The Digital Technology Tipping Point of the In-Stadium Fan Experience

By Morgan Lathrop Aug 26, 2014

The Digital Technology Tipping Point of the In-Stadium Fan Experience

With the opening of the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium—for which IEG Consulting was proud to be a sponsorship consultant—the debate over how to best engage fans is again front and center.

Dubbed “the most high-tech sports venue yet” in Time, the Silicon Valley venue boasts 70 miles of dedicated cabling connecting 1,200 distributed-antenna systems serving Wi-Fi routers that are placed to serve every 100 seats. This gives Levi’s Stadium 40 times more Internet bandwidth capacity than any other U.S. sports venue. All 70,000 spectators should have no problem connecting to Wi-Fi or 4G networks to access a host of services, including the ability to watch four different replay angles during the game.

There is no doubt that with rising ticket prices and the option of amazing home entertainment systems, many fans are swapping top-dollar stadium tickets for a seat at home. This “Arena vs. Couch” conflict—as it was named in a panel discussion I attended earlier this year at SXSW’s SXsports track—has driven teams to find new and innovative ways to engage their fans and create better in-stadium experiences.

However, there is a lively debate over how fans really want to engage and participate while they are at a live event.

Many believe fans want to instantaneously share their live experience, and interact with the action, their favorite players, their friends and the global fan community on Twitter, Instagram and other social media and digital channels during the event. These believers are heavily invested in technology partnerships that provide a digital link from the stadium to the world.

One such subscriber to this theory is Vivek Ranadive, owner of the Sacramento Kings. Ranadive believes fans want to use their mobile phones throughout the game to see stats, socialize with other fans and order beer without getting up. Ranadive believes fans want more than a typical in-game experience; they want to actively participate themselves.  

On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who believe fans want to actively participate in a live event, but not by utilizing their phones. These believers think smartphones and new mobile technology integration in stadiums are a mistake.

One such follower of this philosophy is Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Cuban believes fans come to stadiums to experience the live event and watch their favorite teams play, not to experience something on their phone; in fact they are trying to escape their phones for a few hours. Cuban thinks that fans who use their phones at a game are doing so because they are bored.

Cuban aims to create a more social, inclusive, and memorable live atmosphere at Mavs games, but he does not want fans looking down at their phones to see a replay, looking up stats or examining their fantasy standings. He believes that while fans are interacting with their mobile devices they are disconnected from the unique, memorable elements of a game that truly make the in-stadium, live experience special.

This debate offers a quandary not just for sports rightsholders, but their corporate partners as well, as it directly impacts on-site, social and digital activation efforts.

I am very torn on this topic. I do believe that if it is the right mobile experience and not a distraction, mobile technology can enhance a fan’s in-stadium experience. But the key is that the technology has to be non-invasive and a true enhancement. I for one can’t argue with a mobile experience that would provide me shorter bathroom lines, seat upgrades and a new beer to my seat before I am done with my last one.

However, there is something to be said about keeping the authenticity of the in-stadium experience. We go to games to watch unique experiences on the field, watch great athletes perform and cheer alongside other passionate fans. When we look back, we don’t remember specific stats, we remember the energy of the live stadium when there was an awesome play and we jumped to our feet. When your team scores, it is almost impossible to high-five or hug the person next to you when you have a smartphone in your hand.

It is clear that for now technology has collided with the world of sports, but will there be a tipping point? Is too much technology integration in stadiums taking away from the true reason we love going to a live game? Perhaps Mark Cuban is on to something?


social media sports trends digital media


About the Author

Morgan, senior director of client leadership, specializes in sponsorship activation and has led a variety of successful experiential marketing campaigns, connecting brand partnerships to their target audiences in a meaningful, memorable way.


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