As I sit here in my office remembering the recent traffic snarls in my home town of Phoenix (the location of this year’s NCAA Basketball Final Four), I’m reminded of an article I wrote a few years ago about stadium attendance and the use of analytics to better understand the fan experience.

For many basketball fans, the perfect March Madness environment involved sitting comfortably at home in front of a big-screen television. This has become a recurring theme for many everyday fans, and it isn’t limited to college hoops – or even sporting events.  Enjoying an event from home comes complete with replays, color commentary, the ability to pause and fast-forward through commercials, a comfortable environment, and homemade or takeout food at a reasonable price (compared with the often exorbitant prices found at the arena).

Given this, I wonder whether recent advances in data collection and analytics capabilities, and the advent of new tools and techniques to gain value from data, have affected venue attendance or the overall consumer/fan experience.  While not much has changed in terms of the volume of available data used to gauge the fan experience since I drafted that article back in 2013 (wow, how the time flies), something else has: the ways in which data is collected, integrated (connecting structured, unstructured, legacy and new social and behavioral data) and analyzed.

For example:

  • The analysis of an organization’s entire set of data (regardless of the format or source) has become relatively quick and easy. This is possible because of advances in data storage and integration, leveraging new tools such as SAP’s Vora (an in-memory, distributed computing solution that can uncover actionable business decisions by running enriched, interactive analytics on both enterprise data and data stored in Apache Hadoop).
  • New analytics tools are much easier to use. We’re seeing more and more advanced analytics and data science solutions emerging from start-up providers, as well as enhancements to legacy tools with built-in capabilities and preset or preconfigured algorithms. Business users who were left out of the equation a couple of years ago are now making important decisions using these self-service capabilities.

As a result, data can be leveraged to improve the fan experience – and, ultimately, venue attendance – far more effectively than even a few short years ago. And with advanced analytics tools in the hands of business users, time-to-insight has shrunk dramatically, giving those teams and venues that embrace these tools a distinct advantage in the fan marketplace.

Getting Fans Off the Couch

We’re seeing professional sports teams and venue owners bringing the living room experience to the stadium through the following types of actions:

  • “Smart stadiums,” such as Levi’s Stadium – home of the San Francisco 49ers NFL team – are taking the lead in courting fans back to the stadium. With its 400 miles of fiber-optic cable, one network access point per 100 seats, 40GB network and an app that enables fans to order food and watch replays from their seats, the stadium has combined content-rich, interactive, real-time experiences to supplement the game. It’s tough to get that sort of experience from the couch.
  • Extreme Networks has partnered with the NFL to provide analytics on wireless network performance so that the in-stadium fan experience is uninterrupted. For the 2014 Super Bowl, fans consumed data at an average rate of 50GB per hour per fan, allowing attendees to instantly post video and pictures to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This content-centric capability creates a unique and rewarding experience for in-stadium fans, who can now share their event experiences with their envious friends in real time, not the next morning or several days later.  This is a powerful incentive for many fans previously content to only dream about attending a big event.
  • In the past, any wearables in the stadium were primarily used by the athletes and medical staff to improve performance and monitor players for signs of problems (medical or otherwise.)  Today, wearable devices such as activity trackers are an extension of the Internet of Things, enabling objects to exchange data through the Internet without human intervention. Fans can now better understand the performance of their favorite players from data exchanged on the field and enhanced through analytics. Statistics, once relegated to after-game prognosticating by sports analysts and lively post-game discussions at the neighborhood pub, are now available to fans within seconds on a variety of delivery channels at the stadium. Attendees can now access the same or better analysis while sitting in the arena than watching or listening to sportscasters break down the action from the couch at home.
  • Today, as fans tweet and post their satisfaction and dissatisfaction with everything from a bad call to their conversation while in line for a beer, social listening mechanisms can turn these seemingly random interactions into meaningful insights that venue marketers can use to extend the fan experience beyond the seat.
  • Fans can engage in dialog with one another, providing in-stadium meet-up opportunities; check-in at their current location to receive instant coupons for the snack bar or souvenir shop; and register their anticipated and actual experiences, all within the context of the mobile dialog.

The Digital Stadium Experience

Cognizant, for example, has worked recently with a large European football association to develop solutions that leverage multiple sources of data to improve fan experience and align consumer actions with marketing spend.  The creation of a digital engagement platform helped create and enhance fan experiences that are relevant, personal and contextual to individuals attending the events.  This has resulted in increased profitability, higher retention of season ticket holders, and the ability to cross-sell/upsell team- and venue-specific goods and services.

With advances in data identification, collection, integration and analysis, fans have evolved from simply witnesses of an event, to full participants. Those leaders who embrace analytics will reap rewards that are well worth the effort.

Scott Schlesinger

Scott Schlesinger

Scott H. Schlesinger is Chief Analytics Officer at Cognizant Digital Business. He is a recognized thought leader with more than two decades... Read more