When former Parramatta rugby league star Jarryd Hayne runs onto the field for the San Francisco 49ers later this year he will be playing at one of the world’s most sophisticated stadiums.
Opened last year, the new Levi’s Stadium, the home ground of the 49ers football team, has become a benchmark for communicating with fans. Some of the best minds and companies from nearby Silicon Valley collaborated in the design to deliver the best Wi-Fi and technology infrastructure, and develop the ultimate fan experience via the smartphone.
Marketers at sports venues around the world are slowly realising the opportunities and expectations of fans with smartphones. They realise the fan experience is as much in the hand as it is on the field and the concourse. Not only do fans want to share their experiences socially, but they also want to see replays and statistics whenever they want. Fans are starting to align what they do with their smartphones in day-to-day life, and wonder why stadiums aren’t keeping up. With a smartphone they can pre-order something, have it delivered to them or pick it up, and pay with the near-field communication chip in their phone. They can provide instant feedback, use maps and redeem coupons, but they don’t want to flick between multiple apps to get the information they want.
When smartphones first hit the market in 2007, the biggest issue inside sports venues was the lack of bandwidth in the 3G network to cope with people wanting to upload on social media and access other related apps. The arrival of 4G helped, as did telcos boosting capacity around venues, but it’s still often a struggle to access your telco’s network when there are 70,000-plus fans in a stadium.
Step one for venues has been to install Wi-Fi to control their own destiny. Flemington Racecourse was one of the first in Australia, announcing in late 2012 that Cisco would install its Connected Stadium Solution in time for the following year’s Spring Carnival. Not only was it important for Flemington to be a first mover due to the social nature of its racing carnivals, but there had been rapid growth in betting on mobile phone apps.
When it opened last year Levi’s Stadium set a new benchmark. The 49er’s smartphone app was downloaded and used by more than 160,000 fans in the first 11 games at the stadium. And it is little wonder the fans have been so engaged. Marketers have brilliantly mapped out every moment of engagement, from pre-game, to during the game, and even post game. Pre-game you can buy your tickets and your car parking and have them electronically stored on your phone. And there is plenty of pre-game exclusive video content. When you park your car the app geo-locates it, so you won’t have trouble finding it after the game.
Once you’re in the stadium, the app guides you to your seat. And from your seat it not only shows you where the nearest food outlets, toilets and merchandising stands are and how long it will take you to walk there, it also tells you how long the queues are. If you don’t want to miss any of the on-field action, you can order your food via the app and have it delivered to your seat. The app gives you all of the game statistics at your fingertips, as well as instant replays from a variety of camera angles. The app also houses the stadium’s loyalty program with a “gamification” element showing how “loyal” you’ve been versus other fans. It’s no surprise that the stadium has been chosen to host America’s 50th Super Bowl next February.
While Hayne will be seeing all of this first hand after recently signing with the San Francisco 49ers, it’s the AFL that has been most vocal in its ambitions for the fan experience. At the recent Broadcast Digital Summit the league outlined its fans’ desire for full-time connectivity to enable such a world-class experience. The implications and timing pressures are huge for Australian stadiums as well as other venues and shopping centres that house tens of thousands of people at a time. Already the major stadiums’ marketers are scrambling to replicate this fan experience. Tourism and events bodies won’t be too far behind, with events such as Vivid in Sydney, and the Food and Wine Festival in Melbourne and the Blues and Roots Festival in Byron Bay among many that can tap into the marketing smarts of connected environments to deliver a better experience for consumers.
Major shopping centres such as Westfield have also jumped onto the opportunity, aiming to deliver more personalised marketing to consumers. Westfield’s Wi-Fi system enables it to see what consumers in its malls are doing on social media, what they are searching for on their smartphones, and which stores they are shopping in. Retailers within Westfield can then use this data to send those consumers relevant and timely offers or messages.
The technology to deliver a great fan and consumer experience via a connected environment is here. For Australian marketers there’s a window of opportunity for first mover advantage. It’s an interesting scenario as the top winter sporting codes swing into their 2015 seasons.