Entertainment and sports venues are exploring the trends driving today’s hyper-connected consumer in an effort to enhance the fan experience during live events—something that will be paramount in the struggle to return to normalcy after this pandemic. Analysts report that the average consumer now walks around with at least three devices, and goes home to an environment that features close to a dozen screens to address various professional and personal needs. This constant connectivity has changed how people work, and is transforming how people consume all kinds of entertainment at home and on the go.
So, what does this mean for live sports and entertainment venues?
To explore this very issue, we caught up with Joe Walsh, vice president of sales with the Sports and Entertainment Division of VITEC and Seth Koch, sales engineer with Daktronics to get their insights into how these trends will affect the way venues connect and engage with today’s digital fan base.
Q: As consumers continue to embrace new digital technologies, how have you seen AV technology in sports venues evolve over the past five years, and where do you see this technology heading for the next five years?
Seth Koch: The demands of the sports venue market follow the demands of the fans. That demand has not changed; the fans want to be part of an experience—an experience that’s uniquely different from what they can get at home. What has changed is technology.
While most consumers now live in a mature digital environment that is integrated and dynamic, that is not a situation they typically find when they go to a stadium or arena. Today, the technology in most sports venues is static. You have the center scoreboard and other banner displays within the “inner bowl,” plus a range of display screens throughout the concourses or “outer bowl.” In most cases, these are not connected.
But, we know that fans want a more unified experience. This has prompted a lot of venue owners and planners—from top-tier professional leagues to college arenas and local stadiums—to look for new ways to engage with fans through integrated video, sound, and imaging.
In a nutshell, it has accelerated the desire to put video everywhere within the stadium, and to ensure that everything works together in an integrated manner to enhance the fan experience and drive new revenue streams.
The goal is to architect an environment that makes it possible for fans to be able to leave their seats without ever leaving the experience, regardless of where they go throughout the venue.
Q: What changes will need to be made in order to reach that goal and provide that integrated stadium experience the fans are looking for?
Joe Walsh: It boils down to an industry-wide migration by venues to IP (internet protocol) infrastructures. Stadiums and arenas that hope to maximize the benefits of the digital world will have to rethink the implications of their video strategy.
Many stadiums today rely on an RF (radio frequency) infrastructure; our goal (at VITEC and Daktronics) is to help our clients better understand the opportunities and options associated with moving to this IP environment.
Now, we are not saying that this has to happen all at once—though it can depending on the nature of upgrade or renovation strategies. But with a proper and well-thought-out video strategy, venues can phase IP in over time, doing things like staged upgrades over a two-to-five-year timeframe.
The Green Bay Packers are a classic example. They migrated Lambeau Field, which holds more than 80,000 fans, over five years to a complete IP infrastructure. At the end of the day, that IP infrastructure will be one of the most important elements in supporting the fan experience.
This is a way to move forward without breaking the bank. As long as they ultimately get everything in the venue connected; that’s the end game, so to say.
Q: What types of things can venue owners expect to accomplish—and fans expect to see—when these stadiums move to an IP infrastructure? Can you give us some examples?
JW: There are all kinds of implications for enhancing how fans enjoy the experience, and how digital environments can be tailored at the venue for individual fans by allowing personal devices to be integrated into a facility’s network. Fans at home already augment how they view sporting or other live events across multiple screens to gather context on things like player stats and things like that.
Venues have an opportunity to add more layers of value by integrating unique and exclusive experiences during events—experiences and access to information that cannot be captured at home...and on the go. But there are other benefits associated with integrating IP infrastructures at stadiums and arenas.
Food service optimization is a great example. A lot of stadiums and arenas have upgraded their food services. While some fans still want a hot dog, others want a nice steak. These different culinary options—from low-end to high-end—today are generally promoted in a fairly conventional manner in most venues. A common digital platform can make it possible for marketers and facility managers to tailor their offerings in a much more targeted and personalized manner based on the data that they can now access.
They can also take advantage of that IP-based technology to better manage point-of-sale and inventory levels, and even change pricing on the fly. Let’s say, for example, one stadium has a glut of nachos; the venue can make a quick decision to have a “nacho sale” promote a lower price across concession screens and the main scoreboard from centrally managed consoles to move products more quickly.
We can also use those displays to point fans toward the shortest concession lines. These are all part of the new equation that’s possible with a digital IP-infrastructure.
Q: Will an IP infrastructure help in other areas, or just within the stadium itself?
SK: The opportunities can extend well beyond optimizing the fan experience. This technology will blur the lines between business groups operating on the back end that have typically had no practical way of interacting with each other effectively.
Marketing groups, for instance, do not typically interact with the guest services teams, which in turn have had little contact or interaction with game production crews.
Even though they all wear the same team logo shirts to work, their missions are often completed in silos. By moving to a digital venue environment, there is a major opportunity to connect these silos and unlock a whole range of untapped value.
Venues are in a better position to connect the dots between what's happening on the field and how it affects concession stand marketing in new, more effective data-driven ways.
For instance, if the home team is unexpectedly getting blown out early in a game, we know that people will generally start walking out. In an enhanced digital venue, it will be possible to make decisions that keep those fans within the concourse by offering sales, promotions, or some other compelling reason to stay. It provides the option for making real-time decisions based on the dynamics of the day.
Q: Since this is a digital experience, the venues are using real data. How does that new information shape operational decisions?
JW: It makes a huge difference, and can provide a range of opportunities depending on timing.
Let’s step back and look at the reason many fans come to games rather than watching from their couches. They like—they love— the social interaction. Looking at newer venues, architects have done a terrific job of designing far more open sightlines that make it possible for fans to leave their seats to areas where they can talk and socialize while still being connected to the featured action in the venue. Maybe it’s a bar or a food area. Venues now have an opportunity, within these small social settings, to create interesting and unique visual experiences.
Look at the National Hockey League (NHL), which is starting to put sensors in the pucks. They’re going to collect that data and create something that is visually appealing—and exciting—for the fans. If you provide this data only within the venue, and not for at-home viewers, you’ve got another compelling reason to attend the event live. It is an example that highlights the value of connecting inner-bowl data to concession spaces and enhancing the fan experience.
Q: Can venues expect a certain ROI from this digital investment?
SK: Absolutely. At the end of the day, it comes down to marketing opportunities and bringing more fans into the venue. We’re seeing a lot of ROI come through the creative use of displays. Venues are installing full video walls, not just a single or double display. These present new marketing opportunities.
If you look at older arenas, most of their information is displayed through printed signs or relatively static video experiences. These visual elements have almost zero impact on the fan. But, if you take that same message and you put it on a screen or an LED board, venues have a much better opportunity to get the fan’s attention.
Those are just some of the ROI models that will change the sponsorship conversations that the marketing team will have with prospects and organizational customers.
Q: So, if I’m a venue and I’d like to move to a digital environment, how do I get started?
JW: Well this is where we have to see a significant change in how venue leaders plan and execute upgrades and renovations. All too often, AV decisions are made as an afterthought. Migration to IP-based venue-networks requires a different perspective. For the increasingly connected fan, the digital experiences become integral to their overall satisfaction.
If you're going from RF to IP, you're going to have to put the network in place first and really engage with all the different groups contributing to the overall enhanced experience venues want delivered to fans.
That is why it is so important when you’re choosing a company for that migration to work with companies that have done this before. There's a lot of interoperability that must be guaranteed. There's a lot of command and control. There's a lot of integration that has to happen.
Digital experiences are things that key decision makers should consider carefully, even before selecting technology partners, to create the right fan experiences and the best operational efficiencies.
Q: What role are your organizations playing in this evolution?
JW: Well, we both have a lot of experience and expertise on these issues. More importantly, we have a lot of experience—a proven track record—working together on these complex upgrades and renovations.
Daktronics focuses on the inner-bowl experience; we, VITEC, focus on the concession and social spaces, including luxury suites, that surround the focal point of the venue.
Our aim is to have the displays—from the main scoreboard, to the ribbon banners, to the various concession screens, to the mobile devices in fans’ hands—deliver a seamless enhanced and unique venue experience. Fans want to be part of the events they attend. The goal is to provide them with a completely integrated, technology-based experience.
SK: Agreed. VITEC and Daktronics together have an encyclopedic knowledge of how this works. We’re experts in this. We truly provide a best-of-breed service when it comes to delivering in-stadium experiences to locations throughout the venue.
VITEC and Daktronics bring a level of experience that help venues mitigate risks and maximize the digital fan experience in a profitable manner.