SVTS@ISE: Shifts in mobile-device use, technology innovation shape in-venue fan engagement

SVTS@ISE February 11 (L/R): Chris Waddington, NewTek; Bastien Lacheny, deltatre; Reinout Lempers, ChyronHego; Per Hansen, Aspera

Sports clubs and venues have long looked to enhance fan engagement through the use of new technologies, from the installation of the very first videoboards to today’s enhanced in-venue connectivity to better reach fans’ mobile devices.

At last week’s Sports Venue Technology Summit in Amsterdam, a panel of leading technology vendors convened to discuss the challenges posed by this new connected era and what technologies that clubs and venues should consider when looking to deepen fan engagement.

“There’s a lot of things that people do because they can,” said Marc Brunke, technical director, BroaMan. “The further technology advances, the more you can do; because there’s more you can do, people want to do it. It really has a lot to do with capability of networks, so, the more points you have where you can put something, then something will be put there. There will be more screens, there will be more interaction, there will be more feedback, there will be more replays, there will be more anything, and because it’s doable, people do it.”

However, this idea of “more” can lead to several complications. Sports clubs and venues must walk a fine line between entertaining the fans and drawing attention away from the action on the field. And then, there are rights issues to consider.

(L/R): Marc Brunke, BroaMan; Ofir Benovici, Avid; Lars-Olof Janflod, Genelec; John Smith, Media Links with David Davies, SVG Europe

(L/R): Marc Brunke, BroaMan; Ofir Benovici, Avid; Lars-Olof Janflod, Genelec; John Smith, Media Links with David Davies, SVG Europe

“Technology-wise, these days, we can do almost anything. Give [us] the time and the money, and [we’ll] provide you with the technology,” said Ofir Benovici, senior director, broadcast products, Avid. “The question is, what exactly do the clubs, the stadiums, or the fans need? What are they looking for? … We can broadcast everything from the stadium, [and] we can provide replays or graphics or live video and stream it out for mobile phones. [But] the question is, who is holding the rights, who can do what, and what can be done to make use of this technology [drive] revenue?”

As content uploads eclipse content downloads in venues, clubs — and broadcasters — must live with the reality that enhanced connectivity can lead to fans’ circumventing broadcast-rights agreements by uploading content to YouTube or using social-media tools like Periscope to broadcast live video.

On the one hand, the panelists suggested that broadcasters simply embrace this fact and learn to leverage fan-produced content. It is impossible, they stressed, to expect stadiums to police mobile-phone usage. Unless mobile phones are confiscated on entry, fans will continue to use their devices as they wish.

“You have 60,000 producers in the stadium, and I think, somehow, sport has to leverage the content that is created there,” said Bastien Lacheny, commercial director, deltatre. “If you’re a rightsholder that pays $1 billion for Premier League rights on TV and you’re frustrated by one young guy taking video and putting it on YouTube, you will have a hard life.”

On the other hand, broadcasters can enhance the quality of their own productions — and tap technologies that the clubs and venues might not have access to — so that fans seek out professional content rather than watch fan-produced content simply because it is free.

“The audience is very technology-savvy, and they expect to see a certain level of production value on the content that they receive on their mobile devices and on the Web that they would receive on a major broadcaster’s output,” said Chris Waddington, director of sales East, EMEA, NewTek. “They want the high-end graphics, they want the instant replay, they want that slow motion, and that, traditionally, is a very expensive and costly proposition for sporting venues and clubs.”

Reinout Lempers, senior sales executive, ChyronHego, concurred: “The quality of the production is one of the best weapons against piracy. The better the content, the better the production, the more enhanced the experience is.”

Fans aren’t only using their mobile devices to stream video; more often, they’re looking to access stats, check e-mail, post Facebook statuses and tweets, and otherwise multitask during a sports event.

“They’re watching what’s going on [during the game], but they’re also looking at what’s going on with the other clubs? Am I going to be relegated? Am I going to be promoted? I’m watching the other game as well,” said John Smith, head of EMEA, Media Links. “There’s a bunch of other stuff going on, so the key thing to me is really understanding your audience for that event.”

Although the panelists tended to agree on the role of fan mobile devices in the stadium, they differed on what role virtual reality would play. Despite a few dissenters who believe virtual reality will be embraced in venues (“Why not sit there in, say, 2032 with VR goggles and get all the atmosphere at the stadium and at that same time get all that rich content?” suggested Per Hansen, senior technical specialist, Aspera), but most concurred that VR would be more successful to at-home viewers.

“If you go to a stadium, you go because you want to have live entertainment, whether it’s soccer or a concert,” said Lars-Olof Janflod, marketing and PR director, Genelec. “I agree virtual reality is probably for the home. And there are, of course, a lot of things happening in the marketplace today — all these immersive audio formats — that can enhance the virtual-reality experience in your home.”

As for the future, fans will continue to look for — and expect — content on their mobile phones and the ability not only to access things like video highlights and game statistics but to upload their photos and, despite rights issues, video to social-media platforms and video-sharing sites. And they will not want to wait.

“What we’re seeing from our customers is, there’s this emerging culture of immediacy,” said Hansen. “[Fans] today expect content to be pushed to them, and, not only [that], they expect the content to arrive immediately. Immediately after something’s happened, they expect something to turn up on their mobiles. So the question is, how do you support that culture of immediacy? You need a whole bunch of infrastructure, a whole bunch of automation, and the systems and smart people to do that.”

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