Panasonic: Four College Sports Tech Trends in 2018

At the end of its 2017 football season, San Diego State reported a figure that drew attention in the world of college sports. Turnstile attendance for its seven home games averaged 28,619. That’s up 12.5% from 2016. Even more remarkable, attendance at the most recent season’s home games was triple what it was in 2015 (20,961), according to school data.

Why the attention?

San Diego State’s attendance at home football games is going up while, across the country, many other college programs are struggling with a decline in ticket sales. For instance, the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, the top level of college football in the United States, saw a decrease in total home game attendance from 35,101,666 in 2015 to 34,800,919 a year later.

College football isn’t the only sport suffering. NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball also saw a decrease in total home game attendance from 24,883,277 in 2015 to 24,787,180, a year later.

When it comes to revenue, sports have long been an important source to university budgets. They generate funds through ticket sales, media advertising, and sponsorships and, perhaps most importantly, alumni donations. And for many schools, football is the breadwinner. When attendance falls at football games, it’s harder to sell media advertising, schools lose funds from unsold tickets, and according to recent research, students who don’t attend games are less likely to donate money, after they graduate.

There are debates on why students are failing to turn up. One is improvements in home entertainment systems. As people opt to catch the game from their couch — especially when the weather is bad — attendance at live events suffer.

In 2017, college athletic programs used a number of creative and successful strategies to incentive attendance at games. Below are four ideas I believe will gain steam as athletic departments start the new sports years.

Give fans something they can’t get at home
Recent research from Panasonic and Darius, an end-to-end fan engagement platform for stadiums and arenas, found university athletic departments are trying different approaches to fill seats with one overarching theme: giving attendees an experience they can’t get at home. By combining social media with display technology, fans can feel like they are truly a part of the game. Stadiums can be used as platforms to gather, analyze, and activate data to create personalized fan experiences.

The Panasonic-Darius research found that schools are investing in technology to boost fan engagement. The study of college athletic departments revealed that most see social media strategies as a way to connect with fans, followed by large format advertising screens. Additionally, schools say they invest in digital engagement programs because of the opportunities for sponsors to engage fans, to deliver revenue, to promote ticket sales, and to sell merchandise.

Become a social media superstar
It’s no surprise that when millennials are together, they’re often documenting their experiences on social media. According to a Pew Research Center study, 88% of millennials (ages 18-29) use Facebook, and nearly 60% of this same group use Instagram. A recent study also found 85% of university sports teams are using social media to engage with fans. However, the teams that have the most successful social media campaigns combine their social presence with their stadium technology.

Universities can focus on social media and social spaces to better connect with fans and increase engagement in person at games. By merging social media with display technology, schools make fans a part of the game and give them the chance to appear on stadium video boards. For example, schools can encourage fans to share photos on social media sites with a specific hashtag, and then the school will populate several of these images/posts on the video boards. This enticing opportunity gets the attention of fans who might not have otherwise engaged with the team on social media. Universities should also look for ways to create social spaces within stadiums where fans can mingle and socialize their experiences. Along with social media engagement, universities must ensure their stadiums have strong WiFi signals so fans can quickly and easily share photos and videos without delay.

These efforts can help drive traffic for the school across social media. What’s more, when people see others in their social network having fun at the game, it encourages them to visit the school for a sporting event in the future.

Act on fan data
Panasonic and Darius’s research found that athletic departments know technology can help them engage more fans and increase revenue. However, most don’t acknowledge that technology can also aid with capturing data and insights. Data is crucial to helping schools deliver an incredible fan experience.

Many fans are willing to share their personal data in exchange for receiving more personalized communications. Conveniently, most schools already have the infrastructure in place to collect fan data, including ultra-high density WiFi, beacons, and point of sale systems. For those that don’t have this infrastructure, it’s an important step to begin gathering data and acting on the insights.

Once schools collect and analyze the data, they can bring the insights to life through engaging experiences with mobile apps, fan loyalty and rewards programs, and in-stadium audio-visual amenities. These immersive and entertaining experiences can be delivered both through small smartphone screens, as well as large screens like LED video boards, which keeps fans coming back to the stadium.

While social media, display technology, and data analytics are key to engaging with fans, equipping university stadiums with digital technology can also help to quantify sponsorship opportunities and get a better return on investment. College athletic departments can use data and analytics to better appeal to new sponsors, as well as help existing sponsors get more value from their stadium sponsorship packages.

Universities have found that technology can even help attract new talent because it provides an exciting environment for athletes. Some colleges consider an investment in stadium technology as an investment in their recruitment efforts. High-performing athletes and a winning team are a few of the initial steps to cultivating an enthusiastic, committed fan base that wants to engage with the team and school on social media.

Make it personal
With technology, schools can provide a more personalized experience for fans and better connect them with the team and their games. Collecting data and analyzing and using the results helps universities specifically target in-stadium engagements and social outreach to individual fans. A stadium’s technology infrastructure can be leveraged to provide the opportunity for real-life extensions of social media exchanges.

While improvements with home entertainment systems may be one of the key reasons college sports attendance has been on the decline, that same technology can be used to get fans back into the stadium. Universities can increase attendance at sporting events by providing fans with an immersive experience they truly can’t get at home – and one that keeps them coming back again and again.

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