Creating an Immersive Experience for Connected Sports Fans
THE CHANGING CONSUMPTION OF SPORTS
Advances in technology and a shift in media consumption are empowering sports fans and raising their expectations. Innovation is enabling fans already driven by their passion and fanatical enthusiasm to further satisfy their need for more – more information, more stats and more footage – no matter where or when. And most importantly, fans’ desire to get closer to their favorite team, player or sport is driving the use of technology, from devices to social media platforms, now available to them.
“Sharing is living” – today’s sports fans want to share their views and experiences. Fans around the world are no longer passive viewers. In fact, they’re highly social. There is a new generation of millenials that has grown up with an unimaginable range of content and functionality at their fingertips. These savvy and engaged fans want to remain connected wherever they go. Further, they’re less likely to visit places where they are cut off from social media and the internet in general. By failing to connect venues, we risk falling short of consumer demand. Consider this: The 2015 Super Bowl in the US saw a tremendous peak of 395,000 tweets per minute during the event.
As connectivity and portability have become part of our lives, they’ve considerably influenced content consumption patterns. Sports fans – like the population at large – are not only using mobile devices to facilitate their on-the-go lifestyles, but also increasingly as primary entertainment devices. Consequently, expectations increase as a shift from traditional to instant and personalized media consumption occurs. Viewers like the ability to choose how and when to experience their events. And with live sports that can mean customizing their experience. Choosing the angle, replay or player interview they want that brings them closer to their passion and creates more loyalty.
Leagues, teams and individual sporting events are capitalizing on this new reality and experiencing spectacular results. Branded apps for specific teams or events are delivering live and near-live action and engaging fans like never before.
At the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a first-ever multimedia operation resulted in download of more than 10 million apps, with as many as three million users a day choosing to enrich their experience through second screen services. Over the course of the tournament, more than 24 million unique users watched content through the multimedia solutions. More digital data was streamed from the 2014 World Cup than any other event in history.
While these figures are proof of the power of live sports literally in the hands of its fans, they don’t tell the whole story. We wanted to know more.
THE GLOBAL EVS FAN SURVEY
THE RESULTS ARE IN
Most stakeholders in the business of live sports are aware that the way fans consume sports has changed and continues to evolve. Even so, there are few hard facts to back up the change in fans’ expectations of in-stadium content and the experience it brings. What are the attitudes and preferences of today’s sports fans? What do they want to see made available to them? And most importantly, what does this mean for venues, brand owners and rights holders?
To help answer questions like these EVS conducted a comprehensive survey across four countries. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with fans – both in-stadia and at public viewing areas – on game days between March and May 2015. Our goals were simple: to qualitatively measure the importance of digital media and video consumption to fans and to gain insight into their preferences and expectations.
The study reveals the impact of age, nationality and social media use has on viewing habits, and what fans do and don’t pay for. It gives insight into how frequently fans view sports online, through which devices and how many would accept advertising to view content using mobile devices inside venues.
There’s one key factor in today’s connected world that has enabled the widespread access to information that consumers have today. Mobile devices - smartphones and connected tablets - means the majority of people are now carrying around a computer in their pockets all day, every day.
Through these devices with a connection to the internet, a wealth of information is always at our fingertips. Following sports online has become one of, if not the, primary sources of sports news and content. More than half (55%) of EVS’ Global Fan Survey respondents said that their smartphone was their preferred method of getting this information from the internet. (The age range of those asked made a huge difference to this figure – 75% of 18 to 25 year olds preferred the smartphone for this purpose versus 34% of those aged 45 and older.)
Because of the ubiquity of mobile devices, more and more of the general public expect to have a reliable internet connection in public areas – this also extends to sports stadiums and arenas. According to the survey, 77% of season ticket holders use their mobile devices while at the game. This shows that the availability of a reliable internet connection inside a stadium is becoming increasingly important – it allows fans to connect their devices and consume content the way they want to. This connectivity also encourages younger sports fans to attend games as they’re able to connect to the social platforms they use regularly in-stadium as well as to branded team apps. This is the type of engagement that will keep fans in their seats.
Of content currently consumed on mobile devices, sports news is the most consulted media at 60%, while just under half (49%) of people watch match highlights. The next most popular on mobile devices is a live game/event stream, which is currently viewed by 41% of EVS’ respondents.
VIEWERS ARE SHARING THE EXPERIENCE
When asked, the majority of those using a mobile device inside the stadium (65%) said they were using it to consume content and monitor activity on social media platforms – more so than any other activity. When inside the stadium watching your favorite team, social media is an important platform for sports fans to easily access all of the information they seek in one place. This can be a team line up just before kickoff, news and play updates from a team or league feed, or reports on a player taken off injured. You can easily find scores and stats from another game if it has an implication on your team. Statistics are so important in today’s sports that each player or team’s performance is now constantly measured against their previous games or against their opponents.
Sports clubs and stadiums are taking different approaches on how to best engage fans through digital and social media. Some prefer to provide content through their own branded apps, where they have more control over exactly what fans see. Other clubs integrate their team app with major social media platforms like Facebook. While there are many options, it’s clear that this type of engagement is critical as it enables fans to quickly and easily access the sports content they crave. It also provides teams with the ability to offer additional exclusive content not otherwise available and gives fans a personalized experience, even while onsite at a game.
Again, not surprisingly age makes a critical difference in the level of social media interaction. 73% of the 18 to 24 age bracket follow sports on social networks, much higher than other age brackets asked.
Social media users share content whether it’s self-generated or from another source. Over half of the people surveyed (55%) view video highlights on social media platforms and just under a quarter (24%) share these videos.
WHAT THE FAN WANTS…
When given the choice of what content they’d be most interested in consuming from their mobile devices inside stadiums, nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents said they’d be most interested in viewing instant replays where they can choose the camera angles. This allows them to see the action from a different perspective than from their seat and to personalize their experience. Next to that, 63% said they are interested in viewing informative content like data and graphics. When asked when they would prefer to consume this content at the stadium on game day, over one-fifth (22%) said before the game, more than a third (35%) said during the game and 9% said they’d like to consume content after the game. However, a healthy 34% of sports fans would want to consume this content all the time.
Knowing how fans are currently using mobiles devices inside the stadium is valuable information for clubs and venues. But even more beneficial is understanding the value of providing fans with this content, and even more how can they turn this into new revenue streams. Nearly half of season ticket holders (48%) are willing to pay in order to access multi-angle replays and informative game data through their mobile devices. Of even more interest to clubs or stadiums is that more than four-fifths (83%) would accept advertising on an application to view the same content.
ENGAGING FANS WITH DIGITAL CONTENT
CONNECTED SCREENS MEAN MORE POSSIBILITIES…AND MORE REVENUE
Mobile devices included, there are now more screens available to us than ever before and this allows the public to consume a nearly steady stream of content.
With the right infrastructure, it’s possible to deliver replay content directly onto fans’ devices, giving them the option to watch from multiple camera angles. This adds a personal connection to the content consumption for in-stadium supporters.
Imagine you’re at a game and there’s a contentious decision on a key moment in the game. Fans inside the stadium can now review the play themselves, making their own decision on the call by watching the replay from a number of different angles with the ability to pause, rewind and watch in slow motion.
Being able to review content in this way gives fans a more personal experience. The content on the stadium’s screen is, after all, at the discretion of the home team’s director. Is it just another element of a home-field advantage? With this content in their hands, fans can see for themselves while they wait for the officials to confirm the call – immersing them into the game even more.
Delivering these kinds of replays also allows fans to see action that they might have missed when distracted or using in-stadium services. It lets them review what’s just happened on the pitch/court from a different or much closer perspective. Reliving memorable moments in this way proves how the mass adoption of social media and personal technology is affecting the way we consume live events.
And technology is pushing this further, allowing fans to see and learn more. Biometric data, such as a player’s heartbeat or oxygenation levels, can be integrated into content. Not only fascinating, this kind of data helps fans measure the players’ performances in the game and understand the physiological impact on them.
Together, these functions bring fans even closer to the game and to the players, boosting momentum for critical points and plays, and building suspense as the clock winds down or seconds tick to the final whistle.
THE RIGHT INFRASTRUCTURE
In-stadium screen content is primarily taken from the cameras in the broadcast infrastructure, edited and delivered by in-stadium teams. In a similar way, a system that allows the delivery of this enriched digital content to mobile applications can be easily added to existing workflows. It isn’t a complicated or cost-prohibitive process for a club or stadium.
Broadcast production facilities in the form of a permanent install or OB van are already in place at the majority of sports venues. The latest multimedia content delivery platforms can be easily integrated into these facilities and operators can quickly generate the highlights and replays to deliver to their application’s users. The latest solutions also allow clubs to easily produce content of non-televised events like half-time entertainment, giving fans inside the stadium something they wouldn’t have at home.
To deliver this content, however, viable connectivity needs to be in place. These networks are increasingly being added to existing stadiums and are being entirely integrated into new venues as they are built. Once connectivity is in place, it’s not only multi-angle replays and highlights that can engage fans - many other benefits arise for clubs and stadiums. Food can be ordered from in-stadium concessions and picked up as soon as it’s ready. Merchandise can be ordered and paid for in-app, to be collected from the club store on the way out. Tickets for next week’s game, or other events at the venue can be purchased in-app. The move to cashless payments and digital wallets will only enhance this trend.
Unique video content embedded within the context of the event may also incite fans to consume more - merchandise, food and beverages or tickets to the next game. This is especially true when they’re reliving that special moment that raises their level of emotion during half time or at the concession stand with friends before leaving the stadium.
Branded apps are an excellent way to build loyalty and create a more immersive, personalized experience for fans while also presenting a huge range of potential commercial opportunities.
REAL-WORLD CONNECTED APPLICATIONS
When it comes to this kind of connectivity and fan engagement, the proof of concepts are coming from the early adopters. When building their 18,500-seat Sporting Park stadium, MLS (Major League Soccer) team Sporting Kansas City wanted to integrate reliable Wi-Fi connectivity to lead the way for extensive video capabilities. One element of this was Playback, which is featured in their in-house Uphoria mobile experience. It delivers in-stadium replays directly to spectators’ smartphones, allowing unprecedented opportunities to view replays from multiple camera angles immediately after they happen in the game.
It’s a trend that is continuing to grow. HuskerVision, the media organization that supports the sports teams of the University of Nebraska, recently implemented a live production workflow into its 87,000-seat Memorial Stadium. The system simultaneously drives content from cameras around the stadium to screens in the venue and to a branded mobile app available for download to stadium attendees’ tablets and smart phones.
At the 2015 FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, enriched content was delivered to football/soccer fans via mobile devices and the in-stadium jumbotrons. Taken directly from the host broadcast feed, Wembley’s superfast 4G connection delivered replays and highlights straight to mobile devices.
MONETIZATION FOR TEAMS, LEAGUES AND VENUES
This growth in fan expectation is no surprise. As technology has created the expectation of internet access everywhere, a more overall immersive fan experience has come with it.
While digital sports consumption grows by leaps and bounds, EVS’ Global Fan Survey shows the importance of mobile and social media in encouraging fan engagement. Consider the role of social media within today’s live events – the two entities are complementary rather than opposing forces. One drives the other.
The surge in online viewing and social media interaction also paves the way for user-generated content (UGC), which also serves to enhance fan engagement and builds team and player affinity.
Having access to up-to-date information of your favorite game – or other games happening at the same time – satisfies fans’ appetite for knowledge and lets them gain a deeper insight into the game.
Designing an application, producing enriched digital content and delivering it directly to fans are all key to creating a truly immersive game-day experience. This content consumption does not distract from what’s happening on the field/ pitch rather it immerses fans further into it. By being more connected with live sports, fans will be more emotionally connected to their favorite clubs or leagues, increasingly using digital platforms to consume as much content as clubs and stadiums can give them. This is what really creates value for marketers and sponsors. This is what enables them to generate a return on emotion.
Knowing that a certain number of users will log onto an app at a certain time of the week is valuable sales information that clubs can use to sell advertising on digital channels. From EVS’ survey, we now know that 83% of users will accept advertising on a mobile application to consume enriched digital content.
Engaging fans in such a way ultimately means that clubs and stadiums increase the possibility that fans will stay in the venue longer. The benefit to this is obvious – keeping fans onsite longer increases the likelihood they will spend money. And generating a direct link between the application and in-stadium facilities like concessions and merchandise gives users another option to buy exactly what they want in a way that’s more convenient for them.
But this isn’t the only avenue to more revenue. Apps allow fans to experience the game even when they can’t attend live or watch it on TV, literally extending the club’s reach and fan engagement. For example, a North American NHL (National Hockey League) app allows fans to view out-of-market games, complete with live streaming video, live stats, video on demand, archival footage and unseen game angles for a small fee.
The Big Data element of this engagement is also becoming more of a reason to implement this infrastructure. If you know your fans’ preferences and what content they enjoy consuming, you can further customize their offering. The collection of this data is invaluable for any club and allows for the building of fan profiles that open the door for targeted marketing – a much better option than a slapdash approach.
While every team and stadium will need to develop its own business case, it’s clear that there is potential for substantial return on investment with the implementation of leading-edge connectivity and content delivery platforms inside sports stadiums.
Today’s fans are connected and socially active online. They also want more – more angles/replays and more team or player inside information. All of these qualities mean opportunities for greater engagement inside the stadium, a greater return on emotion and more revenue. The connection between an enhanced live experience, brand loyalty and revenue is clear. Thankfully the technology now exists to connect the dots.