Will Big Data Get Fans Off the Couch and Into the Stadium?
It’s no secret that analytics are everywhere. We can now measure everything, from exabytes of organizational “big data” to smaller, personal information like your heart rate during a run. And when this data is collected, deciphered, and used to create actionable items, the possibilities, both for businesses and individuals, are virtually endless.
One area tailor-made for analytics is the sports industry. In a world where phrases like “America’s pastime” are thrown around and “the will to win” is revered as an intangible you can’t put a number on, stats lovers with PhDs in analytics are becoming more and more essential to sports franchises. Since the sabermetric revolution, sports franchises have begun investing time and money in using sports analytics from wearable technology to help their athletes train and even make more money from their stadiums.
Today, Sports Fans Prefer the Couch Over the Stadium
For decades, television networks have tried to create an at-home experience that’s on par with the stadium experience — and they’ve succeeded emphatically. In a 1998 ESPN poll, 54% of sports fans reported that they would rather be at the game than watch it at home; however, when that same poll was readministered in 2011 found that only 29% preferred being at the game.
While this varies by sport to some degree, the conclusion is clear: people would rather watch a game in the comfort of their own climate-controlled homes, with easy access to the fridge and a clean bathroom, than experience the atmosphere of the stadium in person. Plus, sports fans today want the ability to watch multiple games at once; it’s not unusual for diehard fans to have two televisions set up with different games on, plus another game streaming on a tablet.
However, fans could be persuaded to make their way back to the stadiums; 45% of “premium fans” (who always or often buy season tickets) would pay more money for a better in-person experience. That’s where wearable technology comes into play.
Wearable Data — for Fans Too
At first glance, the sole application of wearable technology and data science should seemingly be to monitor and improve athlete performance. These tasks might include measuring heart rate and yards run, timing reactions and hand speed, gauging shot arch, and more, while also monitoring the body for signs of concussion or fatigue
And that’s largely true. For example, every NBA arena now uses SportVU, a series of indoor GPS technology-enabled cameras, to track the movements of the ball and all players on the court at a rate of 25 times per second. With that data, they can use myriad statistics concerning speed, distance, player separation, and ball possession to decide when to rest players.
Similarly, Adidas’ Micoach is used by the German national soccer team during training to monitor speed, running distances, and heart rates of each player. In fact, this system is credited with the decision to sub in German soccer player Mario Gotze in the 88th minute of the 2014 World Cup final; in the 113th minute, the midfielder scored the World Cup-winning goal.
However, some sports franchises are using that wearable technology to benefit the fan sitting in the stadium. For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Quicken Loans Arena (an older stadium) was retrofitted with SportsVU; however, they don’t use them just for determining when LeBron James needs a break. Instead, the Cavs use the data tracked by SportsVU to populate their Humungotron with unique statistics tracked in real-time during the game. The Cavs then took this data to the next level by using the stats in their social media marketing and to partner with various advertisers.
How Analytics Are Improving the Stadium Experience
Besides sharing interesting statistics on the JumboTron during the game, stadiums are using data from athletes and fans to enhance the spectators’ experience. In fact, stadiums are actually mirroring the in-home experience, through various apps and amenities that reach the spectator right in their seat.
And at times, they’re going above and beyond simply imitating the in-home experience. Take the Sacramento Kings, for example. In 2014, the team partnered with Google to equip many of its courtside personnel (mascots, reporters, and even dancers) with Google Glass. Fans were able to stream close-up, first-person views of the action through their mobile devices, allowing them to feel closer than their upper-level seats would suggest.
Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara (home of the San Francisco 49ers) boasts a fiber optic network that essentially powers every activity in their thoroughly modern stadium. The stadium contains 680 Wi-Fi access ports (one for every 100 seats in the stadium) and around 12,000 ethernet ports, allowing everything from video cameras and phones to connect to a 40 gigabit-per-second network that’s 10,000 times faster than the federal classification for broadband. 1700 wireless beacons use a version of Bluetooth to triangulate a fan’s position within the stadium and give them directions. And for fans who don’t want to leave their seats, a specially developed app can be used for tickets, food delivery to your seat, and watching replays of on-field action.
The Miami Dolphins, meanwhile, have partnered with IBM and use technology from their “Smart Cities” initiative to monitor and react to weather forecasts, parking delays, and even shortages of concessions at specific stands in Sun Life Stadium. The Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium features 2,800 video monitors throughout the stadium as well as more than five million feet of fiber optic cable, used for everything from gathering data to ordering food in-suite.
NFL teams aren’t the only franchises making use of sports analytics. The Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets, uses Vixi to display properly hashtagged tweets on multiple big screens throughout the arena. They also use AmpThink, a series of networking tools that require the user to submit some personal information before logging onto the arena’s Wi-Fi; that way, they’re able to collect data on how and where people are logging in, as well as what services they’re using while in the arena. Fans can already order food and drink from their seats and replay sequences from various camera angles, and in the future, they’ll be able to use an app that gives information about restroom waits and directions to the restrooms with the shortest lines.
To some, the increase of connectivity might seem to take away from the experience of watching a game live; after all, how can you enjoy live action if you’re constantly staring down at your phone? On the contrary: by employing these apps to judge the shortest bathroom lines or order food directly to their seats, fans are able to stay in their seat longer and watch more of the games.
While this technology certainly isn’t cheap (and will be reflected in increased ticket prices), those extra minutes of action may be worth the higher cost to some fans. Ultimately, it’s up to the fans to decide if paying more for tickets is worth the premium experience — and the time saved waiting in line.
Bringing Fans Back, One Byte at a Time
Sports teams aren’t going to lose their fans to television without a fight. And with the majority of sports franchises embracing wearable and mobile data in some form or another, it’s a natural transition for marketing departments to apply that data to the fan experience. With easy access to Wi-Fi, snacks, replays, and shorter restroom lines, sports fans can combine the atmosphere of game day with the comfort of being in their own homes.