NFL Looking to Score Big with the In-Stadium Fan Experience


NFL Looking to Score Big with the In-Stadium Fan Experience

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  May 15, 2014

The customer experience – that’s what business success hinges upon today. Without customers, there is no business. Thus, the stakes are high, considering the competition that’s out there, looking to scrape way at your revenues, one customer at a time – regardless of your product. For many businesses, the mobile explosion has created a number of challenges but, with them, opportunities that can help increase satisfaction and loyalty via a positive experience (see my column in the April issue on the Wi-Fi opportunity).

One of the markets that is clearly feeling the impact of mobility is the sports and entertainment industry. When people visit a venue, whether for a concert, game, or other event, they hardly leave their mobile devices behind. In fact, those devices, in many cases, become more active than at other times, as users check e-mails, follow other scores, watch replays or other footage, chat with friends watching the game elsewhere, or what have you.

Not long ago, the National Football League began an extensive fan experience initiative to measure and enhance the digital fan experience in its venues across the country. In fact, despite the obvious perception that the on-field contest is the main attraction, CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle says that’s no longer the case.

“Next generation fans aren’t OK with just the on-field product,” she says. “It’s about the complete experience, and being connected is an expectation.”

For McKenna-Doyle, it’s not about one stadium or club. Rather, it’s about creating consistency of experience across the 32-team league, which is why the NFL has released a set of minimum standards for stadium networks and connectivity – which are at the heart of the connected fan experience. One of the vendors it selected is Extreme Networks (News - Alert), which it is leveraging for Wi-Fi analytics and experience measurement.

“We shopped for partners and found Extreme Networks, which has done a great job on work with the Eagles and Patriots in delivering the connected fan experience,” she says. “That’s why we’re recommending the Enterasys (News - Alert) high-density solution to our clubs.”

Beyond what’s happening on the field, fans have an expectation of connectivity so they can remain active in their digital lives. That may mean posting to Facebook (News - Alert) or Instagram, or messaging, or e-mail, or any number of activities. For the NFL and its member clubs, the goal becomes to create an experience such that fans would rather be at the game than anywhere else.

“There’s nothing better than the in-game experience, but we know the in-home experience has continued to improve – couchgating has become very popular,” says McKenna-Doyle. “We have to deliver the same level of connectivity and experience.”

That means providing value-added services and features that make the in-stadium experience more valuable than the in-home option, including custom video feeds, real-time stats, custom stat packages for each game, on-field replays, graphics and more. Because much, if not all, of this is available for at-home fans (perhaps with the exception of the replays, though that is easily accomplished with the rewind button on DVR-enable STBs), the NFL must also deliver additional services.

“Engagement is where the focus is going to be,” says Chip Suttles, vice president of technology for the Seattle Seahawks. “We will create in-game experiences you can’t replicate in the home or other places and, knowing there are a variety of people who want different things from their at-stadium experience, we are going to deliver to them all.”

That means there will be additional focus on extending the digital experience to the parking lot for pre-game tailgating experiences to help drive the social experience at the stadiums. It will mean in-seat ordering, bathroom line wait times, fan engagement activities during time outs, and more. Perhaps what ultimately will be the driver is teams’ ability to drive users to their apps outside the stadium because, as Luis Perez, CFO for the Detroit Lions points out, fans who don’t use the app at home are not likely to do so at the stadium, limiting any opportunity for personalized engagement.

How will this initiative evolve into a complete fan experience remains to be seen, but the NFL has begun its journey on the path to delivering the digital experience to its fans, understanding that it isn’t competing with just the other local sports organizations, but with other destinations – that’s what McKenna-Doyle sees the stadium experience as.

“We aren’t unlike other destinations, like Disney (News - Alert), which has created something so special, an emotional connection that is hard to replicate,” she says. “If we can build that emotional connection, and supplement that with information, we will succeed – the NFL has the best content on the market.”

Edited by Alisen Downey
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