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Take Me Out to the Ball Game: Stadiums Strive to Rekindle the Magic of Being There

It’s the most wonderful time of the year in my household. Why?

Baseball fans are gearing up for an exciting new season. Basketball, hockey and soccer fans are cheering their teams on to playoffs and championships. Football fans are counting the days to preseason and fantasy drafts. Whether mainstream or one of many other popular sports, fan loyalty and enthusiasm around the world are stronger than ever.

So why has attendance at stadiums and arenas been declining?

Competing with a better experience at home

While skyrocketing ticket prices have certainly played a role, perhaps the biggest reason fans stop coming “out to the ball game” is due to advances in technology. Technology has transformed how fans can experience sports right in their own homes.

For many, it’s hard to justify the high cost of a ticket when flat screen TVs with 4K HD provide the best seat in the house. Fans can duplicate the experience of crowd excitement by watching with friends and family and use social media to connect with fans around the world.

Food and beverages are cheaper at home. The bathroom is conveniently located with no lines. There are no traffic jams or parking fees. And I can invite as many friends as I want. So why pay for an expensive ticket and deal with the hassles of going to the stadium?

Only 51% of fans said they would “absolutely” recommend their venue based on their experience, according to a recent BARE survey.

To invite fans back from the comfort of their own homes, stadiums and arenas have had to significantly up their game. And they’re doing it with a hospitality-driven technology approach.

Winning with high tech hospitality

While technology has played a big role in drawing fans away, many stadiums are using it to win them back.

Technology is changing the landscape of stadium and large venue experiences and raising hospitality to a whole new level. Not only used to improve security, technology is helping to eliminate annoyances and inconveniences, create a more enjoyable experience, and provide new ways for fans to immerse themselves in the game—that they can’t get at home.

Seamless security

To ensure fans have a great experience, stadiums must first ensure their safety. From a hospitality perspective, this needs to be done in the least intrusive way possible. Technology has made significant advances in this area.

BARE’s recent survey shows fans who indicated that they did not feel the security process was adequate notated that not everyone passed through the metal detectors. Now, metal detectors are not the only way to secure a venue.

Magnetometers at checkpoints detect explosives. IP-enabled cameras integrate with video management systems enabling security personnel to quickly search through footage in the case of an incident. Facial recognition capabilities, as well as other biometric recognition systems protect access to restricted areas of the arena.

Some stadiums have even begun replacing paper tickets with radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips in wristbands to grant access to VIP and restricted areas, track and understand traffic flows, and even enable cashless payments for food and products.

Feeding information from multiple tech solutions into a virtual command center, stadiums can boost overall situational awareness.

Not only do stadiums and entertainment venues need to keep fans, players, staff and everyone on site physically safe, they also need to protect their data. And that can be extremely challenging. It requires maintaining the logistics and internal network of the stadium data traffic while serving up thousands of concurrent mobile Wi-Fi data connections to attendees, and maintaining a secure environment while offering Internet service to tens of thousands of un-trusted wireless devices. This becomes even more difficult in older stadiums and is often a key driver in renovations and new builds.

Alleviating hassles

Fans want an amazing experience where the only potential for stress is generated from what’s happening on the field or court. New stadiums are using the Internet of Things (IoT) to make this happen.

In a recent BARE survey, 17% of fans felt they waited too long waiting in line to make a purchase.

What’s “too long”? Ten or more minutes. Ten minutes may not seem too long, but if you’re at a game – that’s a winning shot. If you’re at a concert? That’s your favorite song (or two)! Smart stadiums like Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, use apps to help fans pay for and find parking, guide fans through the stadium and directly to their seats, order food on their phones and have it delivered to their seats. Apps even let fans know how long lines are at restrooms and concession stands.

Total immersion in the game

Perhaps most exciting is how advances in technology will take the stadium experience to a whole new level. Technology enables fans to interact with other fans and keep track of other games, but what if they could interact with the players? Select their own camera views for replays? See inside the locker room and player tunnel?

Using IoT, stadiums will be able to immerse fans in the experience with exciting new opportunities available only on site. Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is taking a lead, boasting the largest video board in professional sports. It provides 63,000-square feet of 360-degree HD video screen to view live action, highlights and iso-cameras. Croke Park Smart Stadium in Dublin, one of the world’s leading IoT programs, is serving as the test bed for everything from pitch management to micro-weather wind circulation.

Other apps to look forward to include streaming replays from multiple angles directly to fans’ mobile devices, providing up-to-the-minute details about a player’s speed, position, distance, and uploading fan reactions and thoughts via social media platforms to media screens.

Building on fundamentals

While technology is very exciting, the underlying basics of hospitality are still critical to the fan experience. Are parking lots clean and well-lit? Are entrances attractive, well-manned and efficient? Are staff friendly and helpful? Are bathrooms clean at the start and kept that way through the event? Do you have food options that cater to all your fans? Do you have ample trash and recycling bins that are emptied when full? Do you have the right temperature and lighting?

At a recent market research conference, I was inspired by the sheer amount of technology geared towards the UX. However, it was quite clear to me that we cannot and should not rely on technology alone: we need to continue to connect to the human side of the UX.

Sporting events cater to one of the most diverse audiences. Be sure to pay attention to all of them: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. Many stadiums are looking at new concepts for seating arrangements that encourage social interaction. Avaya Stadium in San Jose boasts the largest outdoor bar in North America. At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the seating bowl features multiple standing room gathering spaces and a 100-yard bar on the upper concourse.

Keeping score

To do it right, hospitality requires a tremendous amount of effort and investment. So naturally, you want to meticulously monitor progress to know what’s working and what’s not.

Technology provides a wide variety of ways to track data, but to get a true fan perspective it helps to have boots on the ground. Just like a great UX is born from combining technical advances with human behaviors, tracking the success requires the ability to measure both.

With high ticket prices and a competitive home experience, fans today have higher expectations. Make sure your venue delivers.

Guy Caron, Executive Vice President — North America, BARE International

+1 (703) 591-9870 • GCaron@bareinternational.com

About BARE International

Many event arenas and stadiums turn to us for our expertise in the Fan Experience Research space. BARE’s Fan Experience Research provides a comprehensive and objective view of your patron’s experience, revealing misses and home runs. Contact us today for more information on how we can be a winning team.

BARE International sets the industry standard as the largest independent provider of customer experience research, data, and analytics for companies worldwide. Founded in 1987, BARE International is a family-owned business with global capabilities. BARE is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Fairfax, Virginia with ten offices around the world. On any given day, BARE International is doing business for clients in more than 150 countries, completing more than 50,000 evaluations/audits each month. To learn more about BARE International’s customer experience research services and their dedicated field force of evaluators, visit http://www.bareinternational.com