Using data to improve fan engagement at sporting events


Walter Schroeder, CSE – Big Data Solutions at NetApp A/NZ and James Kennedy-Moffat, Country Manager at NetApp New Zealand

Data offers benefits for sport that goes far beyond traditional on field analysis, from fan experience, to merchandise sales and security. Data can be used to dramatically improve fans game day experience, helping retailers sell merchandise tailored to specific demographics without the lines. Data can create a security system that operates and monitors sporting venues 365 days a year, looking for specific trouble points or demographics. Utilising data can make sure that players and teams are using all of their resources efficiently, playing fully healthy and understanding game patterns - providing up-to-date independent analysis.

We look at how sports fans are disengaged, exploring how data used effectively can change this, and how businesses and teams can commercialise the opportunity.

Sporting fans in Australia and New Zealand are becoming reluctant to attend sporting events live at the venue, as witnessed by a decrease in crowd numbers.. This is due to a number of reasons; tickets are expensive, food stalls are overpriced, people can barely see the screen, players are too far away to follow and there is no commentary. Why not just watch at home for free? Other than game day atmosphere, where is the benefit?

This is an opportunity for teams, brands and stadiums to re-engage with fans. Data analytics offers the ability to give fans an exceptional experience, by getting the right content to individuals at the right time. Allowing real time interaction and engagement, by creating relevant, consistent and personalised content. This has the potential to establish a deeper connection with fans and converting them into loyal and engaged customers.

Companies and teams must give fans a reason to invest their time and money. They can do this by allowing fans help control the narrative, from sharing their take on the game in real time, to capturing those key moments without missing the action.

By creating a personalised experience, for example notifying fans automatically about seat upgrades or available parking opportunities, stadiums help immerse fans in a seamless experience. Teams can share instant, up to date, exclusive content from teams in the rooms or instant replays straight to people’s devices. Further to this, it is possible to commercialise the opportunity. By allowing fans to place and receive food and beverage orders without ever leaving their seats, not only are lines reduced, fans are happier, and business are likely to sell more due to sheer convenience.

Often the first experience a fan will have with a game will be via digital means – either through following their team on Facebook, sharing content with a friend, or purchasing tickets. This is a lost opportunity to make content meaningful and customised. Further to this, imagine more digital content delivered to the fan’s device to augment the action with slow motion replays of key plays delivered in near real-time to a downloadable stadium app. Or statistical information about what players are on the field, and their stats both in-game, and career, or even replays of wickets, tries and goals.

There is also the opportunity to engage with fans who are watching at home. Imagine a scenario in which augmented reality is available and real time data analytics enhances viewers experience whilst watching the game at home. It could bring the game to life! Everything from providing interesting and relevant facts about games, teams or individual players. It is even possible to use video analytics to trail the ball in real time. By creating more interesting and relevant graphics fans, even those who are watching at home will feel like part of the action.

With video analytics, there is potential to anticipate customer and fan intentions based real-time on demographic profiling and pattern recognition. This ability to anticipate not only helps teams, stadiums and business to pre-empt sales patterns and tailor experiences, but it can remove what is often the most frustrating part of attending sporting events – traffic jams, queues to exit, lines for bathrooms, lines for food and waiting on tickets.

Fortunately, this technology is becoming cheaper every day. Data allows for more content to be pushed out more effectively, giving businesses and teams the opportunity to connect more accurately with audiences who are engaged and content. Further to this, with facial recognition technology becoming more mainstream, stadiums will become increasingly safer for all attending.

In light of these technological developments, and the underwhelming nature of the current fan experience, it’s clearly time for teams, stadiums and brands to ‘up their game’.