The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Sports and Entertainment: The Next Digital Frontier Gets Colonized

It’s hard to imagine that there’s an industry that’s still under-served by technology providers. Especially the Sports Industry, which seems from the outside to have a heavy reliance on statistics and data. But apparently, the industry is late to the digital party – especially when it comes to fan engagement. Back in May when I recapped SAP’s Sapphire event, I talked about a press conference I attended with executives from the NBA and San Francisco 49ers. They talked about their use of HANA analytics to engage fans both at home and at the stadium.

Clearly SAP is serious about serving the sporting industry. We learned last week at SAP’s Analyst Base Camp that it has become its own industry (SAP’s 25th) grouped with other Services Industries. But in truth, Sports is a lot about the consumer, and retail is also all about the consumer. So I’m going to indulge myself and talk about the industry in general, and how one of my favorite sports teams, The New England Patriots (bet I surprised you with that one… yay Heat!) is using technology to engage its fans, both inside and outside the stadium.

On Friday June 21, I listened to an edition of CXOTalk with Vala Afshar and Michael Krigsman. Their guest was Fred Kirsch, VP Content for the Pats. The owners of the Patriots, the Kraft family, have not only built a great team and a great stadium, but they also were early adopters of technology for fan engagement. Mr. Kirsch credits Jonathan Kraft, son of owner Bob, with having the vision and foresight to bring the digital realm to their fan base. Let’s take a look at a few firsts:

  • The first official Patriots team website was launched in 1995
  • The first mobile apps were delivered to fans in 2009
  • The Patriots were the first team to offer streaming high-def video to fans

That’s all interesting, but where are we today? Football teams like the Patriots play only 8-10 games at home in a year. Filling the stadium is a critical goal. That was stated by both the 49ers rep at Sapphire, and Mr. Kirsch. Of course, both teams have a waiting list of people wanting to be season ticket holders. Success will do that for you. But they are both looking ahead to a time when they may not be so lucky. Their primary competition: The in-home experience. Especially for the Patriots, whose stadium has no dome and can get really cold.

This seems to be the season for “C’s” and the sports industry is no exception. Mr. Kirsch said there are 3 C’s that create a preference for staying home: Cost, Convenience and Comfort. The only way a stadium can compete is with energy and entertainment that you can’t get at home. And you can use digital media to ratchet up the entertainment. Towards that end, the NFL, and the Pats in particular have brought Fantasy Football to the stadium with ribbon bands around the field. They use the Cloud and Big data to drive their Fan affinity programs – insuring they bring relevant data to their fans, and also using a certain degree of personalization.

The team also tracks behavior so that when it wants to introduce a new product or service, it engages with people who use similar types of products and services rather than just blind focus groups. As Mr. Kirsch observed, focus groups often give you the answers they think you want to hear. He used introducing a new flavor of chowder onto the menu as an example. The team was able to find people who already were buying soup at the stadium and get their read on the new flavor.

The Patriots have a Game Day app that they invite fans to use at the stadium. But the team wisely avoided launching the app until they knew for sure their wi-fi network (yes… they have a wi-fi network in their stadium) was robust and fast enough to support close to 69,000 guests.

Mr. Kirsch was very clear on one thing – the goal of the Patriots digital strategies is not to sell tickets, it is fan engagement, now and in the future. In that respect the Pats are similar to retailers. The omni-channel world provides us an opportunity to engage with our customers. Retailers recognize it’s about more than just “selling stuff”. You’ve told us that loud and clear. Like the Patriots we want to drive traffic to our brick and mortar presence – and make it more interesting than just staying home.

So a once under-served segment finds itself courted by vendors, and involved as deeply as Retailers are in delivering the best customer experience it can. This is an area where Big Data makes a whole lot of sense. And it’s bringing practical results to the hands of those who use it. Not just in the “touchdown” of the sale, but in the march up the field to fan engagement. I guess it’s not retail… it’s a service. But I believe the sports leaders have a lot to teach retailers, just like retailers have been teaching sports leaders.

Oh yeah, one last thing… How about that Miami Heat team?



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Articles & Opinions June 25, 2013
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