Sports Venue Technology Summit: Teams Entertain In-Stadium Fans With Exclusive Mobile Video Content

As more venues boost their WiFi and DAS capabilities across professional and college sports, teams and leagues are beginning to implement new technologies to capitalize on those connected networks to drive revenue.

Cisco Sports and Entertainment's Ed Olsen (right) speaks as Pac-12 Networks' Ryan Currier looks on.

Cisco Sports and Entertainment’s Ed Olsen (right) speaks as Pac-12 Networks’ Ryan Currier looks on.

For many in the early going, that has meant mobile apps — some designed to put your game ticket on your phone, some designed to allow fans to order concessions from their seat, some designed to offer exclusive video and social content to users.

Video — be it live or on-demand — presents its own unique challenges, but that hasn’t kept some entities from experimenting with exclusive video content on in-venue mobile applications to enhance the fan experience. At this week’s Sports Venue Technology Summit, representatives of several venues reported on their efforts.

The Seattle Seahawks are an early adopter of these mobile-only video productions, this year deploying what they call The Eye of the Hawk. At CenturyLink Field, fans can access the app exclusively inside the stadium and have access to five camera angles available only to in-venue users.

“What we saw is that a lot of stadiums were taking [feeds from] cameras they were already running. We didn’t find anything where cameras were being used exclusively for an app,” said Kenton Olson, director, digital media and emerging media, Seahawks, which deploy 12 cameras throughout the stadium for their traditional videoboard show. “Yes, we had some cameras in the stadium already, but we wanted to do something a little bit extra for those fans that they aren’t going to see on the videoboards.”

Among the exclusive camera offerings is an operated Steadicam that roams the field during pregame, halftime, and postgame. That angle has become one of the app’s more popular features. Olson pointed out, however, that the most popular feature of their in-venue app is the feed of the NFL RedZone channel, which the Seahawks have made available to their fans.

Although the Seahawks have little trouble packing their notoriously loud stadium, colleges have been dealing with a growing problem in sagging student attendance at sports events, even football. The Pac-12 Conference sees the growing trends in in-venue technology as a chance to battle those issues.

Seattle Seahawks’ Kenton Olson describes his team’s approach to mobile video.

Seattle Seahawks’ Kenton Olson describes his team’s approach to mobile video.

“Finding ways to provide a fully immersive, entertaining experience is critical,” said Ryan Currier, head of digital products at Pac-12 Networks. “Video is part of that; social is part of that; allowing students to create and broadcast out their own content, which is a major part of their lives, is also a part of that. That’s a major rationale behind connectivity: that social content becomes a mouthpiece for those sports and events, in addition to what we do from a broadcaster perspective. This is a long-term challenge that we’re looking at as an opportunity.”

According to technology developers, the exclusivity of the in-venue app is paramount to its success. Every sports league and franchise currently has a mobile application, but a vast majority are designed for the fan at home or on the go. Those users are, by a wide margin, not the 50,000-100,000 packed into the stadium.

“If you are developing an app for in-venue, start looking at your strategy and develop a different mobile experience in venue than out of venue,” advised Ed Olsen, customer solutions manager/content and ROI strategist, Cisco Sports and Entertainment, which designed its Stadium Vision Mobile solution. “Out of venue, you’ve made your app for the world, but, in-venue, it has unique uses and becomes a valuable second screen. The only way you’re going to make revenue off that WiFi network is by having your audience on that app and engaging with it.”

Television productions have excelled to the point that fans commonly express the desire to watch from home, rather than experience the game live. To justify the value of the time and money spent on attending an event, fans in the stadium need to know that they are getting things that fans at home are not.

EVS America’s James Stellpflug

EVS America’s James Stellpflug

“When we talk about expectations of younger generations, they want exclusive content,” said James Stellpflug, VP, sports products, EVS Americas, which recently deployed its new C-Cast solution at the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. “That’s what we see in the trends, and that’s largely what’s being put in place: platforms they can engage with on that level.”

Much of the progress in this space, however, is very experimental. Some of the designs and technology deployments are a result of fan polls and case studies, but a significant amount is still to be learned about what exactly the in-stadium fan wants on a video, social-media, and mobile level.

“It’s very iterative,” said Currier. “I think we really don’t know, and it’s critical that we don’t assume that we know. The right thing to do is to do some experimentation and really listen to our users and then let the data about what people are interacting with drive us. These are very early days, and there are definitely things that are already working and resonating, but we have a lot still to learn about the way this matures.”

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