Lessons from Leaders – Jamie Pollard

Are you considering fan desires before updating your game day experience? 

2019 NACDA Athletics Director of the Year Jamie Pollard joined the latest Flip the Switch episode and discussed Iowa State’s momentum, culminating in record season ticket sales this year. A significant contributor? Understanding Cyclone fans and tailoring experiences to key customer personas. Here are three key takeaways from the conversation with the NACDA President:

Speak to fans’ love language  

Early into his tenure, Jamie and team recognized the Cyclones’ passionate fan base loved tailgating but weren’t necessarily buying tickets. So the department began investing heavily in the overall Jack Trice Stadium experience. For example, their End Zone Fan Club targets middle-aged, high-earners with early Saturday commitments who want to arrive and immediately step into a tailgating environment. The result of all these improvements? Iowa State has seen a steady increase in season ticket sales over the past decade that started well before the program reached national prominence under Matt Campbell. 

To lead like an entrepreneur, challenge your staff

As a leader, your job must include asking the tough questions before implementing a new strategy. Earlier this year, Iowa State adopted digital parking passes over the standard hang tags for football. Before carrying the same plan over to basketball season, Jamie challenged his team to ask more probing questions: What happens when all cars show up at the same time? Will the scanners work when it’s pitch black and 10 degrees out? Will fans be fumbling for their phones in their winter coats? His team also had to be willing to execute the plan themselves before implementing. The department reconsidered, sticking with hang tags for basketball.  

Hold people accountable. And not just about job performance 

Jamie learned from legendary AD Debbie Yow the importance of holding people accountable. At the end of the day, a ‘job has to get done.’ However, that doesn’t mean an employee should skip important family responsibilities. Jamie prides himself on the “Family First” culture at Iowa State and mentioned calling out an employee who missed his son’s first little league game to complete a work task. At a time when employee burnout is widespread across the U.S., have you evaluated what values your culture truly prioritizes?

Jamie also discussed:

  • How the recent Big 12 additions and evolving media landscape substantially bolster the conference
  • Learning from past failures 
  • Empowering your staff so that you are only a tie-breaker
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Chatting Sports Tech

Edition #14 – Innovating Stadium Access

Can Entry Technology Defeat Lines For Good?

TL:DR version:

  • Though it doesn’t provide direct revenue, investing in access technology has a trickle down impact for your entire sports operation
  • Stadium entry technology has evolved in the past decade to keep pace with mobile ticketing adoption
  • The future of access control? Facial Authentication

Is there anything more demoralizing than missing the first pitch to a baseball game because the line outside the stadium was moving slowly? Ok sure, I could have arrived earlier, but I swear it wasn’t my fault. The stadium’s access control infrastructure was at fault!

Good news. Recent developments should make missing a first pitch while waiting in line a thing of the past AND also delivering a high level of security. 

Too good to be true? I’m optimistic emerging technology will get us there.

Let’s dive in and learn more… 

Before you begin, what exactly do you mean by access solutions?

Please jump ahead if this is too self-explanatory but by access / entry solutions, I’m referring to the infrastructure in place to prevent people from entering a venue without a ticket. 

Obviously, all stadiums and arenas have one or more gates where fans enter. These gate areas need two components: 1) verification aspect where there’s usually some type of turnstyle plus a ticket taker confirming you purchased a valid ticket and 2) security aspect where fans are checked for any weapons (also doubles to prevent evil smugglers from bringing in outside food. You must buy that $10 hot dog).

That should set the stage for the rest of the discussion. 

Why is it important for properties to invest in access control solutions?

Similar to investing in wireless connectivity, entry solutions do not have a direct return. You can’t charge a toll for fans to go through the gates without causing a revolt. 

That said, I can think of four distinct reasons to invest in a better system:

  1. Most obvious? The longer fans are inside your venue, the more money they’ll likely spend on concessions and merchandise. It’s a big reason why marketing departments use promotions to get people inside the gate well ahead of kickoff (e.g., the classic free souvenirs for the first 5,000 fans).
  2. There’s an improved health and safety angle with new technologies. The increased public health emphasis post pandemic led to more contactless solutions to avoid spreading viruses. Additionally, new technologies enhance safety by improving the ability to detect weapons and threatening individuals. 
  3. The overall customer experience is crucial. A positive experience entering the venue sets the tone on game day. Remember – Someone watching from his couch doesn’t need to wait in line. That couch is often your biggest competition. 
  4. Automation requires fewer seasonal employees to scan tickets, removing the need for training and / or enabling redeployment to higher priority areas.

What’s the current state of access control technologies?

For the longest time, fans were forced to print out paper tickets to be scanned by clunky scanners at the gate. However, over the past decade plus, scanner technology has advanced where venues now have the option to continue using more advanced and sleeker mobile scanners, an RFID / NFC reader directly attached to gate hardware (e.g., smart turnstile) or even use a mobile phone application which enables the camera to read and convert data. Access control technologies are evolving to work in conjunction with mobile ticketing options

Above primarily references mass entry into a stadium but to host any sporting event, the sports property and venue manager also needs solutions for VIP suite holders and team personnel only areas. Smart access systems or credential badges often fill the void here. That said, the rest of this article will focus on mass entry since entry challenges for VIPs and team personnel are not unique to sports.

Sports organizations have been placing an increased emphasis on safety as leagues and teams are adopting policies requiring metal detectors a la an airport. Metal detectors outside a venue are mandatory for NFL and MLB stadiums, while universities in the SEC and  Notre Dame adopted similar policies in 2019. Metal detector options are limited as the market is dominated by CEIA and recently public Evolv.

Finally, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of contactless scanning which allowed for the introduction of new hardware options such as touch-free pedestals. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg for what the future has in store.

That sets us up well for the next question. Where is the future going?

Biometrics. Specifically, facial authentication. 

Clear is the most recognizable brand here.  You’ve probably noticed lanes at major airports but the company is rapidly expanding into stadiums and arenas. Their website includes a brief ‘How it Works’ section but essentially you enroll in their system and then can pass through any of their lanes by flashing your eyes at a Clear kiosk. 

Clear’s business model is pretty interesting. If I had to guess, venues and airports collect a small rental fee from Clear to host kiosks (versus paying Clear for usage). Meanwhile, Clear charges consumers a $15 monthly subscription fee for use across all Clear locations. The value proposition for frequent travelers who hate lines is clear – pun intended – but as Clear seeks new customers, it needs to appeal to a wider audience that hates lines but don’t necessarily travel often (like sports fans). I’d be curious to see the attrition rates during the pandemic when travel was slashed as well as growth rates now that the pandemic may have fundamentally altered the need for business travel. Regardless, the company has a tremendous first mover advantage and benefits significantly from economies of scale (more locations -> more benefits to consumers -> more stickiness). 

But Clear isn’t the only player tackling facial authentication. What actually prompted me to write on this topic was seeing Wicket partner with the Columbus Crew for facial access control. Wicket’s software appears to work similarly to facial activation on recent iPhone models. From what I can gather, Wicket charges the organization and / or venue for use of its technology unlike Clear’s consumer model. The added benefit of Wicket is a more holistic approach to customer experience, with facial ticketing and potential for more marketing automation. Most intriguing though is Wicket’s technology allows for mass entry into stadiums (note: this is pure speculation from reading through the website and Columbus Crew announcement but I feel confident predicting if not now, eventually).  

Enabling mass entry is important for facial authentication technology to scale and become a widespread solution. Alcatraz, Stark RFID, and AnyVision all tout biometric access solutions but they are mostly tailored for smaller and targeted use cases. Example? The New Orleans Saints using AnyVision technology to restrict access to facilities for only players, coaches and staff. 

Anything else worth bringing up? 

Access control technology needs to be part of the connected customer journey merging physical and digital in the future. In the Mobile Ticketing edition, I argued for the importance of connecting all customer touchpoints to create a seamless fan experience. It starts with access control. In an ideal world, a fan scans their ticketing at an entry point and immediately gets a personalized notification. “Welcome to the Game. Take a Left to get to your section and seat. We’ve added a new food court on the Third Level since your last visit. Here’s 20% off to skip the line when you order through our new mobile system.”  Fan and team win together.

Last point before ending – We skimmed over facial ticketing as part of Wicket’s value proposition. Forget paper tickets, it’s not unrealistic to think that in a decade, technology will have advanced where we no longer need to scan mobile tickets. I wasn’t even considering biometrics when I provided ten ticketing takes earlier this year

That said, I’d expect the legacy primary ticketing providers (i.e., Ticketmaster) to fight tooth and nail to maintain market share and prevent facial ticketing becoming mainstream without getting their cut. Thus, for the time being, let’s just file this as an area to monitor. But if you are reading this and happen to go to a Columbus Crew match and use Wicket’s technology, I’m genuinely curious to hear about your experience.

Closing thought: Facial authentication and facial ticketing has the potential to revolutionize mass entry. If the only thing standing between you and entering a venue is tilting your head toward a whiteboard, don’t expect lines to be a problem again.

Until next time,

– Charles

I haven’t decided on the next topic for a long form piece so stay tuned. 

Miss some of the old editions on the future in-venue experience? Check out:

If you enjoyed this edition, tell your friends or colleagues about Chatting Sports Tech. Add me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter @ccampisi_EES.

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Edition #13 – In-Stadium Connectivity

Venues Can No Longer Avoid Upgrading Their Networks

TL:DR version:

  • Mobile device connectivity is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity for the fan experience
  • Rollouts of WiFi-6 and 5G offer hope to satisfy future in-stadium network requirements and provide a foundation for innovation around the fan experience
  • Professional teams are focused on modernizing available WiFi and cellular networks coming out of the pandemic while college athletics programs have historically budgeted WiFi upgrades as part of major stadium renovations but are running into difficulties after last year

Confession: I knew almost nothing about in-stadium wireless and connectivity before deciding to write this. But over the past several months speaking with athletic departments, there was a common theme: to improve the gameday experience, schools need to upgrade their connectivity. 

So I embarked on a quest to learn more since future in-stadium innovation is reliant on a robust network.  After doing my homework, I can confidently say I now know more than nothing. Not much more, but more. 

My goal with this piece is for every reader to be able to carry a conversation centered around WiFi . Thrilling water cooler talk / zoom conversation starter I know.  

Also my girlfriend gave me the hard-hitting feedback that these pieces are too long so I’ll be adding the summary up front going forward. Tell me what you think (

And if you like this content and want to be notified when the latest pieces drop, subscribe at the top of the page.

Let’s dive in…

Is connectivity important to the in-game experience?

Really? That’s a clown question, bro, You might as well have asked if Bonita fish are big…

Quick challenge – next time you’re in a waiting area, count how many people are NOT checking their phones to pass the time. If it’s more than a quarter of the room, I’d bet you are lying to me.

85% of Americans own a smartphone. Smartphones bring the world to your fingertips. With the world at your fingertips, you can easily fill any dead time. 

What has a lot of deadtime? Live sporting events. If there’s limited or no connectivity at the venue, people accustomed to killing time on their phones have a bad experience and question why they decided to buy a ticket. 

Placing bets. Checking rival scores. Seeing the Twitter chatter during the game. Real-time highlights. Reading work emails. Monitoring Bitcoin prices. Fans want all of these from their seats.

I get the fan experience side. But what are the considerations for a sports organization? 

Upgrading a stadium’s connectivity is a significant capital expenditure and now, finding the funds can be particularly challenging coming off last year. 

If I was modeling return on investment, I realize the benefits are not easily quantifiable. How do you accurately estimate lost ticket sales due to poor WiFi? How do you quantify how a negative fan experience impacts per head spending (merchandise, concessions, etc.)? Can I confidently project higher concession sales if I implement mobile ordering in my venue? Will mobile ticketing actually help get fans into the venue faster to increase spending? Is it worth upgrading connectivity in a football stadium that hosts less than 10 events a year?

That’s a challenge but let’s look at it from the opposite angle. Connectivity has become table stakes in today’s environment. We already discussed the Gen Z problem in sports and how the generation that grew up with smartphones expects ubiquitous WiFi. If the in-stadium experience continues to lag behind the at-home, you risk losing an entire next generation of fans.

There’s also the revenue component we touched on in the last edition. When you have a captive audience, fans are much more likely to purchase merchandise and concessions. If you don’t have adequate connectivity to push notifications, you’re missing out on new sales.

So I recognize the improved fan experience and the increased revenue potential but I want to understand the actual technology. What do I need to know? 

In simplest terms, WiFi-6 and 5G are the latest iterations of two technologies using radio frequencies to transmit information across networks. WiFi is typically used indoors as a local area network (LAN) whereas cellular networks such as 5G LTE are types of wide area networks (WAN) generally deployed over longer distances. They are considered complementary technologies – think your phone defaults to LTE when WiFi isn’t available. 

If you want to go deeper, here are some helpful articles to understand key terminology and latest trends:

Interesting but why is connectivity such an issue for sports venues? 

You haven’t experienced frustration until you’ve tried to rendezvous with friends at a tailgate outside Notre Dame stadium after a game. “Did you say Pole 8 or 18? Hello? Hellooooo.”

Since the proliferation of the mobile phone, connectivity at stadiums and arenas has been a significant problem. Part of it is that WiFi wasn’t created with the size of venues and the sheer volume of people trying to use the network during a packed sporting event in mind.  Plus, older cement and concrete buildings significantly diminish connectivity. Add on top of that the combination of large video displays, ribbon displays, pitch perimeter displays, LCD networks, concourse displays, exterior displays, wayfinding displays, and both wired and wireless broadcasting equipment that release a large volume of electromagnetic interference impeding network performance.

How people are using their phones has also led to a significant increase in data consumption (watching videos is much more data intensive than sending a text). I assume there’s a better study illustrating the increase but to give some context, 6.2 TB of data was used at the 2015 Super Bowl at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona versus 26.4 TB of data used at the 2020 Super Bowl At Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. That’s nearly a 4.5X increase in only 5 years!

The previous generation of LTE and WiFi technology was ill-equipped to handle a significant volume of data and messaging transmission across the network resulting in all sorts of latency issues and poor signal. 

Properly outfitting a stadium with WiFi requires a thorough understanding of the population and internet usage density which then informs the number of access points needed for a distributed antenna system to provide coverage. For reference, Stanford required 600 access points to upgrade its stadium, while Nebraska’s stadium required 900 points (at a cost of $5M).

What’s the current state in professional sports and college athletics?

Safe to assume every sports organization recognizes the importance of connectivity to the fan experience. 

We saw a big push from professional teams using the pandemic as an opportunity to upgrade both available WiFi and Cellular networks. Some updates from the first half of the year:

Pivoting to college athletics. We mentioned Stanford, considered the first school to add WiFi in stadium, and Nebraska above but here are some notes on other schools: 

There are plenty more but I think you get the gist. Most major stadium renovations have included an allocation to modernize connectivity. 

The problem? Most of these upgrades were completed or announced before the pandemic and may not reflect the latest networks (e.g., WiFi-6). That’s significant because these schools may require future upgrades as fans consistently test network bandwidth. This is especially challenging now as many schools push stadium renovations into the future post-pandemic.

Any final thoughts?

Sadly this piece didn’t provide as actionable advice like past Chatting Sports Tech editions but hopefully, you’re a little bit smarter after reading through. 

Here are my thoughts on what your organization should have on the radar for next steps:

  • If you DON’T have a plan to upgrade your in-stadium WiFi and have identified it as a pain point for fans, go through a strategic planning exercise and estimate the opportunity cost for not updating, both in the immediate and long-term future. If the cost is high and the long-term risk is an empty stadium, ask yourself these questions: What specific actions can we take to improve the fan experience with better connectivity? Do we need to budget upgrades as part of our overall fundraising plan? Can we leverage any upgrades the university is contemplating? What are the paths for monetization once upgrades are complete?
  • If you DO have a plan to upgrade WiFi systems or have already upgraded your WiFi, shift the conversation internally to 1) how to convey the benefits to get people off the couch and back in the stadium and 2) consider avenues for monetization by leveraging technologies that may require connectivity (mobile ticketing, mobile ordering, in-game notifications, etc.).  You’d be surprised by the possibilities. 

Until next time,

– Charles

The next and last topic in the future venue technology series will be on entry solutions. 

If you enjoyed this edition, tell your friends or colleagues about Chatting Sports Tech. Add me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter @ccampisi_EES.

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Tip of the Day

Is TikTok Resumes the Future of Hiring?

Last week, social media platform TikTok announced a short-term pilot program, called TikTok Resumes, where users create a video resume, post it, and then send that video to recruiters through the app. More than 30 companies including Chipotle, Target, and Shopify signed up to accept resumes for the pilot, which will last until July 31. 

Here are two reasons why we love this program as the future of recruiting:

  1. A New Future for Recruiting?- Whether this TikTok pilot program turns into a full-time service offering or some other platform emerges to fill the gap, clearly the standard recruiting process is somewhat broken, especially for entry level and creative jobs. Does a cover letter truly express a candidate’s abilities or only give evidence a person can copy a template from google and tweak it appropriately? You can’t fake a three minute video but you can let your personality shine through and show why you are deeply passionate about a company and its mission. 
  2. Meet Your Candidate Pool Where They Are – If people are already spending their time creating content for the TikTok, why not eliminate frictions and allow them to easily apply for a job with your company through the social network? There’s a good chance that as an employer you can reach a wider audience than simply posting on a job board. In my opinion, this makes so much sense for roles like the Detroit Pistons’ video producer where a candidate’s video can quickly highlight the relevant skill set. 

Time will tell whether video resumes begin widely replacing paper resumes and cover letters for recruiters but I’m bullish that this TikTok pilot represents the start to a changing of the guard. Worst case scenario, I have to imagine evaluating candidates will be way more entertaining.

From conversations with multiple organizations, hiring has been challenging coming out of the pandemic, specifically for gameday staff with the season around the corner. Could this pilot program inspire you to change your HR process and attract younger, more digitally native employers? 

If you enjoyed the above tip of the day, subscribe to EngageMint’s Tic-TaCX newsletter for similar weekly insights.

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Edition #12 – Mobile Ticketing & In-Venue Experience

Schools are going fully mobile but should more be done?

Back in Edition #5, I wrote the following: 

“The pandemic accelerated mobile ticketing’s inevitability…it’s only a matter of time before mobile ticketing is the norm for every fan (Yes, I believe the need for some paperless ticket is overblown if mobile ticketing becomes the exclusive option).”

Clearly, I inspired a reader at the NFL. Per the Athletic, the NFL is the first major league to make mobile ticketing mandatory.

Is this a big deal for the game day experience? Yes, in my opinion. But while a positive first step, I don’t think the recent mobile ticketing roll-outs go far enough. 

What do I mean? Let’s dive in…

If you want Chatting Sports Tech delivered to your inbox, enter your email and subscribe at the top of the page. 

First off, why haven’t you written anything over the last several weeks?

“I’m sorry..but a lot of good will come from this.”

Throwback reference. Let’s segue to mobile ticketing. What’s going on in college athletics? 

When I think about the in-venue experience, ticketing and gate entry kick off the entire process. Long lines and an inefficient check-in can put a damper on a fans mood before a game begins. 

Following the NFL’s lead, multiple college athletics departments also decided to go entirely mobile ticketing for the upcoming year. My alma mater Notre Dame, my mother’s alma mater UConn, and two ND rivals Michigan and Boston College all announced intentions to go mobile last month.  

What do all four schools have in common? All four have Paciolan as their primary ticketing provider.

Why does that matter? From what I’ve gathered, after lagging other primary ticket providers with its mobile technology (e.g., Ticketmaster), Paciolan used the pandemic to emphasize its mobile capabilities and allow fans of these schools to more seamlessly download tickets to a digital wallet. 

With Paciolan handling ticketing for ~80 percent of college athletics programs, expect a lot more universities to announce mobile only ticketing as we approach the upcoming season.

Isn’t this great news? You advocate for technology and all these schools are taking strides?

Yes but I want more intentionality and strategy. I’ll get to what I mean below but first let’s dive deeper into the four school announcements:

  • Notre Dame – All tickets including premium will be mobile only. No mention of the school’s mobile app integration. Fans download to Apple Wallet or Google Play. 
  • UConn –  Similar to ND, no more print at home option. No mention of mobile app integration / have to download to Apple Wallet or Google Play.
  • Michigan – Returning football season ticket holders will have the option to download paper tickets. The new Michigan app will be the easiest way to access mobile tickets.
  • Boston College – Similar to ND, no more print at home option. No mention of mobile app integration / have to download to Apple Wallet or Google Play.

For fans, this is a positive development. The technology has existed for other industries – Airlines allow you to download your boarding pass directly to your mobile wallet. With Millennials and Gen Z no longer buying printers, paper tickets should be a thing of the past. Mobile ticketing stands to speed up the entire entry process.

But notice how I specifically called out three of the four schools for not mentioning their mobile app in the announcement. I wholeheartedly believe college athletics mobile apps are the most underutilized departmental asset and nothing else is close. As time spent on phones passes time spent on computers, why aren’t universities embracing the trend?

That’s an interesting insight. Can you elaborate?

Let me caveat that there’s plenty of time for these schools to change the process before the season starts (though I’m skeptical). That said, here’s how I envision the current ticketing buying process from those announcements:

Customer signs into existing account with school and purchases tickets -> Email confirming purchase with link to access tickets through Paciolan -> Download to mobile wallet before game day -> Scan at gate day of game

The problem in my mind? At no point during the buying journey laid out above is that person introduced to your digital ecosystem (i.e., your mobile app). No chance to stumble upon a sponsor ad placement. No chance for re-targeting with notifications like food and beverage discounts, coaches show reminders, etc. 

I’ve spoken to multiple people who consider themselves die hard college fans but admit to either never downloading their school’s app or downloading it for game day for a single activation (like a Cue Audio lightshow) then immediately deleting. At the same, a bunch of my ND classmates spend an hour everyday on message boards following football and basketball recruiting so clearly there’s a huge appetite for regular content. Given schools are starving for new revenue streams, controllable digital assets and inventory should be a focus for monetization.

Sounds like you could go on a long rant there. What other problems do you see?

The other big issue in my opinion is the fragmentation of the digital game day experience. Ideally, a mobile gameday app solves this by being the hub for customer touchpoints, starting with integration of the mobile ticketing. 

During a game, a fan journey may involve all of the following – parking or public transportation, ticketing, checking stats and scores, concessions and mobile ordering, merchandising, incident reporting and customer service. If I care about fan experience, shouldn’t there be a single location where a fan accesses all of those services? 

What do I actually see when I skim through college athletics mobile apps? Until the Paciolan SDK allowed integration into mobile apps, ticketing might have been available through a web pass-through but couldn’t be relied upon in bad service. Few schools have added mobile ordering or parking capabilities. A couple schools have plugged Satisfi Labs in for customer service but these schools are the outliers. Incident management reporting isn’t really a feature I’ve seen. Links to a merchandise store (i.e., Fanatics) are generally available but the in-app shopping experience is painful. 

I often use the Sacramento Kings as a model sports organization embracing technology for the customer experience (with tech billionaire Vivek Randive as owner, this makes sense). The ideal state listed above? That’s their reality. 

The Kings do something else smart, using technology to drive real-time operational insights. They use Lava to integrate all customer-facing points from the Golden One Center on game days, allowing them to act on those insights with in-game promotions and other targeted discounts. Anyone in your stadium is a captive audience during the game. That’s the best time to get fans to spend. 10% discount for arriving early. Free popcorn for paying with a team branded card. Notify sales reps when a season ticket prospect is in the venue. Possibilities are endless if utilized correctly. 

What’s preventing college athletics from going full Sacramento Kings?

I see four barriers: 

  1. Added complexity of college athletics – In a normal year, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings have 41 home games at the Golden One Center to maximize profit. On the other hand, a college athletics department may have 41 home games in a given month for all sports at multiple venues.  Factor in the wide disparity between big budget sport resources (e.g., Men’s Football) versus small budget (e.g., Men’s track and field and add unique aspects from college (the academic component, student tickets), there’s way more added complexity to maintaining a mobile app that represents the department. For that reason, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish app will never resemble the Sacramento Kings app. This is the nature of the beast comparing pro sports to college athletics. 
  2. Connectivity on campus – Prior editions have mentioned how venue technology upgrades require better on-site connectivity especially if everyone needs their phones to transact. But it’s not always an easy solution for older venues. Other than Madison Square Garden, the oldest NBA arena is younger than I am, while many college football stadiums were born before your grandparents. Schools I’ve spoken with recognize connectivity as an issue but are struggling to find the funds for the necessary upgrades given last school year’s financial turmoil. Let’s label this as mostly out of an athletic department’s immediate control.
  3. Having the wrong mindset – This is where departments have control but fall short in my opinion. Having worked with multiple schools considering new mobile apps, I’ve often come away disappointed with their perception. Most schools see mobile as an extension of their website and a drain on the marketing department’s budget. If schools adopted the mindset that mobile apps could be a profit center and utilized it as a tool to regularly connect with their fanbase (exclusive merchandise drops, more gamification, facilitating community) and improve the gameday experience (in-game trivia, mobile ordering), a five figure investment could turn into high six figures profit driver.
  4. Lack of resources devoted to success – This goes hand and hand in with number three above. Many schools assign interns to manage their apps, clearly deprioritizing the platform. Fans won’t download and spend time on the app if the mobile content doesn’t differ from the school’s website. The department is then disappointed by download numbers and time spent on app metrics creating a downward spiral. The value for sponsorship declines and nobody is happy. Give fans a reason to download your app. Give them personalized content.  

Before moving on, I’d argue the point of added complexity of professional versus college sports creates opportunities. There’s more potential to distribute differentiated content to a rabid, niche fanbase with smaller sports. Stories on the Sacramento Kings are being covered across every sports media outlet. Same for Notre Dame football. But Notre Dame men’s track and field is not, so why not better utilize your mobile app to include track and field content? 

Wrap it up and take us home with a quick summary

Making the decision to go 100% mobile ticketing is a good first step for athletic departments in their journey of technological adoption. But the recent announcements on how mobile ticketing will work illustrates these departments haven’t fully considered how to utilize digital assets for revenue generation.

Certain professional sport teams provide a roadmap to create a better customer experience by integrating all aspects of gameday. Real time data and greater visibility into individualized customer journeys lead to more revenue opportunities.

The first step requires changing the mindset that mobile apps are simply a cost center and recognizing digital assets can be powerful monetization tools.

Until next time,

– Charles

The next topic in the future venue technology series will be diving deeper into venue connectivity

If you enjoyed this edition, tell your friends or colleagues about Chatting Sports Tech. Add me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter @ccampisi_EES.

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Tip of the Day


At EngageMint, we’re huge proponents of surveying your customers to discover insights and drive innovation. If it was up to us, every athletic department would have a customer insights program that calls upon its most passionate fans to share their voices and opinions like Penn State.

That’s why we love what FIFA, the international governing body for soccer (football to the rest of the world), is doing with its Fan Experience Panel. A group of 25 football fans from across the globe were handpicked to be continuously consulted on various ways to enhance the experience on and off the field. Panel members represent 6 continents and 17 countries, coming from a variety of backgrounds to bring diverse experiences, views and ideas.

Here’s three takeaways when considering using customer feedback to source ideas from outside your department :

  1. Create a collaborative dialogue – FIFA’s program isn’t simply collecting a bunch of user feedback a la Amazon Reviews. Rather, fans participate in a series of workshops and provide direct input over time. Giving fans the opportunity to watch how their feedback is being applied creates more skin in the game which will ultimately lead to more collaboration and an on-going dialogue. 
  2. Make diversity a priority – Academic research shows that organizations with higher diversity of thoughts and opinions are more likely to succeed over homogenous organizations. FIFA easily could have roped together 25 fans from a few countries in Europe and called it a representative population but the decision to select fans from 6 continents and 17 countries shows FIFA values a wide-range of opinions and backgrounds. That’s the best way to ensure no stone gets left unturned. 
  3. Unearth the passion – The 25 fans selected had already been a part of the FIFA Fan Movement, a community with open lines of communication to the FIFA board. These fans live and breathe soccer and were willing to complete an application to become involved. College athletics fans have the same elevated passion and thus, your organization can easily tap into this network of hungry individuals looking to improve their experience.

If you enjoyed the above blog post, subscribe to EngageMint’s Tic-TaCX newsletter for similar weekly insights around innovation and customer experience.

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Edition #11 – Smart Checkout Technology

To purchase at the venue of the future, just walk out

So I underestimated the aftereffects of vaccine shot number two. 36 hours of sluggishness caused me to skip my writing routine to catch up on client projects. Alas, after a week hiatus, I’m back to continue the future of venue technology series.

This week’s topic, smart checkout technologies, is a natural segue from mobile ordering. Even with the best mobile ordering technology at their disposal, a segment of your fanbase will always prefer getting up from their seats and heading to a concession stand. 

Enter smart checkout technology.

One housekeeping item – If you want Chatting Sports Tech delivered to your inbox, enter your email to subscribe at the top of the page. 

Let’s dive in…

Dumb question but what do you mean by smart checkout systems?

Great place to start. Smart checkout or autonomous systems eliminate the traditional retail checkout experience. In simple flowchart terms:

Traditional Checkout: Walk in store -> Gather items in cart or on tray -> Wait in checkout line -> Scan Your Items -> Pay with Card or Cash -> Receipt

Smart Checkout: Walk in -> Grab Items -> Walk out

Which one sounds like the better customer experience? 

According to a recent study, the volume of transactions that will be processed through smart checkout systems is expected to grow from $2 billion in 2020 to $387 billion in 2025. Stadiums and arenas will make up a large chunk of that volume.

How does the technology work?

I am not an engineer and can’t speak to the technical minutia. But how it was explained to me:

Smart checkout systems intertwine smart entry solutions, computer vision and smart sensors. No cash registers. No cashiers. 

Customers scan an app or credit card upon entering the store. Think no different than a subway turnstile in New York. No access if you don’t scan your payment information.

Using computer vision, cameras identify items that are picked off shelves and assign them to your cart. Note – Computer vision is a form of artificial intelligence where computers are trained to identify images. Meanwhile, smart sensors provide for real-time inventory management.

Customers then simply walk-out. Since the venue has your payment information upon entrance, a receipt is automatically sent afterwards.

Gotcha. I understand the ‘what’ now but it all seems so complex. Can you explain why to adopt in layman’s terms?

Many of the benefits overlap with the reasons for adopting mobile ordering technology:

  • A better customer experience – No lines. No cash or cards. You get it. Moving on.
  • More revenue – Goes hand-in-hand with no lines, the faster people get in and out, the more volume is passing through your storefront, the more dollars flowing to your bottom line.
  • Robust data collection – Understanding buying history allows you to personalize offers while operation you benefit from being able to better manage inventory.

Two additional benefits that don’t overlap with mobile ordering:

  • Labor efficiency – As I mentioned above, smart checkout systems remove the human element to operate cash registers. On top of eliminating salary costs, you remove human error (e.g., mis-keying an item) and training requirements. Note – I’d recommend still having a security guard or greeter to oversee entry. 
  • Real estate efficiency – Retail stores commonly use a sales per square foot metric to analyze financial returns and efficiency. When utilized effectively, smart checkout drastically improves your sales per square foot in certain areas of the venue.

That sounds appealing. If I’m managing a venue should I go full smart checkout?

To steal some words from the immortal Lee Corso, Not so fast my friend. 

Before committing to any smart checkout technologies, here are some considerations:

  • The hot food dilemma – Smart checkout technology works great for packaged items (e.g., soda bottles, candy bars, etc.) since it’s easy to train a computer to recognize the same image. But hot food and platters are more complex since there isn’t always uniformity of product (i.e., a wrapped hamburger looks like a wrapped chicken sandwich to a machine). Plus, building a smart checkout store with an attached kitchen opens up additional questions.
  • Processing power – Due to the reliance on cloud hosting for the smart technology, the current iterations of the technology needs strong connectivity. Given the age of many stadiums, connectivity and network infrastructure weren’t concerns when being built.
  • Build-out costs – Retrofitting existing stadium space comes with a cost. Plus determining the return on investment must consider the upfront capital costs of equipment (purchasing the entry turnstiles, sensors, etc.) and one-time implementation fees.

If I was managing a venue, I’d think of my concession footprint as a portfolio. Smart checkout solutions shouldn’t replace my hot food stations but can complement my other stores for small areas (700 square feet or less). For example, a small station with primarily cold drinks and canned beer caters to the beverage consuming crowd who have no interest in waiting in a line on a hot day (assuming the entry solution solves for age verification).

Who has already adopted smart checkout systems?

A couple of forward-thinking venues have implemented smart checkouts over the past several months.

Anything else to have on the radar?

Two additional points worth raising. 

First, up until this point, we’ve been referring to smart checkout technologies as full stores for customers to walk in and walk out. But there’s also the potential to use computer vision technology and other creative solutions to speed up the checkout line process or automate certain aspects. I lump the following companies in with my definition of “smart checkout:”

  • Mashgin has built a touchless checkout system that uses computer vision to identify items and tally up a customer’s bill. You achieve many of the same goals of a smart checkout store without needing the upfront capital investment (machines are rented per month). Labor costs are still eliminated as cashiers are not required.
  • Then there’s TendedBar, which delivers venues a modular smart bar to speed up lines for beer, wine and cocktails. 
  • Last edition mentioned SwipeStation which utilizes kiosks and a mobile application to eliminate lines and improve ease of service.

Second, I’m getting ahead of myself since there’s a long way to go in smart checkout adoption but don’t be surprised if in a decade people are commonly paying using eye, no different than opening up your iPhone. Blink has built eye tracking technology, more from an analytics perspective but I’d bet the future use case involves more payment technology.

That was a lot of helpful information. Can you summarize quickly?

  • Smart checkout systems utilize computer vision and smart sensors to improve the customer experience by removing frictions associated with the traditional checkout process.
  • While I wouldn’t advise overhauling your entire concessions footprint, smart checkout stores can improve utilization of certain real estate and be accretive to overall sales.
  • Zippin has deployed some stores for the Sacramento Kings and Denver Broncos while Amazon MKRTs have been installed at the TD Garden in Boston.
  • You don’t necessarily need an entire walk-in, walk-out store as there are several other options for disruptive technologies to improve the checkout experience for customers and increase throughput.

Until next time,

– Charles

The next topic in the future venue technology will be digital ticketing & mobile wallets given all the recent announcements from teams, venues and universities.

If you enjoyed this edition, tell your friends or colleagues about Chatting Sports Tech. Add me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter @ccampisi_EES.

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Edition #10 – Mobile Ordering

Analyzing Mobile Ordering: Why Your Organization Should Adopt, What Not To Do & The Players In The Space

So I haven’t attended an in-person game since the pandemic began. But man am I itching to post up in the Yankee Stadium bleachers on a hot summer day. Vaccine shot number two on Monday and then straight to the ballpark (two weeks later).

Speaking of returning to venues, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two months talking to companies building future in-venue technology. The next several editions will discuss emerging technologies changing the stadium experience. This edition will kick off the series by focusing on mobile ordering & in-seat delivery. 

One housekeeping item – If you want Chatting Sports Tech delivered to your inbox, subscribe at the top of this page. 

Let’s dive in…

All the rage coming out of COVID is stadiums upgrading to fully contactless payment. Is this the same as mobile ordering?

Not exactly. Contactless payment generally refers to the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) or near field communication (NFC) to make secure payments. Think paying with your smartphone by holding it near a point of sale terminal. Essentially you remove cash entirely and eliminate the need to physically hand over a plastic card.

By mobile ordering, I’m referring to the ability to place an order through a smartphone and eliminate waiting in concession lines or flagging down a hawker in an aisle. 

Going contactless doesn’t address certain pain points of concession ordering. Contactless might speed up lines but doesn’t eliminate them. Fans are still distracted from watching a game. There’s no benefit to the workforce who still need to manually key in an order and then quickly round up the items. 

Early in the pandemic, everyone clamored to go cashless since the coronavirus was assumed to live on surfaces and be transmitted through touch. Though proved untrue by science – don’t stop washing your hands however – the pandemic provided the spark for more venues to go fully contactless even though the technology had existed for a while. But don’t automatically assume headlines that a venue has gone contactless means it implemented a robust mobile ordering strategy. 

Gotcha. So walk me through the value of mobile ordering.

Let’s look at the benefits of mobile ordering from three angles: 1) Improved customer satisfaction, 2) Technology can drive more dollars and 3) Removing frictions aligned with cash.

  1. Improved customer satisfaction – When I meet a person who enjoys waiting in lines, it will be the first in my 32 years on this planet. People HATE lines, especially mid-game where time spent waiting could result in missing a game’s most exciting play. With mobile ordering, fans who value watching the game over getting food have an avenue to order efficiently. 
  2. Technology can drive more dollars – Besides increasing your customer base, mobile ordering technology can drive additional revenue through higher per caps. If used effectively, promotions and push notifications can increase cart size. Push inventory that’s not selling. Sell hot dogs 50% off within 5 minutes of a big play. Add popcorn to an existing item for $2. As long as you cover marginal cost, additional sales are accretive to your bottom line. 
  3. Removing frictions aligned with cash – We touched on this above. Cash is messy. You don’t collect any buyer payment history. It’s slow to process. It’s vulnerable to theft. Removing cash speeds up the check-out process, resulting in an increased volume of sales.

Those benefits seem obvious. Should I rush my venue to implement mobile ordering?

Lesson for any technology implementation – When you fail to consider the human element and training required, responses can be disastrous. Per Front Office Sports, MLB fans loudly complained about concession lines during opening weekend, forcing the teams to revert back to traditional walk up ordering from planned 100% digital ordering. Clearly, the pandemic accelerated the move to cashless but teams were ill prepared to deal with the high volume. 

Quick clarification before proceeding: We generally only hear when things go wrong. It’s why the media covers plane crashes so intensely but never mentions the tens of thousands of planes landing safely everyday.  Before you assume every mobile ordering implementation has hiccups, understand many venues successfully launched mobile ordering without a blip that you’ll never hear about. 

That said, it’s also very possible those MLB teams lost fans for life during those games. The in-venue experience is in constant battle with at-home viewing. Adding miserable concession lines can be enough to tip the scales for some people.

You mentioned the human element and training required. Can you elaborate on those and other operating challenges for implementation?

Identifying useful technology is only the first step to making life easier. The implementation piece is often the bigger determining factor whether technology can achieve its intended purpose (hence, why we are building a service to help sports properties navigate the entire sourcing through implementation process). 

Here are the operating challenges in my mind:

  • Awareness – People won’t order through mobile if they don’t realize it’s an option. How will you introduce fans to mobile ordering technology? Will there be in-stadium signage? Will there be a stadium announcement? Will fans be made aware prior to arriving? Success relies on a coordinated effort between venue operations and marketing. 
  • Access – In other words, how will customers be able to place orders? Mobile app or a QR web pass-through? I have a couple thoughts down below but what method you determine relies on connectivity in the stadium. More thoughts on this in a future edition. 
  • Integration – A customer facing ordering platform will often need several integrations to be successful. That includes: 1) Point-of-sale system – To accept payments, 2) Inventory Management – Back end reconciliation of supplies, 3) CRM – To collect customer information, 4) Mobile Wallet – To allow people to link branded cards and gift cards (optional), 5) In-Seat Delivery (if a separate vendor) – See below
  • Fulfillment – Fulfilling mobile orders is a different operational process. Will fans pick up from an existing concession stand or a designated pick-up area? If you use a designated pick-up area, how does that impact the customer flow in the venue? Regardless which you choose, you will need to retrain your workforce to ensure mobile orders get the same attention as walk-up customers. If I had to guess, this was a major factor in the opening weekend MLB fail. 
  • Workforce Size – Similarly, understanding the demand when implementing mobile ordering will determine whether additional staff are required. Normally, you’d consider piloting in a small area of a stadium but the pandemic forced many venues to adopt without a trial period. If mobile ordering increases volume of orders by 25%, will you have enough employees to adequately handle?

How does in-seat delivery factor in?

How I think about it – in-seat delivery is absolutely crucial coming out of the pandemic and for the next generation of fans. 

Why? Behavior is sticky, breaking habits is difficult and Americans are generally lazy. With everyone stuck inside, the pandemic accelerated the reliance on delivery services to the point customers now expect to have that option. 

With in-seat delivery, you face some of the same operational challenges as mobile ordering, namely adequate staffing and retraining your workforce. But if you can figure out a strategy that redeploys hawkers for deliveries, your operational flow can be made more efficient by transition from push supply to pull demand. 

What else should I consider as part of my mobile ordering strategy?

Your mobile ordering strategy shouldn’t be an isolated decision by venue operations. Rather consider other organizational objectives and how mobile ordering can influence fan behavior.

What’s an example? Let’s say a goal is to collect more fan information and supplement your CRM system. An asset at your disposal is your team mobile app. Thus, you can force fans to download your mobile app to access in-venue mobile ordering and then push additional notifications to that fan outside that specific game. Venue operations vendor selection would therefore benefit the marketing and sponsorship teams. 

What’s another example? An effective mobile order strategy can redirect flow positively. If you put a food pick up zone in front of a merchandise store, a fan may notice a cool new jersey they ultimately buy. Before mobile ordering, they would have headed straight to a concession stand, waited in line, maybe gotten frustrated and then headed straight back to their seat with a singular focus. With mobile ordering, free advertising of merchandising through strategic positioning. 

Who are the companies playing in the stadium space? 

There are a bunch of companies that have emerged. This list doesn’t even include mobile ordering solutions for non-sports use cases like restaurants. 

Since many of the companies aren’t solely focused on mobile ordering, I’m going through the list based on value proposition:

  • Don’t have sufficient WiFi in-stadium? UK company SwipeStation has built a mobile ordering system using kiosks that doesn’t require connectivity. Additionally, their system simplifies the order preparation process to reduce the training burden on concession staff. 
  • Looking for a low cost provider? Partake, which also has multiple other mobile fan engagement features, has partnered with multiple minor league baseball clubs at the lowest price point I’ve seen.
  • Want a company with a flexible contract model? FanFood offers fee sharing agreements or hybrid pricing (i.e., fixed per stand) allowing a client to choose the structure best fitting their situation. 
  • Think your fans are sick of another mobile app? TEXT4Service from TEZ Technologies enables ordering through a QR code without needing to overhaul your venue point-of-sale system. 
  • Looking for a company that is 100% focused on mobile ordering? Tapin2 provides a complete product set enabling mobile ordering including order taker hardware, kiosks, hawker technology, suite focused products and fulfillment solutions. 
  • Is in-seat delivery a priority? Several companies have grown since starting as in-seat delivery specialists, including SeatServe, Stadium Drop and sEATz
  • Do you have an existing POS system? That company may have built their own ordering solution. For example, point of sale company Appetize has built out its own mobile and online ordering software. 
  • Approaching mobile ordering from an ecommerce focus? Venuetize takes a mobile first approach to in-venue ecommerce, offering mobile wallet and a native loyalty & rewards program in conjunction with mobile ordering capabilities. 
  • Looking for a comprehensive venue solution? VenueNext combines mobile ordering with mobile wallet and point of sale as a complete offering.

That hopefully provides some quick context but if you’re looking into adopting mobile ordering in your venue and want to learn more, don’t hesitate to reach out for guidance.

That was a lot of helpful information. Can you summarize quickly?

Absolutely. Key takeaways:

  • The benefits to mobile ordering are numerous, including improved customer experience, ability to drive additional revenue and remove frictions associated with cash.
  • However, failing to consider operational challenges before deployment can result in headaches (see MLB opening weekend wait times).
  • Deploying mobile ordering technology effectively can help drive other organizational goals. 
  • The space is crowded. Certain mobile ordering companies have approached the service differently, though at the end of the day, customers only care about having a seamless ordering experience. 

Until next time,

– Charles

Future topics in this series will include digital ticketing & mobile wallets, smart check-out technologies, safety & security, connectivity and in-stadium engagement.

If you enjoyed this edition, tell your friends or colleagues about Chatting Sports Tech. Add me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter @ccampisi_EES.  

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Edition #9 – Smorgasbord

Checking Back On Old Editions For Changes And Updates

I dislike how little traditional media revisits past articles and predictions. Opinions and positions shouldn’t be static. When new information comes to light, we should reconsider old perspectives.

With that in mind, I’m going to periodically revisit old pieces to highlight what’s changed and add new information or tidbits originally left out.

Now you may be asking ‘Why is this edition called Smorgasbord?’ Great question, reader. Well, smorgasbord is defined as a “buffet offering a variety of hot and cold meats, salads, hors d’oeuvres, et.” When I was growing up, anytime my mother needed to clear out the fridge, she would call it ‘Smorgasbord Night.’ Clever marketing to get us excited about week old leftover ham.

Since I’m going to jump across past topics, I’m calling this the smorgasbord edition, in honor of my lovely mother.

Let’s dive in…

Edition 1 Super Bowl Special & Edition 1.5 Super Bowl Post-Mortem

  • NFL Media Rights: When the Super Bowl Post-Mortem was released, I mentioned the NFL was going to quickly sign new media deals and that the dip in Super Bowl viewership would have no impact. Well I’d say $105 billion over 11 years and increases from all existing media partners is a good outcome.
  • Issue with Nielsen Ratings: Ratings for sports are down across the board but could it be caused by the way Nielsen measures audience? Nielsen claimed no, rebuking an audit request but it does beg the question. I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of this issue.
  • Correction on LiveLike: I spoke with someone at LiveLike after publishing the piece and realized I made a small mistake categorizing them as a VR company.  The company started in VR but when mass adoption of VR hardware never materialized, it pivoted more to real-time engagement. 
  • Bullish on AR/VR: That said, I’m still very bullish on the long-term potential of AR/VR. One reason? Facebook announced that 15% of its current org chart is working on solutions in the space. Another reason? The ability to simulate in-game action for training purposes. Here’s the NJ Devils using VR training.

Edition 2 Power of Community

  • Superfans: The community edition touched on building social+ companies, offering your customers community instead of a simple rewards program to build loyalty and why you should hone in on super fans per the pareto principle. This billboard article highlights the technologies enabling artists, creators and athletes to interact directly with their super fans as well as the economics behind it. 
  • Brand Love is Built on Emotion: Thought this was a good op ed in sports pro media reiterating many of the points raised in the community edition. Two specific quotes worth highlighting: 1) Brand love is built on emotions, not transactions; and 2) Brands need to understand the zeitgeist to build and grow human connections.
  • Community Thoughts From Twitter: Good notes from podcast guest Zoe Scaman around the idea that in social tribes, we seek a sense of togetherness and aligned passions. Meanwhile, here’s another thread explaining why soccer clubs are great examples of how to build communities at scale since there’s so many entry points to participate (buying merchandise, watching on tv, going to a game, etc.) 

Edition 3 Why Your Organization Should Pay Attention to the Fan Controlled Football League

FCF Updates: At the time Edition 3 was published, the FCF was only two weeks in but I made the argument there was serious staying power given the league didn’t copy the failed AAF and XFL models. With the season completed, we can point to a couple metrics illustrating the first season was a huge success.  Viewership increased from 735K in week 1 to 2.1M in week 5 while over 2K fans collectively invested $1M in team ownership. 

Edition 4 Future of Ticketing & Edition 5 Ten Ticketing Takes

Edition 4 discussed the potential for virtual seating to create new inventory and bring immersive experiences into the living room. No updates here – the technology is still being built by companies like Tru Spot

Some updates on the state of sports ticketing:

  • Rewarding Season Ticket Holders Despite Capacity Constraints: If you are a sports property and have been operating with limited capacity, you’ve probably faced the dilemma of how to prioritize fans when demand outweighs supplies. I thought this blog post had some good ideas but the starting point must be understanding who your fans truly are. And that requires using technology effectively. 
  • NFTs & Tickets: I mentioned how I was bearish on NFTs being attached to tickets except in unique situations. I also never mentioned the current high transaction costs with crypto (gas fees) which need to drastically decline to handle existing ticketing volume. That said, clearly there is an industry focus on bringing this idea to life, with SeatGeek in talks to roll out a prototype with the NFL and NBA. 
  • Breaking Up the Ticketmaster Monopoly?: Developing story worth monitoring – Several members of congress want to investigate Ticketmaster’s standing as a monopoly in the ticketing and live entertainment space, claiming damaging impacts to consumers. More to come.

Edition 6 Gamification

  • Robinhood: I mentioned how the financial services company uses digital confetti to gamify the act of buying stocks. Well, less than a week after publishing my piece, Robinhood made the choice to remove its digital confetti feature. As I hinted by labeling fans as ‘losers’, gamification can cover up actual risks behind a behavior. Sounds like Robinhood recognized the confetti was distracting from the company mission and decided to make significant design changes (that or they spun caving to political pressure).

Edition 7 Five on Fan Engagement

  • Fan Engagement & Sponsors: Since publishing, we spoke with the CEO of a ‘fan engagement’ company that intentionally brands itself as a sponsorship platform. Unprovoked, he echoed many of my concerns around fan engagement, including the definition being fungible and the importance of aligning sponsors with activations to drive fan conversion. His company has had recent success from sponsors bringing them directly into properties even if had previously been unsuccessful pitching that same property. The whole conversation speaks to the shifting balance of power from properties to sponsors.
  • Nike & Social Commerce: I wrote some thoughts here (published under David’s name due to a website quirk) why I love Nike’s decision to roll out an app specifically for women with a lot of fan engagement principles.  

Edition 8 The Gen Z Problem

  • Social Media & Challenges: I forgot to include how teams and leagues can utilize social media channels to engage Gen Z through fan challenges. One example? The NHL using Tik Tok and Instagram for an at-home skills challenge.
  • Millennials Killing Cable: Some more research and insights into how the 18-34 demographic has significantly lowered their live TV consumption, while 65+ remains fairly steady. Along the same lines, Gen Z places watching TV and movies way behind playing video games on a survey of entertainment options from Deloitte’s 2021 Digital Trends Survey. As a result, media networks are in the unenviable position of having to extract value from older consumers while adapting to changing consumption habits by Gen Z and young millennials. 
  • Creative Partnerships & Simulcasts: I used Fortnite NFL skins as an example of a creative partnership to garner Gen Z awareness and mentioned the NFL-Nickelodeon Simulcast for the Saints-Bears as a huge success. The NBA decided to aim higher, announcing a new MarvelCast for an upcoming Warriors – Pelicans game. Tune in on May 3rd. 

Until next time,

– Charles

The next edition will examine the Future In-Venue Experience

If you want Chatting Sports Tech delivered to your inbox, enter your email and hit the subscribe button at the top of the page.  

Finally, if you enjoyed this edition, tell your friends or colleagues about Chatting Sports Tech. Add me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter @ccampisi_EES. 

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Edition #8 – The Gen Z Problem

How Sports Tech Can Help You Secure Your Next Of Generation Fans

Today’s edition is all about Gen Z. There’s been no shortage of media attention on their sports appetite, with takes ranging from ‘they don’t like sports’ (uh-oh) to ‘they like sports but consume content differently’ (not so bad). Below I’ll share some research on the current situation and then touch on what it means for your organization and how technology fits in.

Two quick housekeeping items: 

  1. Subscribe at the top of this webpage to receive the latest edition in your inbox. For subscribers only, I share a weekly roundup on new sports tech investments on Fridays. 
  2. Check out past editions here. Topics have included community, gamification, ticketing and fan engagement.

Let’s dive in on Gen Z…

Explain this to me like I’m five. What do we know about Gen Z?

Generation Z – Gen Z for short – refers to persons born after 1996. The graphic below illustrates the generational segments per the Pew Research Center:

Although the age cut-offs are arbitrary (i.e., no reason not to use 1998), researchers rely on cohort classifications to analyze changes in views and behavior over time.

Unlike previous generations, Gen Z is digitally native, having grown up in a world with smartphones. 

They are also more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations and on track to be the best-educated generation but in my opinion, those characteristics would lead us into a discussion around social activism in sports. Since social activism deserves its own edition, let’s table that and focus more on engagement. 

What does research around their fandom and viewership explain?

Research firm Morning Consult released results from a survey on Gen Z fan identity and sports viewing habits. Here are the two most telling charts:

It’s a bleak picture. I’m not surprised by the first chart for two main reasons. Number 1: There are soooo many other entertainment options available. Video game streaming in particular has captured a percentage of the population that would have gravitated to sports in past decades. Number 2: Youth sports participation rates have declined significantly over the past decade. The Aspen institute has some research here

But on the second chart, the key word in the question was live. How often do you watch live sports? And herein lies an issue.

Variety ran a great piece using data from analytics firm the Maru Group showing consumption habits of different age brackets. Granted the brackets don’t line up neatly with generational classifications, but if you use the 18-34 bracket as a proxy for Gen Z behavior, there’s some telling insights. Here are two more charts:

The big takeaway? Highlights are becoming a more dominant means of consuming sports (chart 1) but younger populations don’t consider themselves any less of a fan compared to older generations (chart 2). 

As a sports property, why should you care?

It’s pretty simple. Here’s a quote from NFL’s CMO Tim Ellis from a November Washington Post piece:

“There’s no strategy for bringing in a 35-year-old fan for the first time…You have to make them a fan by the time they’re 18 or you’ll lose them forever.” 

When thinking about customer cohorts for sports properties, you need to aggressively attract young people as the next generation of fans. If you can secure lifelong fans at an early age, they become profitable consumers once they’ve built discretionary income (tickets, merchandise, potential sponsors, etc.). But if you fail to lock Gen Z early, you’ve lost out on 60+ years of value. Meanwhile, your existing fanbase will slowly attrite from natural causes.  

What are interesting strategies you have seen to attract Gen Z? 

Here are a couple interesting ones:

  • The Simulcast Approach – In other words, having a separate broadcast targeted at younger populations. The NFL had great success with the Nickelodeon simulcast of the NFL’s Saints Bears wild card playoff game, bringing in over 2M viewers. Nickelodeon recently brought this model to the NHL, partnering with Islander’s second screen platform for a game versus the Penguins. 
  • Investing Directly in Youth Sport – One example? The NFL and Nike invested $5 million to bring girls flag football to every high school in America. There are selfish motives – Nike wants to sell more gear while the NFL wants to cultivate its next generation fans – but girls who never had a platform to play football also benefit greatly. 
  • Creative Partnerships with Popular Non-Sport Platforms – Popular video game Fortnite allows players to purchase NFL jersey skins for their characters. Fortnite enthusiasts who wouldn’t otherwise watch the NFL could be exposed to the league by seeing one of these skins, starting them on the path to fandom. 

I work in sports and want to target Gen Z. Where and how should I invest in sports technology?

Let’s approach it from two lenses depending on where you are in the ecosystem. 

If I’m at a property, I’m focusing on the fact Gen Z prefers consuming content in highlight form and therefore, investing in social media content creation tools to meet them on multiple platforms. 

  • For Your Internal Social Team – Technology can’t replace human creativity when it comes to producing interesting content but it can make the process more seamless. Slate, Tagboard and Kickly all have SaaS platforms for sports organizations to create templates and graphics, making the lives of social media teams much easier. These tools save your organization time while producing more interactive and visually stimulating content.
  • For Your Athletes – In the college space, this refers to platforms allowing student athletes to manage their own social media presence. See Opendorse and INFLCR
  • For Your Fans – Your organizational social media strategy needs to remove barriers and encourage fans to post authentic user-generated content. Some examples for fans attending games include: Digital Seat Media which uses QR codes on the back of seats to encourage fans to post on social media, Brizi which providers venues with an aerial camera that fans can use to take in-venue selfies and FanCam where fans post in-venue photos of themselves directly to social media.

If I’m at a rightsholder or media company, I’m focusing on quickly turning live action into shareable clips as well as making my broadcasts more similar to Twitch streams. Therefore, I’m investing in smart automation tools and production plug-ins like the following:  

  • Smart Automation – Both Thuuz and WSC Sports have built platforms using artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically analyze live game action and create highlights of the most exciting moments. 
  • Production Plug-ins – By production plug-ins, I’m referring to widgets and other gamification features that can be added to live broadcasts and drive interactivity. We mentioned several companies in the gamification edition such as LiveLike, Maestro, Sport Buff and Rebus which can add polls and trivia items directly to broadcasts, to drive fan engagement.

That was a lot of helpful information. Can you summarize quickly?

Absolutely. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Gen Z is the first digitally native generation, growing up with smartphones. 
  • Gen Z consumes their sports content differently than older generations, with more emphasis on highlights and short form videos. 
  • If you don’t lock in a fan at an early age, odds are you lose them and any potential spending across their lifetime forever. That’s the reasons sports properties need to target these fans early.
  • If I’m a sports property, I’m investing in social media creation tools to make it easier for my digital team to produce and distribute content. 
  • If I’m a rightsholder or media property, I’m investing in smart automation to create bite-size highlights using technology and production add-ons to better engage younger generations.

Until next time,

– Charles

The next newsletter topic will be Smorgasbord. What does that mean? Just wait and see!

Have some thoughts? Want to talk more? Let me know via email ( 

If you’re part of a sports organization in the process of thinking through digital strategies to engage your next generation of fans, shoot the EngageMint Partners team a note. We’d love to help out.

Finally, if you enjoyed this edition, tell your friends or colleagues about Chatting Sports Tech. Add me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter @ccampisi_EES. 

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