Breaking the Broadcast Barrier:

Building Better Experiences for Connected Sports Fans

By Cole Sletten, Creative Director, Ready Set Rocket

With the explosion of connected devices, streaming services and social-media platforms, today’s sports fans are consuming the games they love in different ways than ever before. This combination of mobility and connectivity has resulted into an experience that bleeds far beyond the edges of the big screen, into an endless mesh of alley-oop Vines, non-stop social chatter and water-cooler analysis worthy of the Oakland A’s front office. As a result, fans are enjoying unprecedented immediacy, access and insight into our favorite sports and leagues around the world.

What makes these three things — immediacy, access and insight — so powerful in developing loyal and compelling relationships with the teams we follow isn’t the additional information they provide, but the way they make us feel. They actually make us feel like better fans.

Product design guru Kathy Sierra calls this phenomenon the “Post-UX UX,” the experience you have after using a product, as opposed to while you use it. It is here where we can see the power in this new fandom: Immediacy means you know the latest news before anybody else (and get to break it to your friends); Access means you can watch nearly any game, anywhere, any time (for me that’s Manchester United vs Liverpool at 930 AM on a Sunday in Brooklyn); and Insight means you know not just what happened, but why (and when to bet on it happening again). In this new connected sports world, you can feel like an insider. And who doesn’t want to be that?

Still, with all this technology at our disposal this should be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It’s time to think beyond the parameters of the traditional broadcast model and imagine how much farther we can go with all of these tools. Here’s a few good places to start:

1. Improving the In-Person Experience

Forward-thinking stadiums have already implemented ways to make the live experience more seamless, such as apps that integrate fans’ ability to book tickets and parking passes with quick ways to order food and beverages from their seats and find the shortest bathroom lines or best parking areas.

We can do better.

For example, by leveraging the behavioral and demographic data connected to a ticket buyer’s social profile, stadiums could begin to seat ticket holders near others who would enjoy a similar stadium experience. Parents could introduce their children to the sport near other families, for instance — while superfans clustered a few sections over could enjoy a boisterous atmosphere without impeding more casual viewers.

Beyond that, open access to live video feeds from around the court could finally let us see every angle from our seat. Why should the die hard behind one basket miss the crucial and-1 from the other end?

Proximity-triggering technology could also play a part in tailoring each fan’s unique experience. Imagine that young first-time visitor learning the game with an on-premises mobile experience that lets them learn fun concepts (like how a double play works) as they become unlocked by live events happening right in front of them.

2. Arming the Analysts

These days everyone’s an analyst, and hypothetical trades and team-building have become almost as fun as watching the games themselves (if not more). Media brands, leagues and teams hold a treasure trove of content and data that traditionally has only been available to professional sports analysts and coaches. It’s time for this to change.

Smart leagues and brands have begun to leverage the massive amounts of data and content they’ve accrued over the years to create fan-analysis tools. The NFL offers its All-22 service, which provides fans, for a fee of course, with video of every player on every play of the game. For soccer fans, Opta has led the charge with data widgets that sports bloggers and other amateur specialists can embed into their content, adding greater insight to their analysis.

There is a huge opportunity to further engage the wannabe GMs out there with smarter and more beautiful interactive, embeddable and shareable tools for analysis. For example:

  • A soccer blogger can offer readers a point-by-point breakdown of what worked and what didn’t from her team’s new tactical formation.
  • A basketball fan, after observing a player hitting two threes in a row from the left corner, could Tweet out the fact that he shoots 15% better from that spot than anywhere else beyond the arc.
  • A fantasy-football fanatic can use data on player position from past games to predict optimum matchups for upcoming weeks.

3. Offering New Perspectives

Giving fans access to better data is one way that technology is making the sports experience more customizable and engaging. Another is to give them new perspectives of the game and players.

Virtual reality technology will make it possible to engage fans with the game on the same level as the actual athletes. By putting cameras on players during training or games, teams could use the footage to create one-of-a-kind VR experiences for fans. A fan looking to see what it’s like to be a Kyrie Irving, for example, could strap on a VR headset and go for the ride.

Not far behind VR will be the integration of more and more drone footage. As drones get safer, smaller and more automated, they promise to take us out of the booth and into the action, giving us glimpses into the game that we have never seen before, like a top-down shot of the line of scrimmage, or what the quarterback sees downfield as a pass play develops. Very soon, fans should be able to see the game from whatever angle best displays the action.

And why stop at just footage? The Players’ Tribune has seen incredible early success by publishing articles written exclusively by current and former professional athletes. For the first time, fans can get insight right from the mind of an athlete, on his or her thought process while they play. Giving players (and coaches and GMs) new platforms to share beyond just traditional media sound bytes and canned reaction interviews is sure to draw us in even farther to our favorite teams.

There has truly never been a better time to be a sports fan. But that doesn’t mean we should stop now. Quite the opposite, in fact. With the technology currently at our fingertips, it’s up to us as the fans and makers of sports experiences to usher in this new golden age of fandom, one that goes beyond better broadcasts into something wholly new and entirely more exciting. Game on.