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Social Sports and the Rise of the #SmartFan

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h1If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?

Vince Lombardi

Are you ready for some (social) football? As we gear up for the height of holiday sports season and head in to Super Bowl XLVII, the mobile/social fan is charged up and raring to go. From streaming live video directly, to checking player statistics, to posting comments on Facebook and following player hashtags, the rise of the SmartFan is upon us. Because when it comes to sporting events, fan experience is everything. The better the experience, the more likely fans will come back over and over again. These days, fans are streaming into stadiums armed with smart phones and tablets and an avalanche of downloaded apps. They want full immersion in the game, the players, the league … and they want to share it all with their friends in real-time.

But while the fan is well-armed with smart devices and apps, the stadiums are playing catch up in technology. Unfortunately, the Jumbotron implores fans to “Tweet this” and “Facebook that”, but the WiFi in many venues can barely keep up.

And down South, where football is a practically a religion, student attendance at games is on the decline. According to The Wall Street Journal, one reason stands out. As a Georgia senior says about the struggles with WiFi inside the stadium it’s a deadzone and you can’t text, Instagram or tweet.

That could turn off an entire generation from going to the games - fans who could altogether forego live sports. Why not engage with their community of fans in the comfort of their own homes while watching the event on high-definition television. Every sport and every league is quickly becoming keenly aware that they cannot afford to lose out because they are slow to adopt a pervasive technology that is available to fans everywhere else like home, school, restaurants, and at the mall.

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What makes this more confounding is the stark contrast with high-tech coaches who oversee a vast enterprise of the latest technology and devices to help recruit top talent and refine strategy. From iPads and iPhones, Mac Pros for video review, and cloud-computing platforms, sports franchises from high-school to the pros are leveraging sophisticated technology to beat the competition and stay on top.

Some feel it’s time to turn that tech savvy influence towards improving the fan experience and integrating with existing digital media that fans want to consume and share.

Apple’s recent iBeacon announcement might help. iBeacon is software that enhances the location-tracking services in an iPhone, an iPad Mini, or any device running iOS 7. Major League Baseball is planning a 2014 update to the MLB’s At the Ballpark app that will use iBeacon’s feature to guide sports fans as they pass by low-power Bluetooth transmitters in the stadium. Enter the ballpark and you'll get seat directions; visit specific points and you may get coupons or highlight videos.

Equally important to brands and publishers is how many sports fans respond to content created by a nonsports brand. According to Catalyst, an IMG Consulting subsidiary, “About one quarter of NBA fans and soccer fans said they will view and/or respond to content created by a nonsports brand linked to sports. That response rate is higher than the rate posted by any other measured group: college basketball fans at 20 percent; MLB, NFL and college football fans all at 16 percent.”

What’s more, as consumer behavior around sporting events evolves, new revenue opportunities are popping up as well. According to the findings in the 2013 State of the Stadium Technology Survey conducted by and released by Mobile Sports Report (MSR), in conjunction with the Sports & Entertainment Alliance in Technology (SEAT) Consortium, the obvious revenue advantages of wireless for stadiums and sporting venues abound.

The study concludes that "connecting the fans and spectators on their own devices enables sports venues to understand users’ preferences, redirect them to chosen content and tailor other promotional services to provide them with a more personal view of the events. Sponsors and other partners can connect directly with the spectators in ways they never could before."

It’s BYOD (bring your own device) for the SmartFan in the stadium and at home and time for the franchises and the venues to step up and provide the infrastructure to support it. There’s gold in those seats and floating around in the WiFi ethers and who ever cracks the code first wins and wins big.

Beverly Macy is author, educator, and thought leader in social and digital business and a frequent contributor to Say Daily. She is also the author of The Power of Real-Time Social Media Marketing and the host of Social Media Radio.

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