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Fans want more from your stadium. It’s time to get smart

Julia Martensen Profile picture for user Julia Martensen October 29, 2021
With the arrival of the pandemic came the need for venues to make fans feel as though they were on the digital sidelines rather than the couch. Julia Martensen of ServiceNow explores how to get to the heart of remote customer experiences.

Fans watching game at sports stadium ©  Jimmy Conover - Unsplash
(© Jimmy Conover - Unsplash)

Team chants, a sea of banners, and raucous cheers when the ball hits the back of the net: there’s nothing quite like live sport. More than just the game itself, being part of an energized crowd is integral to the fan experience.

The global spread of COVID-19, however, snuffed out demand overnight, with sports fans confined to their couches, watching athletes play in stadiums full of cardboard cut-outs rather than animated fans.

And yet a Deloitte study shows interest in live sporting events was stagnating even before the pandemic, as home comforts won out against in-person experience.

As the world starts to open up again, how can stadiums entice fans back to stadiums – and provide an experience that beats the couch?

Tech will play a huge role – and sports associations like Spanish football league LaLiga are paving the way.

To find out more, in my latest podcast, I spoke with LaLiga Tech’s Chief Revenue Officer, Ignacio Carnero, a first-hand witness to how the pandemic has affected the sports industry – and the importance of technology in elevating fan experience.

Reimagining the remote fan experience 

With the arrival of the pandemic, many sporting venues have been forced to take rapid measures to keep fans engaged – and maintain some sense of normality – despite the reality on the ground.

Augmented reality is just one solution that’s cropped up. LaLiga Tech, for example, not only piped in video game audio during broadcasts, but also created virtual grandstands where fans who connected via Zoom could see themselves on large screens around the arena. “It was a massive success,” says Ignacio, “with 90% of our fans choosing to take part.”

But LaLiga Tech hasn’t been alone in creating an immersive at-home experience through digital means. AGF Aarhus’ test in May 2020 was a huge hit, while the US NBA also turned to ‘digitised sidelines’ to boost courtside atmosphere. The takeaway is that, if sporting associations want to get their biggest supporters back into venue seats in the longer term, they’d do well to keep the relationship between fan and stadium alive even while gates remain closed.

This has repercussions for organisations outside the world of sports, too. Ultimately, businesses rely as much on the relationship with their customers outside venues as they do on what happens inside. Brands who essentially ignore customers between visits, purchases, and other critical touchpoints are unlikely to be successful.

Technologies that bridge the gap here, like virtual reality, are a potential gamechanger. Not only are they an excellent way for businesses to reward their most valued customers with exclusive experiences, they also can also help build, strengthen, and maintain relationships with customers who may live too far away from existing venues to be regular customers.

By creating solutions that put the remote experiences on par with in-person ones, you can make the most of your relationships with spectators, customers, or whoever it may be, wherever they are.

Upgrading the in-person fan experience

When fans are able to get back to stadiums, it’ll take more than the same-old, same-old to get them back in the stands. New, innovative experiences are required.

Many sporting associations are realising this, and are turning to technology to take their arenas to the next level, generating huge demand for so-called ‘smarter stadiums’. In fact, what sounds at first like a rather niche market is set to explode by $10.16 billion between 2020-2024 – and for good reason too. Ignacio says:

It’s all about the technology. Smart stadiums promise fans a connected, digitised experience – from smart ticketing to personalised in-game offers – that is highly in demand, even more so from younger generations. Fans want a more rewarding and exciting experience than what they might receive at home, and smart stadiums provide that.

What does this look like in practice? Ignacio explains: “If a spectator wants to rewatch a goal, for example, they need only point their smartphone at the goalposts for the replay. If they want to catch the moment from a different angle, they’ll get a huge choice of different viewpoints, overlays, and so on, direct from an app. And, say they’re hungry, they can get food and drink delivered straight to their seat, all from that same app.”

Stadium operators can benefit hugely from this set-up too, with real-time analytics providing actionable insights into fan buying preferences, creating opportunities to drive revenue and brand loyalty.

Improved safety and security can also greatly impact fan enjoyment. Through real-time data and video analytics, stadium personnel can manage capacity, track digital health cards, and detect antisocial behaviour to put a stop to things like fighting and littering as it happens.

Of course, there’s a lot to consider in the above, and a lot of different systems to implement. So how should you get started?

Think fan-first

Getting it right is not as simple as just collecting as many digital solutions as possible – at the end of the day, it’s what you do with technology that counts. Putting the fan experience at the centre of your smart stadium strategy is the way to go – and will ensure your tech is in the right configuration. Ignacio says:

What’s key here is that all touchpoints need to be connected under one ecosystem to deliver a single experience. Not multiple, isolated ones. Fans want seamless interactions at every part of the user journey.

That means utilising a digital solution to connect disparate technologies and systems to build a frictionless experience. Doing so elevates fans’ comfort, and creates convenience at every moment so they can focus on what matters most: the game. Ignacio adds:

Essentially, it’s all about putting fans in control over how they want to spend their time at the stadium.

Be it getting player stats on their mobile, ordering snacks via an app, or replaying their favourite moments on their smartphone, in the end, the fan is driving their experience.

It’s not just sports fans that could benefit from these kinds of connected experiences, however. Businesses of all types should be looking to use these kinds of technologies to offer customers peripheral services and experiences in the same environment as their main business offering, whether you specialise in automotive sales, business consultancy, or booking flights.

Why? Because it allows your customers to get things done all in one place, all in one go. It’s convenient, saves valuable time, and creates a more seamless experience. As for your business, it minimises distractions which may distract customers or lead them elsewhere.

Whatever your business looks like, implementing an integrated digital solution keeps you agile, resilient, ready to meet the changing expectations of your customers, and future-proofed against any challenge that may come your way.

Getting to the heart of the fan experience

You may be thinking that true fans don’t need all these bells and whistles to get them back into the stadium. It’s all about the beautiful game – right?

But by not listening to what fans want – especially younger generations – there’s a real risk we may see more and more empty seats in our sports venues as the years go by.

We need to learn from the experience of the past eighteen months – fans want more out of their experiences. They want to feel a part of something bigger, and get access to next-level experiences when they go to live sporting event.

Investing in the right technology is critical to providing that. But technology is only one side of the equation. Looking at how it can create a better experience for fans is key to achieving long-term resilience and launching stadiums into the future.

It’s an opportunity that has potential far beyond stadiums themselves, too. Customer experience is key, no matter your sector or specialisation, and those organizations that can leverage technology effectively to make customers’ lives as easy as possible – both at home and in-venue – are sure to succeed.

To hear the full discussion between me and Ignacio about how technology could transform the future fan experience, watch the full podcast here.

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