Fan ExperienceThe experience enjoyed by fans at and through sporting events was the subject of our latest Sport for Business Members’ Round Table event.
Our group gathered at the FAI Suite in the Aviva Stadium and included representatives from Soccer, Gaelic Games, Cricket and Hockey as well as business representatives including Three and Beauchamps Solicitors.
As is the case at each of our monthly meetings the conversation was open and very well informed, especially important in an area like this where changes and developments in technology and delivery are taking place almost on an hourly basis.
Social media, and the need to make the experience as good or better for those attending a venue as it is for those at home were key strands, as well as the delivery of a service challenged by the expected 1000 fold increase in mobile data expected by companies like Qualcomm.
As ever we have distilled the discussion down to ten key take away points and also highlighted two initiatives which we will undertake in the coming months to move the development of best practice along in the area for the benefit of sports, sponsors and fans.
To read our ten take aways from Sport for Business – The Fan Experience you must be registered as a Member and logged in.
[ismember]Ten Take Aways from Sport for Business – The Fan Experience…
1. The growth of data and entertainment like fantasy games based on live sporting events, as well as the growth of second screen experience has created an environment where watching a game from home presents a different and in some ways richer experience than can be enjoyed by fans at an event.  The imperative for sports must be to ensure that the value of ‘being there’ is highlighted in as many ways as possible.
2. “We are only as good as the person the fan meets at the front door.” That was an important insight from Neil Carney of Clubforce who was a venue manager at the London Olympics and stressed how important it was to get the basics of movement, communication and comfort absolutely right, even in advance of any of the ambitious ideas around connectivity.
3. The experience of fans at an event is important to sponsors, even if there number is a lot smaller than those who will experience the event through broadcast and print or online media.  It is a captive audience and brands need to work hard to stand out from competing sponsors but also to be part of the experience of being there.
4. A good example of sponsors standout was highlighted from the BMW Championship golf at Wentworth where BMW drivers attending the event were able to park in an exclusive car park 500 metres closer to the main entrance than others.  Making your own customer feel special and customers of your rivals a little envious are important elements of activating a sponsorship.
5. Rewards will be a major part of any successful long term investment in fan experience.  The FAI is looking at the importance of ‘digitising’ the sport from grassroots level so that an effective database of fans is maintained and nurtured.  The ability of club members to get first option on tickets is a traditional way of rewarding loyalty.  It may be that priority queues, enhanced services or discounted refreshments and merchandise will form part of the next generation.
6. The ability to share the fact of being there is almost as important in the modern age as actually being there.  In stadium connectivity is recognised as important, but also very challenging.  High density wi-fi is difficult and expensive.  Liverpool Football Club is approaching it one area at a time and this is a model also likely to be adopted in Irish stadia through the creation of tighter location ‘hot spots’ initially that those who are most exercised by social media can request to be seated in or near.
7. The challenge of building a strong enough system to cater for 50,000 or 80,000 on a very occasional basis was highlighted by the fact that BT, who installed the very successful wi-fi connectivity at London Olympic venues, removed it after the games so that it could be utilised elsewhere.
8. The fan experience will be driven by the demands of the fans themselves.  Expectations is being driven higher through the second screen experience at home and also my a more fractured ability to concentrate on a single experience.  We are a nation of sporting fans that cross easily from soccer to hurling, rugby to a host of other sports.  The recognition of this, as in the showing of Champions’ League soccer after racing at Punchestown this week is important in giving more value to what the fans want rather exclusively than what the sport want them to want.
9. In stadium engagement and entertainment around the match experience needs to be approached with innovation.  The NBA has a separate NBA Entertainment division that contracts in specific programmes of pre-match, half time and in game  entertainment.  The presentation of the Specsavers Hawkeye technology at Croke Park from June 1st will lay down a marker in terms of big screen involvement for fans.
10. Hockey has experimented with skills based engagement at half time based on hot seat involvement of fans from around the ground. It may be that the engagement of a non competing but separate cohort of ‘experience sponsors’ would lift the standard of engagement with fans, adding to the experience without taking away from the ability of headline sponsors to focus on what they want which may be primarily on fans consuming through TV. Perhaps the days of the small sided games for junior players are numbered.
In such a fast paced world of change, it is sometimes best to concentrate on what can be achieved first and stay informed on what will be coming next.  The two initiatives to arise out of the discussion look towards both of those.
1. Sport for Business will put on a round table involving stakeholders on the logistics of hosting events, inviting one keynote speaker to discuss how they met the challenges involved and opening out to a sharing of ideas on stewarding, communication and entertainment so that we can learn collectively and improve standards across the board.
2. Sport for Business will investigate the potential of a small showcase of technology led, fan experience based services in use or being developed across Europe and the world. This would enable sports governing bodies and sponsors to get a snapshot picture of the market and the ability to meet with those who are providing the services in one go.[/ismember]


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