SVG Sit-Down: Venue Edge’s David Saphirstein Focuses on the At-Home Fan, Anticipates Post-Pandemic Era
Digital activations maintain fan interest, fulfill sponsorship obligations
2020 has proved to be a tough test for professionals in in-venue production. Venue Edge, a company that helps partners engage with fans through innovative content, activations, and new technology, is playing a significant role in helping teams connect with fans who are watching from home.
Now entering its fifth season with Florida Citrus Sports, Venue Edge will once again be at the core of two college-football bowl games scheduled to be played at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium this season: the Cheez-It Bowl and the Vrbo Citrus Bowl. SVG sat down with Venue Edge Founder David Saphirstein to discuss the early days of the partnership, how the in-venue experience has improved, how at-home fans are getting their fix through digital offerings, and what will remain when fans return.Were at-home fans a priority at the beginning of the partnership? What was being produced for fans in 2015?
When we started the partnership, the focus was on the fans inside the stadium: replays, some fan activations like prerecorded games and trivia, and showing the bands play from each school. It was good coverage of the game and bowl atmosphere. FCS would often repurpose that content on digital platforms, but it wasn’t always created with those at-home fans in mind.
What have you done to improve the experience over the years?
These are neutral-site games, so we don’t have a lot of the home-team elements to play. We’re also trying to engage fans from both teams because, even if a team is losing, you want those fans to still be engaged and enjoying themselves.
We’ve added a number of elements to create more entertainment and sponsorship opportunities. There has been a lot more fan interaction with the addition of an on-field host. We’ve been able to add a lot of music that fans enjoy with a DJ. We’ve also added traditional dance cams and a filter cam where we’re adding different filters similar to Snapchat.
How are you improving the in-venue and at-home experience in 2020?
With a limited [in-stadium] crowd this year, we will approach the production with the at-home fans in mind as well. Our sponsor activations, 50-50 raffles, trivia, and pregame features will be laid out to entertain our in-person guests but also to engage fans at home, especially during pregame, halftime, and other moments outside of the television broadcast. We want to continue to serve our sponsors well and create a connection to both bowl games for people that are either in the stadium or at home.
Without previous games to use for experimentation, how are you developing this production plan?
Some of the collegiate programs have been able to increase engagement with that home audience on their second screen throughout the season, but we haven’t had the whole season to build up that engagement. We’ll use social media and emails and work with the schools to let everybody know that this is available.
In terms of planning, we’re having a lot of conversations over Zoom with other vendors and teams that have been to the field. We have the benefit of being in a bowl season where we can watch what a lot of schools have done throughout the season. It has been good to see what fans are looking for and what’s not working. There has been a lot of great innovation this season that we’re hoping to build off of and add some of our own ideas to.
Will these at-home activations stick around post pandemic? If so, what will these elements be?
I think they will, because a lot of what we’ve been forced to do through the pandemic has made us better. For example, Camping World Stadium seats about 60,000. There will be a lot more than 60,000 fans [across the country] watching each game, so we’ve found technology and creative ways to connect with them.
Over the past few years, we’ve connected with the at-home fan through strong social-media interactions during the games, including pushing highlights. I think that, with the additional ways we’ve been forced to develop to connect with fans at home, we will continue to do that and expand on it. There are so many fans that can’t make it to the stadium in a normal year, and now we can better interact with them while exposing our sponsors to a larger fanbase. I see this time as a benefit because we’ve been forced to connect differently. I think what we’re doing now is going to continue and the tools that have been created are only going to grow.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity