Ross Video on engaging fans with connected in-stadia experiences

By Kevin Cottam, director of sports and live events, Ross Video

The world of sports production has seen a number of important developments over the last decade and there’s no doubt that it’s an exciting and lucrative field to be working in.

TV coverage of live sporting events has become increasingly sophisticated, and this in turn has made life more difficult for sports teams and stadia as they try to tempt spectators off their comfortable sofas and into venues.

We’ve seen the term ‘fan engagement’ come to the fore as teams have focused on the game day experience and how to make it more enjoyable and compelling. We’ve also seen the emergence of the expression ‘couch to couch experience’, as teams and venues have sought to lengthen their interaction with fans and engage with them more consistently both before and after the game.

Trend creep from US to Europe

As is often the case with live sports production trends, much of what we’re starting to see in Europe has its origins in North America. We’re still some way away from the sight of rival football fans having barbeques in the stadium car park – policing and security are obviously still a factor when it comes to certain sports – but European sports clubs are increasingly looking to their American brethren in order to better understand how to increase attendance at venues and, crucially, incentivise fans to spend more while they’re there.

According to figures published last year, the average NFL fan in the US spent anywhere from $100-205 per game (which includes the cost of tickets, parking, food/beverages and merchandise). By comparison, the average fan of the English Premiership spends less than $65 (£49) per game.

That said, things are definitely changing. A new generation of sports stadium is helping to provide fans with a more exciting and connected experience, which is helping in turn to boost attendance and keep the fans coming back for more. Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium in North London (formally opened last year,) arguably sets a new standard for visitors; it has been designed for multiple uses, including NFL and music concerts, and can accommodate fans looking for everything from fast food to fine dining.

This emphasis on elevating the experience and providing fans with greater choice and quality reflects the sense that game day isn’t just about the game – it’s about a sense of community and shared experience – and clubs will only benefit when they help fans feel a closer connection to their club or a specific event. Tottenham’s new stadium isn’t alone in this regard; famous football clubs in Madrid and on Merseyside are also planning new venues and it’s fair to assume that the fan experience will be baked into the blueprints for these buildings.

Audio visual extravaganza

Another important trend that will only accelerate in the world of sport relates to in-venue graphics. LED digital signage and ribbon boards are increasingly being used during matches and events to pump up the crowd and enhance the game day atmosphere. At the US Open tennis tournament last autumn, the Arthur Ashe court felt more like a rock concert at times, as high energy music and animated graphics on large LED displays that wrapped around the court were used to introduce players and comment on important moments during the game.

US audiences are very familiar with this environment, and many US sports teams actively use music, graphics and slow-mo replays to emphasise home team advantage and create an atmosphere that might swing the game away from the opposition. These high resolution LED displays and ribbon boards are also being used extensively for player/team stats and replays, providing spectators with even more information and insight, as well as incorporating social media content, giving fans the ability to comment and share their thoughts with everyone else in the venue, essentially becoming part of the game day production.

Another important point about these LED displays relates to advertising; advertising content is-stadia is becoming more dynamic and sophisticated, and brands are increasingly being offered the opportunity to ‘take over’ all of the displays in a venue and enjoy brand exclusivity for a defined period of time. This is can be extremely lucrative for both brands and venues and can help with return on investment in a world where consumers often suffer from ad fatigue and seem immune to advertising.

Taking lessons from broadcasting

One obvious effect of all this additional content is that a great many venues now have on-site control rooms for their AV systems rather than requiring OB vans or third party companies to manage productions. In addition, the way that a game is shot and cut for in-stadium use can be very different to a traditional broadcast application, and this fact has resulted in an increased investment in AV infrastructure within sports venues.

Here, we are seeing clubs and venues taking their cues from the world of broadcast, with technology and expertise being exported from broadcast into sports and a growing emphasis being placed on production value and professionalism. The days of the weekend volunteer cutting PowerPoint slides on to a large scoreboard is fast disappearing.

So what will the next decade bring for the sports venue? I suspect the short answer is ‘more of the same’. More video content, larger LED walls and increasingly interactive displays coupled with mobile apps that enable a greater personalisation of the game day experience. Teams will continue to invest in technology, producing complementary content for fans to digest during the rest of the week and striving to make the in-seat experience more entertaining and informative. As an example, we’ve already seen recent trials in the US of real-time augmented reality content (eg, player info, stats and tracking) being delivered in-play on mobile devices, and this emerging area could add a whole new dimension to how fans experience a game, enabling them to personalise and tailor what they see.

These additional and complementary ‘services’ are only going to be become more prevalent and valuable, both from the perspective of fan engagement and revenue generation.

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