grown at an enormous clip over the past several decades, have provided a huge share of the revenue needed to fund every major sports league and college athletics program in the country.

Yet these same TV networks have become so good at the product they bring into your living room that fans are more tempted to experience games at home rather than in venue.

Technology, particularly the advent of HDTV, has been a difference-maker. With so much money at stake, networks battle to out-do each other by enhancing the broadcast in every way imaginable.

For a typical NFL Monday Night Football game, ESPN has 33 television cameras positioned in, on and around the stadium – even a sliding zip-line over the field – to bring a remarkable viewing experience into the comfort of your home. The world-wide leader debuted its BCS Megacast during the national championship game between Florida State and Auburn, using all of its channels to engage the fan not only in the game but also in analysis and opinions by experts, including current and former coaches and players.

Of course, television isn’t the only factor causing fans to believe the home-viewing experience is better than the in-person experience.  Take your pick – rising costs to attend games, inclement weather, dealing with intoxicated rowdies in the stands. For college sports fans, there’s also the complexity of not knowing kickoff/tipoff times until the week before a game due to television scheduling, which makes it difficult to plan family activities.

The problem is real. And growing.

Three of the four NFL teams hosting playoff games this January needed an extension from the league office to avoid a blackout in their home market because they had not sold out tickets prior to the 72-hours-before-kickoff deadline. And this is the NFL – king of all sports in popularity.

To continue paying the big bucks to attend games in person, fans expect more in return. It’s called ROI and every business knows what it’s about. Now, fans are starting to demand it as well.

So what are the essential solutions? The biggest two words for live sporting events in 2014 are “fan engagement” – teams and facilities finding ways to meet the growing demand of fans to stay constantly engaged and connected , in community, throughout the entire game day.

Sports teams and facilities absolutely must figure out the bandwidth issue in stadiums and arenas and be willing to spend the money necessary that allow fans to complete simple tasks like send a text, email, tweet or upload a game-day photo to Facebook or Instagram. Improvements are being made – slowly – but fans must be given the opportunity to consistently use social media tools that have become a way of life.

Over the past decade, most pro sports teams and universities have done a good job in improving the overall entertainment value of the game-day experience – tailgating, pre-game concerts, parties, interactive areas, in-game production. But now, it’s not enough. Into today’s world of constant social interaction and endless content availability, it’s imperative those must-have tools for fans are creatively interwoven into the game experience.

The most recent example of in-venue fan engagement done right is the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.  Upon opening in September 2012, the arena became arguably the most connected venue in the world with more than 900 miles of fiber running through its infrastructure.

The facility then teamed with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets to launch a revolutionary in-venue mobile delivery solution that provides fans with integrated delivery of live video and data feeds.  There are camera angles from the baseline, backboard and overhead.  Play-by-play feeds. Real-time statistics. Yes, virtually everything you can get at home on a network telecast, only more.

This is what the near future of sports events is all about.  Reaching and entertaining the audience with multiple camera feed channels, replays and unique content – all delivered to mobile devices in the hands of fans in every section of the venue. It’s about apps that will engage fans before they even take their seats – helping them buy tickets, navigate their way to the stadium, park their car, provide information on pre-game activities in and around the venue and maybe even upgrade tickets on-site.

Will it be enough to change the minds of fans that are currently opting for home experience vs. venue experience? That’s the question that will be answered as more and more sports organizations dive into the fast-evolving world of in-venue technology and create a community of fans experiencing live events.