America’s Favorite Pastime is Having a Data-Driven Renaissance
Two heads. That's what people see when looking at my dad as he identifies himself as both a die-hard Yankees and Mets fan. For him, growing up in the Bronx wasn't easy and his favorite days were those spent at Yankee and Shea Stadiums. He jumped at any excuse to watch a live baseball game – even if that meant proudly supporting both sides of one of baseball's infamous rivalries. He had a hat for each team, to wear on each of his die-hard fan heads.
His love for the game continued throughout his life stages, including his new life in Buffalo, and as soon as I could talk, I'd learn the song, "Take me out to the ball game." I'd ask those questions that confuse every child, especially those from parents with open passion: "Why does everyone want to go to a baseball game?" "What's a cracker jack?" "Why do you root for the home team?"
All I really knew then, as I do now, is that my dad loved the game in that song, that something about it resonated with him in a way I couldn't fully understand. Until, that was, the day I attended my first Buffalo Sabres game. My dad caught a puck deflected off of Pat LaFontaine's stick and gave it to me. It was awesome, and his passion for baseball was passed down to me in the form of hockey. The rest is history.
The Modern In-Stadium Experience Meets New Age Tech
Nostalgia for the early days of professional sports is the very foundation on which the sporting business has become the conglomerate that it is. The traditional arena and the player/fan connection can be completely transforming, altering your present reality, gearing you up to choose a side, drawing you in often to bouts of screaming and yelling, an encouragement, if you will, to help your side win. Now, even that transformative experience is experiencing a transformation.
This experience isn't matched when watching a game from a man cave. Big screen TVs and mobile streaming cannot replace the true sensation and energy of actually being at the game: the smell of grass and stale beer, the energy that comes from camaraderie, getting fired up with rivals, and for some reason, those bland, salty peanuts just taste so much better when you're sitting in the bleachers with dad. It's the material made for Instagram.
Today though, sporting venues are so much more than just a friendly battle ground, of sorts. They're also optimized for conducting business, encouraging social interaction and social media sharing, and creating an experience that keeps fans coming back time and time again. Take Levi's Stadium in San Francisco, for instance, which has been upgraded with some intense tech. 49ers' fans can now enjoy amazing perks like instant replays on their phones, paperless purchases and super fast internet connection.
In Florida, the Jacksonville Jaguars' stadium has received equally modern tech upgrades including the largest jumbotrons in the nation, extra comfy seating and even air conditioning (it's not the heat, it's the humidity!).
Rarely will you find a coffee shop without WiFi access, and now the same goes for sporting venues. Fans now have the ability to connect at various high-speed access points throughout these spaces. This, at the very least, helps improve phone signal strength and reduce individual data charges. For teams, this provides a gateway for collecting new insights on fan behavior that contribute to an overall data-driven strategy for customer relations. See, the sports business industry is discovering new and fascinating ways to collect valuable data, and then using that data to tell comprehensive stories about fans: who they are, why they came, what they like.
How it Works
At the point of connection, a fan opts-in to data collection in exchange for free WiFi access. Or, maybe a fan isn't as interested in using the internet, but still takes opportunities to interact. The team is able to send a push notification in the arena for a contest (e.g. upgrade your seats, win a signed jersey) or notify them of the shortest beer line in the park as they walk by it.
These perks are ideal for fans, and there are various incentives for the teams or venues themselves to digitally activate those in the stadium. By ethically collecting fan data, teams or stadiums can tap into fan brand affinities including alcohol, publications, TV shows and more.
More tactically speaking, an organized and unified data warehouse of fan data can help with a digital strategy to actually get and keep people in seats. By identifying the key profiles of your audience, especially the kind with an affinity to buy tickets (i.e. those that are regularly checking in at games or currently hold season tickets), you can target and optimize your digital marketing to very specific segments. Selling tickets is important – just ask a Buffalo Bills fan like myself. Without Ralph Wilson Stadium sold out, major cable networks won't even televise our games (#buffaloproblems).
The Fragmented Data Journey
Though live experiences are where sports fandom was born, the digital universe is what helps keep that fandom alive. So sports teams, leagues and venues are all charged with the task of owning and controlling the billions of data points collected each day when fans purchased merchandise, bought tickets, interact with a website, an app, a campaign, a social page, etc. With an added layer of in-stadium insights, this data visually builds out a team's fan DNA.
There is no doubt that fan engagement is a victory for teams. The more connected the fans are, the more likely they are to upload their own experiences, and keep interaction with a team alive online and off, in and out of season. However, authentic relationships must be nurtured from login to signout and from turnstyle to bleachers. The ability to manage this warehouse of data will determine successful sports businesses of the future.
Sure, nostalgia remains, but technological innovations are inevitable, and will ultimately empower us to make sports experiences so much more than just a pastime.