Smartphones in the Stands, Fan Experience in the Age of Connectivity

If you can self-identify as not in the Millenial generation, you've most likely been to a professional sporting contest at some point in time before the dawn of the age of smartphones and 24/7 connectivity. The experience was probably something like go sit in your seats, hope a foul ball comes your way, look for friends sitting on the other side of the stadium, wait in long lines for food and drink at concession stands. Pretty much par for the course when it comes to expectations of the overall experience.

Pro teams are billion dollar corporations in some instances, and they are increasingly aware of the power of Social Media and building and maintaining a brand perception. At the juncture of the phone in your pocket advancing technologically at blinding speeds and event professionals trying to optimize fan experience in their venues, we find a rapidly growing marketplace of ideas and technologies. The goal is simple, to create outstanding fan experiences that keep fans hooked and coming back for more. They all provide different services, or in some cases a combination of services that all seek to enhance the game day experience for someone who is actually at the game.

A handful of companies have apps on the market for live seat upgrades during the game. Not only does this provide resolution of the age-old "why are there all those unused seats down there?" but it also allows venue owners an additional avenue to create ticket sale revenue. There's an app called IdealSeat, which allows you to find the best areas to be for catching foul balls. Ever been to a game and knew you had friends sitting on the other side of the stadium but no idea where? Next time try the TagSeats app to locate them. Maybe you're getting hungry, but don't want to brave the concession lines? No problem, reach for your smartphone and fire up the Yorder or Munchly apps right from your seat.

Brilliant! These are all great ideas! Why doesn't every stadium for every sport already have this kind of stuff in place? Speaking from experience (I'll skip naming names), I've never been in a stadium or venue that had consistently accessible wifi or phone network service at a speed that allowed for this type of heavy usage. This includes being on the phone network of the stadium's sponsor. Funny how you can have such a partnership, with branded stuff everywhere at the park, but you're unable to provide said service at the very place that you sponsor. I've been in stadiums touting their new wifi capabilities, which didn't account for 50,000 people to be on it simultaneously.

Needless to say, these are roadblocks that need to be overcome before these types of apps can really do their thing and improve fan experience. One place that has no such issues is Levi's Stadium, home of the NFL's 49ers. With almost 700 free wifi beacons, over a thousand wifi boosting antennas, many thousands of ethernet ports, and 400 miles of network cabling behind the scenes, Levi's Stadium is the prototype for the new era of connectivity in sports stadia. In the first game alone, users used more than 2 TB of data over the stadium's wifi. With that also comes the added benefit of user data for marketing, which is another story altogether.

As new stadiums are built day by day, expect Levi's Stadium to fall to obscurity much like the 8th Wonder of the World, the Astrodome, is now doing in Houston. You can bet that they will all be waging a constant war of tech superiority, trying to use it to their advantage in creating a better fan experience than their rivals. It's a great time to be a fan, with the computer in your pocket bringing you much closer to the action than just sitting in the same building, just make sure you put down the phone for a few minutes so you can check out the game on the field too!