Know How – Sports Marketing: Michelle Dite: Beyond the field of play – fan experience expectations

SPORT is an experience; it’s more than a game.

And with the advances in technology, event promoters and their respective venue hosts, have to proactively plan a fan experience and not wait for the field of play performances to fulfil today’s fan expectations.

Fans want to be inspired, educated and entertained. They judge an event based on their overall experience and not just the final score, the highest jump, the furthest throw or the greatest individual play that they witness.

The sports fan needs a plan of action to make the most of their overall event experience such as ticketing, the sport and travel.

It’s an event venue or promoter’s responsibility to provide information way in advance of the event itself.

At the recent Invictus Games – for which we co-ordinated the event management, PR and comms, including the activation of Land Rover’s title sponsorship – there was no blueprint, no guide for the new event itself. So, informing the fan about the concept was fundamental to capturing their imagination to convert interest into a ticket purchase.

Buying a ticket in itself requires a number of decisions.

Do I want to print at home, choose paperless ticketing through my event app, buy an official programme to make collection at the event more efficient and look at the view from my seat before I commit to my ticket purchase?

The answer is yes to all of these factors; today’s fan has a strong desire to directly design the experience they want.

If such an a la carte service is not available this will directly impact fan retention and, in many cases, make it harder to attract new fans – the experience will not be deemed good enough.

How fans travel to events has become more comprehensive.

The ‘last mile’ has become an experience in itself.

From the use of pink foam hands at London’s Olympic Park, through to sampling and experiential activation, all makes timely interventions in the fan journey before they finally reach the stadium doors.

A fan expects to receive ‘accessories’ to add to their in stadium experience.

Connectivity is the key driver to enable, drive and maximise social media conversations.

Not just between fans, the in-stadium services, the athletes on the field of play but for brands, their exposure and the ability to collate and access data.

The challenge exists for new venues to second-guess advances in technology as well as those venues of a certain age that need to be revitalised, upgraded and, in some cases, remodelled to welcome the more educated ‘experience’ fan.

The Levi Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers thought differently. They designed the fan experience through the installation of technology, built the seating bowl, considered the hospitality experience and finally the pitch was designed.

The fan experience came before the field of play.

A bespoke 49ers app allows fans to watch instant replays provided by in-stadium production and supported by stadium-wide wi-fi. It’s the same app that features paperless ticketing and the ability to order (and have delivered) food and drink directly to your seat.

When and how to obtain food and drink is not only important for the fan but requires careful consideration for those on the field of play.

We often see empty VIP seats as the first gun or whistle sounds at sporting events which negatively impacts on the field of play support, the ‘look’ of events but also the wider experience and impression for those engaged outside of the stadium.

The ability to provide in seat food and drink was a ‘VIP’ experience but can now be seen as part of new stadium design and existing venue upgrades.

Some sports naturally increase the dwell time of fans at a sporting venue due to the experience that an event can create beyond the field of play.

Examples include an opening ceremony, the West Car Park at Twickenham and pre-show entertainment seen at many sporting occasions.

Pre-promoted in the right way, these experiences alone can exceed the fan expectation before they even watch the sport.

The transition from a pre-event to the main event is critical both in the efficient management of spectator flow, managing queues for food and drink but also to keep building the momentum and sense of anticipation in the build up to the sport itself.

The role of those on the field of play and how they interact with fans can add significant value to the fan experience.

Introductions on the big screens, walk-on music and live field-of-play interviews deliver a personal connection.

These are money-can’t-buy experiences that the fan can’t access unless they are there in person; they saw it first – inspired, educated and entertained.

Usain Bolt’s ‘on the blocks’ pose is as famous as his world records over 100m.

At CSM, we are constantly keeping up to date with the way in which live sport is consumed.

We strive to put our clients and people at the heart of the world’s greatest sporting experiences.

Sporting events will continue to evolve over time but, being connected to the experience, will always provide the fan with more than a game.

Michelle Dite is head of events at CSM, the sports and entertainment division of Chime Communications plc and one of the fastest-growing sports and entertainment marketing groups in the world.

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