Putting you at the frontier of the fan experience

By Brian Vellmure

Imagine this Sunday afternoon in the near future.

You and a buddy are on the way to the stadium for a matchup between your team and its biggest rival. In the self-driving car you checked out from the local co-op, the two of you watch several scenarios of the first half in virtual reality. 

As you near the stadium, the car interrupts your VR session and you remove your headsets and discuss what might really happen at the match. Even though your team’s a three-goal underdog, your friend is sure your team will prevail. You hop out at the south side stadium gate as the car drives away to park and charge.

Big data and customer analytics add validation to your sales and marketing efforts by providing the ability to create more holistic models and new predictive techniques.

Today's reality: The Internet of Things

The distinction between sensors and devices is quickly becoming irrelevant as sensors and devices become one. An autonomous vehicle travels roadways and the data stream – providing and consuming data at a blinding rate. Advanced analytics plays a big part from diagnosing performance and safety problems to selecting optimal routes based on real-time traffic and public safety data.

Even though in-home and in-car experiences are amazing, there was just no way to simulate the excitement and anticipation of 60,000 fans descending into a physical stadium amidst the deafening roar of the faithful.

As you near your seats, you’re enticed via your smartphone with a special offer for your favorite sandwich and beer. You accept, but your friend opts to peruse other choices on the latest folding-screen, full-color e-ink smart device and chooses the Mexican platter. Estimated whisper-quiet drone delivery is 11 minutes.

Today's reality: One-to-one marketing

Customer segmentation isn’t new, but the ability to provide information and offers to specific customer among hundreds or thousands is. Big data and customer analytics add validation to your sales and marketing efforts by providing the ability to create more holistic models and new predictive techniques.

You’re excited about the match, but the digital world has a strong attraction, too. As the players are introduced you check the scores and highlights of the morning fantasy league matches and construct your fantasy teams for the afternoon matches. Your buddy had been on a roll the last few weeks, winning 23 of his 58 daily leagues and you’re envious.

The explosion of fantasy sports had nearly every fan forming at least one team a weekend.  The league’s new consumer-facing AI makes it simple to evaluate and predict the performance of virtual fantasy teams, by instantly simulating thousands of scenarios.

Today's reality: Machine learning

Artificial intelligence is machine learning. New techniques such as deep learning have moved AI from programming parlor tricks and miles closer to reproducing complex behaviors.

Also, if this is a typical match, about 55 percent of the stadium attendees are playing fantasy derivatives – predicting the real match’s next yellow card, whether it will end in a penalty shootout and all manner of in-match outcomes.

The explosion of derivative fantasy games had driven sports popularity (and ad revenue) to all-time highs. So high, that even the most optimistic forecasters couldn’t have predicted it.

Today's reality: Real-time marketing

Through technology and analytics, real-time marketing can lead to advertising and offers that are personal, timely, valuable and convenient.

As the real-world match begins, you use your phone to scan more than 70 mobile cameras deployed across the playing field to get a close up view of any player (from almost any angle). In addition, there were boot-mounted cameras that allowed anyone to essentially see and experience what any player on the field could see in real time.

Those who venture into one of several virtual booths during the match can experience a 360-degree, real-time view of any player. Many described the feeling as being teleported onto the field. The experience was so real that some people even reported having physical fatigue after a few minutes, a puzzling manifestation of advanced virtual reality that physiologists, psychologists and neurologists are still trying to understand.

Every time you team scores, you could see the emotions of the crowd shift by watching the emotitron, a device that enables crowd moods to be measured and visualized.

Today's reality: Sentiment analysis

If you know customer’s opinions of you and your products you can craft better offers, spot trends and turn a negative view into a positive one.

As the seconds tick down, your team pulls out a cliffhanger 3-2 victory, your car unplugs and provides a warm, safe (and happy) drive home.

Providing an enhanced fan experience

This scenario highlights the dramatic shifts we will experience over the next several years.  As advanced capabilities become available to anyone from anywhere, the in-stadium experience will be reimagined. Right now, consumer-grade immersion technology is shifting what’s possible for sports fans to experience outside of the stadium – in their own home, in (autonomous) cars, and potentially anywhere that bandwidth will allow them to stream rich media with increasing fidelity.

And, as more organizations realize the revenue potential, this revolutionary concept of customer experience becomes more inviting.

There is an opportunity for collective experiences that appeal not only to broad segments of the population, and also highly personalized communications – and offers – based on behavioral, contextual, emotional indicators that will quickly move from awe-inspiring to everyday.

In stadium, the experience might be transformed in a number of ways including moving from:

  • Concession stands to personalized recommendations and delivery
  • Watching at a distance to being part of the match.
  • Limited insight into players' health to highly specific, real-time bioinformatics.
  • Scoreboard replays to mobile app replays.
  • Standardized scoreboard data to unlimited, real-time visual analytics.
  • Limited camera angles to thousands of camera angles.

And the in-home experience is on a trajectory towards a more immersive and highly personalized digital stream – where commercials, player stats, audio, camera angles, promotions are customized and personalized to align with individual or household viewer preferences.  Second- and third-screen interactions will be further personalized and integrated for, and by, the viewers themselves.

Technology sets the standard

As experiences move towards being more interactive and tailored to an audience of one or a few, expectations of consumers will shift to align with advances within sports and broadly what’s offered across the broader media and entertainment landscape.  Publishers, teams and leagues that fail to re-invent the fan experience will endure brisk headwinds caused by other media inventions that provide unique and engaging experiences. Modern TV and stadium experiences will soon feel as analog as terrestrial radio does today.

The battle for attention will be a battle of experiences, played out across a fragmented array of channels and increasingly integrated blend of physical and digital realms.

The ability to reinvent fan experiences will be reliant upon the Internet of Things, unprecedented amounts of data, and grid computing solutions that are millions of times more powerful than today’s supercomputers.

These realities highlight the urgency for organizations to begin to reimagine the experience of their fans, constrained not by the realities of today, but near-future potential.

Using these new concepts to tap into deeply primal and human drivers that create customer and fan loyalty will be a fertile ground of innovation.  


Brian Vellmure is an accomplished business leader, management consultant, keynote speaker, and an award winning syndicated blogger. For more updates and insights from Brian, please visit his blog and follow him on Twitter: @BrianVellmure