When the Houston Astrodome opened in the 1960s, one of its then-marveled attractions was a four-story electronic ‘AstroLite’ scoreboard. Talk about an immediate explosion in the sports spectator experience! Antiquated computer animation was nearly as entertaining as were the Astros and Oilers. That was the forefront of fan engagement of the day. Jump to the 1980s when the JumboTron propelled the spectator experience farther into the ‘Wow’ factor. Well, hold onto your stadium seats, the sports spectator experience is about to explode tremendously – and it won’t take a decade!
Fans in Control Has Brand Activation Upside
As 5G expansion rears its head, so do fan expectations; not only between fans and properties but between properties and sponsors. 5G in particular, delivers more bandwidth, allowing for richer applications, and with this, properties and brands will rush to create new possibilities to engage fans and stay relevant. For instance, Intel’s Volumetric Imaging, which creates 3D recording and real-time playback for in-seat fans as well as a similar experience for those watching on-air, has faced roadblocks around bandwidth and computing power. 5G solves one of the biggest challenges facing Intel, and that will eventually mean giving control over the view to each fan, it’s a personalized experience we’ve never seen before.
Intel is not the only company out there building what’s next. We’re seeing teams like Xperiel, transforming the Sacramento Kings venue into a giant video game for fans, BBC’s LiveLike VR, putting FIFA fans in the heat of the action, Your Call Football, letting fans actively call plays in-game, and Brizi, we let fans take control of stadium cameras to capture group moments. Giving fans control means more interactivity, and a feeling of a uniquely personal experience. It’s there at your fingertips, but if you aren’t investing in the next wave of technology today, you’re already behind.
You Don’t Need to Sacrifice Impact for Scale
It’s not a secret, rich experiences and interactivity come at a price. What’s more is that these concepts must scale. As we pointed out in our last article, Coca-Cola and Alibaba both provided excellent spectator interaction at the 2018 Olympics and it wasn’t cheap. This ‘get it in front of more people’ vs ‘have it actually do something interesting’ tradeoff makes in-venue activation a hard pill to swallow.
There’s a real opportunity here. If properties deliver more of the value brands want, sponsors will deliver more spend, bigger rights fees too. Don’t take our word for it:
“The future of sponsorship has to be less about singular, transactional moments and more about meaningful connected moments.” Deborah Curtis, VP Event Marketing and Sponsorships at American Express
There was a big shift to content in 2017, today we’re able to deliver on the dream of a rich interaction, and that’s where we’re heading in 2021.
Thankfully, the next generation of sponsorship activation will be saturated with technology that crushes that scale vs impact tradeoff, and those ahead of the curve will have a competitive advantage in the eyes of sponsors too.
This new technology brings data, and lots of it. Real fan engagement, be it for the property or a sponsor, requires a strong understanding of who is in the venue, and what they’re doing. A lack of this kind of data isn’t great for the property because it’s hard to know what works with fans, and can be a good reason for a sponsor to miss the value of all the in-venue work you’re doing for them. Good measurability is a staple of all modern activation.
“Traditional sponsorship is not dead, but great use of assets that genuinely engage are few and far between.” James Kirkham, Head of Fan Media Channel Copa90
A good example that ties it all together is the Fan Controlled Football League, which begins play soon. It’s a venture where fans are actively involved in the game. The creators have reached out to strong social media types (current NFL players Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman) to assist in creating a true fan-friendly league. Through smart phones, fans will be part of the in-game play calling process as well as having a vote in player roster moves and even coach hires and fires. They are just getting started, but they have the right ingredients, deep interactivity & fan control, scalable technology, and juicy data for themselves and for sponsors.
Smarter Sponsorship with Technology
Technology is a fundamental part of the next generation of in-venue activation and fan engagement, that’s not going away. It’s only going to materialize as part of greater endeavors. The smartphone is getting smarter. Sponsorship activation must do the same by using the latest technology available to supercharge brand concepts, whatever they are.
“It’s about the story you can tell together and how that story can be aligned with your brand.” Mark Tatum, NBA Deputy Commissioner
The richer, more immersive, tactile experiences will not just have fans leaving venues with smiles on their faces. Sponsors will have bigger smiles too. They will be better judges of return on investment through deeper engagement and timely data collected through activation, and you’re leading the charge. Bring on 2021!