More Than Hot Dogs and Facepaint — How Tech is Changing the Live Sports Experience

My love of sports and passion for experiential marketing technology naturally lead my curiosity and speculation when a new venue opens. How will this one be better than the last? What types of activities will entertain the masses before and between the action on the field? How will tech be used to augment gameday?

With plenty of new venues scheduled to open over the next 5 years, including one right here in Southern California, we are sure to see some new and interesting ways in which technology plays a role in the fan experience.

A NEW AGE OF STADIUMS

Sports stadiums today are being heralded as meccas of fandom. The needs of the spectator are changing with each generation. The fan experience has become much more than sitting on hard plastic seats, eating junk food and choreographing cheers with forty-thousand temporary best friends. Advancements in broadcast quality have made home viewing a legitimately preferable option. Fantasy sports have broadened fanbases. Social media allows for dialogue with teams and players in real time.

This does not have to spell disaster for the live game experience — technology can be used as much to its benefit as to its detriment. While making experiences, I have been drawn to those in which people not only interact with the technology, but with one another. These create visceral responses and emotional connections with those participating. Sporting events are perfect for this! They are, by their very nature, shared interactions on a massive scale.

Earlier this summer, as a creative exercise, Friendly Vengeance brainstormed and conceptualized activations for the soon to open Little Caesars Arena in Detroit (bias alert: this is the future home of my Detroit Red Wings). The goal was to dream up ways that technology could be used and pushed to create memorable experiences that engage fans attending a game. These were high-level concepts that were not explored too deeply from the logistical standpoint, but more as a means of thinking outside of the proverbial box.

Concept art by Nicholas Schumaker

Aside from being a massively entertaining activity, we also tried to take into account some of the business challenges faced by owners when trying to keep attendance numbers high.

BRIDGING THE GENERATION GAP

Filling seats is obviously much easier when a team is a contender. But what about those experiencing less than stellar seasons? Fan retention is key to the sustained commercial success of any sports franchise. A key to maintaining support through thick and thin is through moments and bonds with an organization that are not easily abandoned (see also: Chicago Cubs).

Activations that call upon an organization’s history provide a very natural connection between generations of fans. It’s easier to reconcile rooting for the Pistons when you have the Bad Boys teams of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Even though the Red Wings have a rich, decorated history of countless awards, we decided to focus one concept more on the team’s folk lore in their unofficial mascot, Al the Octopus.

The idea is equal parts aquarium and interactive timeline. Imagined as a centerpiece for the new arena, the experience would focus a bit of the history of the octopus and its relevance. With the touch screen being an “on-the-glass”. With capacitive touch points set up to trigger dates, users could walk through the history of one of sports’ strangest traditions from Cusimano Brothers to the twirling ban.

Concept art by Nicholas Schumaker

With a strict no flash photography policy, the tank would surely be a social media hit. We even went an extra step in considering the use of color shifting courtesy lights to notify fans to get to their seats when it is close to puck drop. With a surefire appeal to younger attendees, the concept was aimed at a way of adding a specific wow factor to the standard team history lesson.

MAKING A DAY OF IT

If nothing else, going to a sporting event should be about having a good time. Like movies or television, sports allow us to escape momentarily from our everyday lives. Gameday is becoming as much about the contest on the field as the activities off the field. Immersive gaming attractions provide a place to showcase skills and act out the parts of some of our favorite sports icons.

These activations play on competitive spirit and encourage fans to interact with one another in fun exhibitions, often involving their own small audiences. They can act as a microcosm of the larger contest and add a new dynamic to the atmosphere by turning the spectators into the spectacle. Quite often these moments are even more memorable than most of the game, because they actively involve people. The more theatrical an engagement is, the more memorable it can become.

For a second concept, we went with an immersive shootout VR experience. This was taking an activation at the NHL Hall of Fame to the next level through the use of a VR rig and haptic feedback. Users would play the goaltender in one of hockey’s most high stakes moments — the penalty shot. While these folks try their best “on the ice”, fans passing by or waiting for their own turn can watch from the behind the glass and observe the action as it plays out. And if pounding on the glass isn’t enough, red and green lights to signify goals and saves add to the external fan dynamic. By involving the external audience, a typically isolated experience such as VR involves others.

Concept art by Robert Bushfield

Central to both of these is the thought of a shared experience bringing people together. This allows the technology to be the catalyst for a much more human interaction. When an experience affects users on an emotional level, it becomes memorable, sacred. Even if the history lesson does not necessarily create reverence for teams of the past, or a user’s “skills” are less than they hoped when talking themselves up in front of their friends, these moments endear the organization to the attendees and fans are created.

COULD A STADIUM IN INGLEWOOD BE SILICON BEACH’S MOMENT TO SHINE?

With each new stadium, we are given the nickel tour on national television and we get a glimpse of the technology that is being utilized. While working on concepts for my original hometown team, I couldn’t help but speculate about my current home’s newest team and their stadium-to-be. Inglewood’s future home of the Los Angeles Rams may have higher stakes than others in the works. Scheduled to open just 5 years after Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco, the venue provides a major opportunity for Silicon Beach to outshine its big brother by the bay.

Though taking its namesake from its rugged denim past, Levi’s Stadium might as well be named Apple Arena. WIth sleek interiors and stadium-wide WiFi, there is technology figured into every portion of the fan experience. The stadium app is a genius acceptance that the today’s spectator will take out a phone throughout the course of the game and therefore offers services such as concession ordering and bathroom wait times — both optimizing the amount of time spent in the seats.

With the 49ers Hall of Fame, tech ranges from MultiTaction tables to motion-based experiences that let users try their best at TD celebrations and cheer routines. The Rams new stadium is a few years from opening and tech will advance by leaps and bounds by then. Perhaps by then, all of the players will be sporting chipped pads and helmets, allowing for some great augmented reality integration — like watching a live presentation of Sport Science! Is it too soon to fathom beer drones (maybe not during Raiders games)?

Concept image for future stadium in Inglewood

Stan Kroenke and partners has invested heavily in bringing the Rams back to California, but it isn’t official until they move into their own home. Opening night in Inglewood will likely be one of the most built up events for the NFL and for a city known to put on a production. Can it be a stage for Silicon Beach as well?

To check out more on our concepts, click here!