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Apr 12, 2012
Socially-supercharging the connected stadium

No doubt about it, the Connected Stadium has real potential to give fans, Rights Holders and brands what they want, on the crest of a wifi wave. Fans enjoy more. Brands engage more. Everybody spends more. But, can it really be that easy?

Since when has technology been a panacea? What can we learn from social media – another example of technology-driven engagement that’s still working hard to convince all? Here we take a quick look at what’s needed to bridge the gap between the untapped potential and the unbridled power of the Connected Stadium.

First of all, what does everybody want? Sports fans want what they’ve craved for years: a big, quick, content-pumping pipe running right through the thick of the action – no more info-blockage. Rights holders want to choreograph a more personal, participative and profitable fan journey – in an age of fickle fan-ship, an increased sense of stadium pride and ownership amongst fans will help insulate attendance against poor team performance. And brands want to upgrade from branding to brand experience through digital – the stadium becomes a flagship store where event-enhancing apps drive preference and word of mouth. The Connected Stadium proposition seems sound. So, what about the product?

The in-stadia experience is typically the focus of the Connected Stadium offering. Kick-ass wifi opens up a mouthwatering array of new opportunities. On the ‘utility’ side of the street, you’ve got everything from cashless payment and concession queue management to intelligent security messaging and realtime merchandise stocktaking.

Over on the fun side, you’ve got instant replays, better in-play betting, datatainment, half-time gaming, voting and the opportunity to throw an electric augmented reality blanket across the whole venue. The stadium becomes a pulsing source of second-screen stimulus. Smartphone heaven. Time to take the tablet? Don’t forget sports fans over index against ownership and usage thanks to their desire for constant content.

There’s another thing that sports fans can’t get enough of: social media. Stadia are captive, willing and app-literate ‘detonation crowds’ waiting to be fed with the content they want and want to share across ready-made networks. This year’s Superbowl was held in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex – a Connected Stadium. Despite excellent content being made available for download, fans shared 40 percent more data than they received.

The social angle means the in-stadia experience is the tip of the iceberg when in comes to Connected Stadium reach and revenue potential. Yes, brands want to be in the action, but scale of engagement will always be as important as depth. No brand’s sponsorship budget is focused on live attendees. It is vital that rights holders see the Connected Stadium as a pebble in the pond, not the pond itself. This puts big pressure on content. As social media has shown, it’s got to be good to be shared.

Rights holders and brands can learn from the app market. Successful apps keep it simple. They do one thing well. They focus on utility or entertainment. They feed off a razor-sharp insight and deliver on a need. A ‘cool idea’ isn’t enough, no matter how intuitive the interface or elegant the code. Connected Stadium success requires a deep understanding of fan behaviour manifested in simple digital assets, with a healthy dose of in-stadia media promotion.

And we’re not just talking about die hard fans. It’s time to get to know any and every target demographic in the stadium, from family big-day-outers with merchandise on their minds to exec-box-suits wanting that epic photo memory to share. What kind of a fan are they? Why are they there? Is it the sport or is it the event? Will they arrive early? Would they be so immersed in the game they would not use their phone – surely the success of in-play betting shows everyone has a sweet spot? Will they stay in their seat at half time? Will they leave early? Where will they go after?

Understanding the answers to these questions and many more, for each target audience and sport, is crucial to realising the massive potential of the Connected Stadium. Not as a stand-alone experience, but as part of an integrated marketing plan, built around the right content, delivered at the right time, promoted in the right way. The socially-supercharged stadium will, like social media, challenge the sports marketing industry to dig deeper, get creative and act on fan feedback.

Finally, I agree with Dan Markham, VP International Media Distribution, NBA, who talks about how the stadium experience sits at the heart of a rights holder’s product. Let’s remember that in this social age, quality and quantity are possible. As long as you remember that when it comes to the Connected Stadium, the stadium is just the start.

Josh Robinson, Director of Creative and Integration at Sports Revolution, was writing for The Leader. Follow Josh on Twitter @joshrbnsn28

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