April 4



David Millay

April 4, 2018

With college football having its largest attendance drop in 34 years, there have been theories from industry executives and media personalities attempting to explain the phenomenon. One of the most widely-accepted theories I would like to help with, is the theory that the “at-home viewing experience is just too good.” This is a worry I have seen not only within college athletics, but in professional sports around the world as well. 

“In-stadium” versus “at-home” is a debate that has waged for years. This hypothetical battle is the reason why sports properties install multi-million-dollar video boards and other technology for technology sake, with minimal analytics on the financial return of the investment. The debate from a sports property’s point of view is based around the question, “with all of the advancements in technology that you can get at-home, how are we supposed to compete with that?” The simple answer? You don’t.

If you just want to watch the game itself, you are far better off watching from the comfort of your couch on your 4k TV. Let’s face the facts. You can see every replay from every angle, get advanced analytics and professional commentary right on your screen to give you historical context for what you are seeing, you can hit the pause button when your family member or friend asks you a question and you can fast forward through commercials to catch up.   

Let’s be clear, I’m not saying let’s all throw up our hands and go home. In your personal life, what happens when you are playing a game with someone who you know is going to beat you every time? You probably don’t play that game for very long. Whether it is a board game, a sports competition, or even a friendly social mobile game like Words with Friends, at some point you say, “let’s play a different game.”

That’s what needs to be done here. Re-frame the question and play a game you know youcan win every single time. Play to your strengths. The questions to be asked instead is, “what elements of the live-event experience can NOT be replicated? How can we amplify and emphasize those things?”

Successful sports properties- whether a professional team or league, a bowl game or an entire athletic department- look at both the in-game experience and the at-home experience as complimentary to one another. It is time to stop competing and it is time to OWN the differences.

What you can’t get watching at home is the sense of community and tradition.  What you can’t get at home is the euphoric feeling of high-fiving a total stranger after a massive dunk or incredible touchdown. What you can’t get at home is the goosebumps that come over you when an entire stadium is chanting in unison. What you can’t get at home is the nostalgia that comes from seeing, feeling, breathing in the history that came before, or memories shared with loved ones through the incredible experience we call “live sport.” 

Those are the elements that need to be sold, those are the feelings that need to be marketed. If we look at ourselves in the mirror, that’s why we go to games, isn’t it? So why aren’t those things at the forefront of everything we do? 

To drive revenue at your live events, here are some tips human-centered design tips learned from my time working at The Walt Disney Company and with some of the biggest properties in sports:

If you are not selling out your stadium on a regular basis…

1) Stop asking “how can we compete?” and start asking “how can we create value?”

When thinking about enhancing your fan experience and fan engagement, decisions should be made based on creating true value for the fans, not based on what is going to get the best headline. Let’s compare two high-profile initiatives for the fan experience at the new, incredible Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta- one of the largest video boards in the world versus their “fans first” F&B menu pricing model. Both initiatives were innovative and earned massively positive press. One of those initiatives is a wonder to see upon first impression, the other initiative adds value to the experience every single event you come to. One of those initiatives makes for an impressive bragging right, the other will generate incremental revenue and impact guest satisfaction for years to come. 

2) Are you placing more energy on trying to model and outdo your peers or are you listening, and innovating based on your fans’ needs and wants?

In the sports industry, we are quick to share best practices with each other because the average New York season ticket holder is often not deciding between season tickets with the Knicks or the Orlando Magic. The season ticket holder lives in New York, so that’s where his or her season tickets will be. Because we are often not competing for fans, we are quick to share best practices. But someone must be the first innovator. And the most effective innovator is intentionally listening to their fans and creating experiences and processes to address their pains and gains, their needs, wants, stereotypes and emotions.

3) Look at your public facing communications. What is highlighted more, your product or the experience of using your product? 

I have seen too many dynamic, engaging videos promoting the sale of tickets with barely a fan to be seen in the content. The video or poster highlights the player, the court, the preparation, the coach. Those type of videos get me excited to watch the team play. But I can do that at home. By promoting the fan’s experience enjoying your product, you can more effectively show why your fan should be there in the stadium with you. For a look outside the industry, the most recent iPhone X advertisement is a great example of this. The campaign isn’t focused on the camera’s specs or the technology itself, the campaign is all about the user, and the incredible selfies they can take of themselves if they have an iPhone X.

4) Does everyone in your department have the same definition of what fan engagement actually entails? If not, that’s a good place to start.

Try this activity. The next time you go to lunch with your teammates from different departments, go around the table and ask what “fan engagement” means to each of them. Depending on their department, they will likely each have a very different answer. Because a fan’s engagement with your brand is based on hundreds of touchpoints throughout their lifetime, you must tear down silos and have every team member work together. To do this, define fan engagement at an overall organizational level that applies to everyone, then make sure every person in every department knows how their role contributes to that overarching fan engagement goal.

So how do you beat the “at-home” viewing experience? You play a different game altogether. Ask questions that re-frame the challenge, innovate based on listening to your fans, emphasize what makes your in-game experience impossible to replicate, and get everyone in your department and organization on the same page with what fan engagement truly means.

How are you differentiating your live events from the at-home experience? Please share your comments and encourage the conversation as we all learn from each other. Thank you for reading!

About the Author:

David Millay is the co-founder and Managing Partner of EngageMint. Partnering with sports organizations from strategy to execution, EngageMint brings together a powerful team of subject-matter-experts in all things fan engagement to help optimize revenue and minimize expenses. To follow more tips and best practices or learn how EngageMint can help your organization, please engage with David on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Photo Credit: AdobeStock, Rooted Media House

David Millay

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