08 Jun 2016

Wired for Sports: Connectivity is Key to Keeping Fans in the Club Seats and Bleachers

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fans shoot selfie bleachers

Fans shoot a selfie in the bleachers as more stadiums now offer WiFi

By Gerald Dlubala

It was a beautiful, sunny, near perfect day for the game, although many sitting in the aluminum bleachers looked as if they wouldn’t have even noticed.

First glances around the stadium showed multiple selfies being taken, fans snapping photos of themselves with their backs to the field.

One simple click and just like that, images shared across multiple platforms. Others, heads down, are scrolling through their Twitter feed, checking last minute roster changes, fantasy scores or perhaps game-day rumors.

There are groups making faces into their phones, using the game-day venue as a backdrop, Snapchatting their pregame time away sending photos to their friends.

Others, using a location app, are checking in and posting online, proving to their online friends that yes, they are actually here, in person, at the game.

Perhaps some are simply texting and chatting with friends that are in a different section of the bleachers. Years ago we would have to stand up and wave like a maniac, trying to get their attention. Today, just press a button.

And if this were an indoor event, it would be easy to compare the fading in and out of the smartphone lights to the natural beauty of fireflies in an abandoned field. But this is not nature. It’s a modern day sporting event, and social media is the priority.

Expectations of connectivity from the Sky boxes to the Bleachers


The use of social media at stadiums, arenas and venues has literally exploded over the past few years. Stadium and team owners have not only noticed, but are now in the unique position of encouraging social media during their events, racing to install Wi-Fi, sometimes HD Wi-Fi, in their venues, and with good reason.

AT&T data usage statistics confirm that as recently as the 2011 Superbowl, held in Arlington TX, in-stadium data usage was recorded at 177 GB, equivalent to 500 thousand posts and photos. But in the most recent Superbowl 50, played at the tech-savvy Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco, fans used an unfathomable 10 TB of data, equal to 6000 hours of HD video, or 1.2 million image posts.

Increased demand leads to increased expectations

Fans now expect connectivity wherever they go, whether they’re partying in the bleachers or noshing with VIPs in the all-inclusive suites. With phones in hand, they want to be able to upload photos and videos, along with their every action to all the social media platforms.

Cisco Systems, Inc., the leader in the IT and networking industry, went so far as to suggest that the game itself might be starting to take a backseat to the social media aspect.

Younger fans in particular, those raised in the era of instant communication and information availability, have shown that they will leave if needed to satisfy their thirst for reliable connectivity.

Michelle McKenna Doyle, Sr. VP and CIO of the NFL, agrees. “I have a lot of contacts in college sports, and it is definitely the case where they are seeing some of their younger fans leave if they don’t have connectivity”, she says.

And of course these college fans are also the future NFL fans. Taking notice, the NFL has mandated that by this upcoming football season, all stadiums are to provide free Wi-Fi access, or at least be actively working on it.

Reliable Wi-Fi connectivity has become such an important issue that the MLB has spent $300 million of their own money to help teams get onboard and offer free Wi-Fi for this upcoming season as well.

Bill DeWitt Jr, Chairman and CEO for The St Louis Cardinals, admitted that, “As demand for data among smartphone users skyrocketed, sports teams have generally fallen behind and are now chasing our tails on infrastructure.”

Even in relatively new venues, such as Busch Stadium, now beginning its tenth season, it is a challenge to retrofit the Wi-Fi capacity so that it provides enough bandwidth to support all fans using it at the same time.

Getting fans out of the house

One of the reasons behind getting the stadiums and venues equipped with reliable Wi-Fi is the need to get fans out from in front of their big screen TVs and comfortable home surroundings, and put them in the club seats and bleachers.

Wi-Fi connectivity and team creativity can provide the fan with a rich experience they just can’t get at home. Fans are able to post and send photos while checking in and giving impromptu status reports from the actual venue.

Even if it’s only to brag to their friends that aren’t there, it’s in the fan’s interest to be able to do it in real time, from the actual event.

Another benefit of in-house Wi-Fi, if HD equipped, is the ability for the fans to call up replays instantly, from several angles, based on what they want to see. Additionally, some venues are allowing fans to tap in to the player experience while attending by following a player equipped with Google glass or Go-Pro type equipment, giving the fan the ability to experience the action from the player’s viewpoint.

An extreme, yet incredibly useful example of Wi-Fi benefits to the fan is the ability to see waiting times for various restroom locations.

Ownership benefits

The Wi-Fi connectivity experience benefits the stadium and team ownership as well.

Through the free Wi-Fi, teams acquire information and can use it in several ways to boost revenues, including offering in-game instant seat upgrades, additional discounted ticket purchases, call-to-action specials on apparel and food/drink items, giveaway contests, photo contests and 50/50 raffles or lotteries.

Teams also like to offer in game voting for plays and/or players of the game. All of the online participation by fans turns into data collection from a stadium/team owner’s perspective. This provides the option for targeted ads and direct sales opportunities based on active users interests, information and demographics.

Where from here

With companies like WSN Live out of Flowood, MS, already offering turnkey, customized Wi-Fi streaming programs for high schools, it’s only logical to think that the same connectivity demands will rapidly filter down to high school venues.

When the Millennials, brought up with social media as the norm, start going to games to sit in the aluminum bleachers and watch their own children play sports, they’ll naturally expect to be able to connect to social media and have the ability to send photos of their children to eagerly awaiting relatives, likely with their own phones or pads in hand.

As proud parents, the photos of their children in action will be uploaded to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for sharing. Parents will want to text, and Snapchat with others about the events that are unfolding.

Live streaming through provided apps, and the revenue generating opportunities that come with them, will be available on games and special events, like Homecomings and Senior Nights.

High school player and team stats and standings will be easily tracked with the touch of a button or voice command, essential for that recruiter, calmly and attentively sitting in the bleachers alongside everyone else, collecting crucial data on a player under scholarship consideration.

Available, instant and useful, Wi-Fi connectivity seems to be key in keeping people coming to the club seats and bleachers, and more importantly, staying and supporting, future sporting events at all levels.


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