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Stadium Technology: Entertainment Value

Sport is thrilling to watch, but a match only lasts so long. How can teams keep fans’ attention by constantly entertaining them in new and exciting ways? Alan Rownan looks at how stadium tech can help teams to engage with their fanbases

Published in Sports Management 2019 issue 2
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Teams must embrace technology in order to keep their fans’ attention / © shutterstock/Eo naya
Teams must embrace technology in order to keep their fans’ attention/ © shutterstock/Eo naya

It’s impossible to ignore the volume of high-profile stadium/venue redevelopments and new-builds taking place. It’s impossible to ignore Tottenham Hotspur’s grand opening of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and the promise of additional revenue the stadium will generate in regular Premier League games, not to mention NFL UK games, concerts and other revenue generators.

The highest attended season at White Hart Lane in recent years was 2015/16 with a total attendance of 678,887. Stadium sell-out ratio stood at an impressive 98.48 per cent, leaving little room for growth. This equated to ticket revenue (corporate excluded) of US$43.2 million, which ranks the club sixth in the League and lower than London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea.

Initial estimates based on Tottenham Hotspur’s first game at the new stadium shows just how big an impact this upgrade will have. If Spurs maintain a 95 per cent sell-out ratio, as achieved against Crystal Palace in their first game at the new stadium, attendance over the course of a full season will skyrocket to 1,120,219, an increase of 65 per cent from even the best seasons at White Hart Lane. Such an increase in attendance and ticket sales will elevate the club to new heights.

This increase in volume is hugely important in growing ticketing revenues, however the headlines have focused largely on how experience-orientated the new stadium is, shining a light on what Tottenham Hotspur is doing differently, and how this focus on experience will fuel quality fan engagement.

Attention seeking
Albeit somewhat hackneyed, the phrase ‘no one size fits all’ is wholly applicable in this case. In the 2017/2018 football season across 26 of the world’s biggest football leagues, the average sell-out ratio was just 57 per cent. That’s a lot of empty seats and lost revenue.

Not every league, or every team can guarantee the same quality of entertainment product as the Premier League and Tottenham Hotspur, but learnings can be gleaned, as other top-flight teams enter into the process of re-thinking and redeveloping their stadia.

Research shows that the true battle, is ultimately to continue to win the time and attention of fans in an entertainment world that is more crowded than ever, and using technology as a vehicle from which to achieve this.

Commodities of fandom: time and money
On the global level, 58 per cent of respondents in Euromonitor’s 2019 Global Consumer Trends survey aged 15-29 agreed, or strongly agreed that it is important to spend money on experiences. This was slightly less than those aged 30-44, of whom 62 per cent agreed or strongly agreed. The degree to which technology can and will impact these percentages over the coming years can’t be overstated.

Speaking at an event earlier this year, senior vice president of business operations at The Madison Square Garden Company Kristin Bernert spoke at length about winning the never-ending battle for attention in New York City. Every night of the week there are hit Broadway shows that deliver a guaranteed entertainment package, and in many ways, this is the benchmark that is set for New York Knicks games and requires a perfect balance of tradition and technology. Euromonitor has identified the core pillars capturing the long-term implications of achieving this digital balance.

Time, attention, intention
Consumers will be more intentional with online time and activities. This means a more challenging digital environment in which to drive fan engagement. Technology that can drive engagement, whether it’s the digital tokenisation of sports, or simply engaging social media content, sports properties need to be aware that time is of the essence. In Euromonitor’s 2019 GCT survey 54 per cent of consumers stated that they shop in stores that create engaging experiences.

Fan personalisation
It should come as no surprise that personalisation is essential. A team may be a global powerhouse in the sports world, yet sports remains community-based. The curation of fan data can solidify and deepen fan loyalty. Reward schemes that recognise fan commitment aren’t new, however ultra-personalised offers using curated data can help build fan profiles that can be used to drive engagement. For instance, Euromonitor’s GCT survey shows that 58 per cent of global respondents seek curated experiences tailored to their tastes.

Teams must continue to add value to the lives of fans (irrespective of what happens on the field). This means offering engaging content, all the time. Serving engaging content at the right time through the right platform can help teams compete.

Remaining open to opportunities
Lower ranked teams in smaller leagues are still reliant on selling tickets and sponsorships the old-fashioned way in order to remain competitive both on and off the field. That won’t change overnight. Seventy per cent of 15-29 year olds and 76 per cent of 30-44 year olds use technology to improve their day-to-day lives. Therefore, the opportunity to enhance the value of sports as an entertainment product through the use of technology should reflect this broader demographic embrace of digital.

Staying agile
A complete overhaul with a focus on digital isn’t an advisable remedy for clubs lower down the ranks. What works for Real Madrid (the number one club in Euromonitor’s Club Attractiveness Index 2018) isn’t an option for a smaller team in an obscure league. However, an ability to remain agile, and seek out affordable methods of building and implementing a fan-first strategy that protects and grows a team’s fanbase and overall entertainment value – not just sports – may be the key to long-term sustainability.

All data is taken from Euromonitor International’s Passport Sports database, unless otherwise stated.

About the author
Alan Rownan is head of sports at Euromonitor International

Alan Rownan is head of sports at Euromonitor International. He is tasked with providing data-driven, compelling insight and analysis on professional top-flight team sports across domestic leagues globally, covering everything from match-day metrics and social media performance to cross-industry commercial partnership opportunities.

Alan holds a Master’s degree in Ethics from Dublin City University, where he focused his thesis on contending moral philosophies of fairness in professional sports.

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