Live sports are experiencing total disruption. That’s especially true for stadium and arena owners. Across the industry, the same questions are being asked:
How do we reopen safely? How do we recoup lost revenue? How do we re-engage fans?
There’s been a recent surge of innovation along these lines. Emerging technologies are pointing the way forward for how venues can adapt to solve these problems.
Samsung is at the forefront of that evolution.
This article brings together leaders in the sports, marketing, and technology worlds to share their insights on how venues can take action to address these challenges now, so they can get back on the path to prosperity—sooner rather than later.
Inside the article, you’ll learn about new strategies and technologies to help you:
- Keep fans safe. Learn about new technologies for optimizing fan health and safety
- Recoup lost revenue. Discover new sources of ad revenue and brand partnerships
- Reimagine the fan experience. Digital, mobile, scalable, and more connected than ever before.
Table of contents
Letting Go of the Past
Historically, change happens slowly in the world of live sports.
How you put on an event, acquire sponsorships, and sell tickets has evolved only slightly over the years. Seismic shifts have been few and far between, mostly because they haven’t had to happen.
The pandemic changed that. Stadium and arena owners have experienced many dark days, with no promise of normalcy anytime soon. Fans have high expectations when it comes to their experiences—and need to have assurances of their safety. For many industry professionals, there’s no going back.
“Return to normal? Just take that out of your vocabulary,”
says Josh Kritzler, co-founder of 4Front, a Chicago-based sports marketing and analytics company. “As humans, we have a normalcy bias. We want to return to a time when things felt normal, even when all the data is telling us that’s not possible. The way I see it, don’t look in the rearview for a return to normal—that world is gone. Prepare for a world that will exist in the future.”
That’s what this guide is all about.
Samsung has teamed up with technology firms, data companies, sports analysts, and safety professionals to generate ideas and insights for the future of fandom—from how to keep people safe today, to how to reimagine the fan experience of tomorrow.
Taking Action in the Present
Getting fans off the couch and into the stadium was always a challenge. Now, in this new world of coronavirus, the competition is even stronger. Venues need to entice people back, and that starts with making them feel safe and secure. There are no answers—only updates.
But one thing is for certain: inaction is not an option.
Creating Safety Across the Fan Journey
Safety is the number one priority for venues and fans alike. But importantly, safety measures need to account for the entire fan journey—and that starts well before they’re in their seats.
“What happens when you pull up to the venue?” asks Kritzler. “Can you prepark? Is it touchless? Do I need to interact with an attendant? These are questions that need to be answered.”
There’s no question that a strong temperature screening system is paramount.
“You need technology that enables temperature screening before you even enter the building,” he continues.
“You want to be able to screen for checkpoints or migrate fans elsewhere for secondary screening. You need to ensure that if someone has an elevated temperature, their ticket isn’t scanned.”
Managing Crowds with Advanced Tech
Emerging crowd intelligence tools will play a vital role in helping venues monitor, track, and migrate fans based on any number of parameters.
WaitTime is one such tool. A startup backed by several high-profile investors—including Jeffrey Michael Jordan—the patented artificial intelligence software enables venues to monitor and predict crowd behavior and density in real-time.
The platform does this based on boundaries and parameters set by the venues themselves, whether it’s a cap for in-room occupancy or a threshold on the door.
“We’ve developed four algorithms that track all kinds of movement,” says founder Zack Klima.
“We strategically mount cameras throughout the venue and anonymously track each person and their movements— speed, direction, line conditions, percentage of capacity, and so on.”
The software integrates with any camera, snapping 10 shots per second in a demarcated area. Then, an artificial intelligence algorithm specifically calibrated to recognize a human being locks onto the pixels tracking in a given area.
“Ticket scans don’t tell the whole story,” says Klima. “The old ways— eyeballing it, the guy at the door—they’re rife with human error. In a pandemic, there’s no room for that.”
Gaining Messaging Power Through Digital Signage
Collecting data on fan behavior will be crucial—but the story doesn’t end with data. Venues will need to leverage digital displays to help route fans for safety and efficiency.
“You’re dealing with a large number of people—and you need displays that aren’t just static signs,” says Brett Unzicker, Vice President of Sales for Samsung Electronics America’s B2B Display Division.
“When people come back, not only will they behave differently by choice, but you’ll need to direct them proactively. Operations are constantly changing, and you need to be responsive.”
Kritzler echoes the sentiment, saying that venues will need to understand and leverage data in ways they never have before. “You’ll need to know how fan behaviors are changing once they’re in the stadium—how they interact with parking, seat location, concessions, and restrooms,” he says.
“How do you respond when people begin aggregating in one place? How do you route them? Teams will need to rely on tech more than they ever have—and venues will need a way to provide continual messaging to fans in a way that static can’t.” Part Two—Taking Action in the Present
Recouping Revenue Through New Inventory
Many venues have contracts with major brands that have prepaid for sponsorship deals and advertising campaigns, based on the assumption that there would be fans in the stands. What happens when the stadium is fanless, or at reduced capacity? Teams have to find new outlets and inventory to deliver that value.
Samsung is developing one promising solution. We’re working with teams to lease a “pop-up” style configuration of high-definition LED displays in a variety of previously unavailable venue locations, all to improve sponsors’ ability to reach audiences.
“We’re putting LED displays behind the players’ benches and behind the hoops,” explains Unzicker.
“If you’ve got Coke as a sponsor, you need a new way to get Coke’s brand out there, these displays give you the option to put Coke’s name on a whole new range of TV-ready inventory and displays.”
Reimagining the Future
Of course, venues want to be as economical as possible as they put these new systems and protocols in place. Fortunately, many of the technologies that keep fans safe can also play a part in creating the next-generation fan experience—one that’s driven largely by data, screens, and entirely new levels of connectivity and interactivity.
Bringing Fans Into the Stadium Virtually—and Profitably
Even when fans do return to venues, they likely won’t be in the first 10 or 20 rows of seating. Some venues are considering putting screens there—not only for sponsorship messaging or safety-related communication, but also to create virtual fan experiences with new camera angles that put viewers right in front of the action.
“If you’re not ready to get back to the stadium, you may be able to buy a fan experience that puts you courtside,”
says Kritzler. “You can watch with your family, and see the game from the same angle you would have in the venue. But it’s not a physical ticket— and that means venues can sell that virtual ticket 10, 15, or 20 times over, whereas before, you could only sell it once.”
Obviously, there’s no substitute for physically being in the crowd. But these courtside screens make it possible to blend the at-home experience with the in-stadium experience in an unprecedented, profitable fashion.
“With all this TV visible signage, it’s not about not returning people to the stadiums—though we absolutely want to do that,” says Kritzler.
“It’s about bringing people from their couch to the stadium in a whole new way.”
Making Stronger Mobile Connections
The key to unlocking a good portion of the associated revenue is in what’s referred to as the “second screen experience.” That’s where teams are integrating what’s happening in the game with what’s on your mobile device. Brands still want to reach those fans, and it’s easiest to meet them where they already are.
Let’s face it: the vast majority of viewers are on their phones while they watch a game.
“Much of it is geo-targeting,” explains Kritzler. “If you’re within 50 miles of the Barclay Center and the Nets score 100 points, how do I send a digital message to you for $5 off Chick-fil-A to celebrate that milestone?” It’s all about using digital to engage fans, wherever they are.
As the industry looks to an increasingly integrated range of engagement tools—television, digital, tickets, hospitality, community—the valuation of those assets becomes a big question.
“Brands are seeking a multiple on their spend,” says Kritzler. “If I spend a million, I want three, four, or five million dollars worth of value. We’re creating this new inventory with Samsung—and developing new valuation models to go with it.”
Leveraging Tech for a Touchless Experience
In a post-pandemic world, digital technology will optimize nearly every fan interaction for efficiency and safety. Want to order from the concession stand? Use your phone, and schedule an immediate pickup. Need to go to the bathroom? Check the team-based app to see where lines are shortest. Want to buy a team cap or jersey before you go? Pre-order your size to grab and go.
All of these touchless interactions will increase comfort and decrease risk, both of which are essential to the future fan experience. “When the fan is at a live event, and a sports event specifically, it’s all about our escapism,” says Kritzler.
“That’s the one time I don’t want to think about all that’s going in the world—I just want to sit there and enjoy the game.”