Smart Venue Tech Should Harness the Power of Togetherness
In A New Age of Sports report, we explain how the world of sports is approaching the absolute limits of globalization: geographic location is no longer is the primary determinant of fan loyalty. We argue that we are on a course toward a future where all sports content, no matter how big or small, will become available, no matter where you live. The primary factors contributing to this are global media trends, and the ubiquity of smartphones.
But, when everything is always immediately available, is anything truly special anymore? This question is at the heart of cultural critic Ian Bogost’s most recent essay in The Atlantic. In it, he argues that technologies like the smartphone have rendered specialized places—like a theater, arcade, or office—obsolete because any place is suitable for watching a movie, playing a game, or writing a work email. He writes, “Every gate waiting area, every plush lobby couch cluster, every wood-veneered coffee shop lean-to has become capable of transforming itself into any space for any patron. The airport or café is also an office and a movie theater, a knitting club, and a classroom.”
Is this not also true of sports? We still celebrate the stadium as the ultimate site for watching sports events, and yet how often do viewers opt for watching at home because the experience is higher-quality or more hassle-free? Or, viewing it from the other side, is it beneficial that technology is transforming sporting venues into places for work emails, shopping, social photography, or other activities that were not the focus of the stadium in years past?
The Venue as Media Platform
Venue operators need to be mindful with how they integrate technology into their venue, and with how they hope fans will use tech at their events. While some technologies diminish the special-quality of the venue, other technologies designed for venues are actually working to support the specialized essence of the live sports experience, rather than subverting it into just another “non-place” or “superplace,” to use Bogost’s language. For example, technologies that help Fluid Fans to remember their experience through digital memorabilia, or to connect or compete with one another, reinforce the togetherness inherent to a live sports event.
We recently published a report in partnership with Cisco about how Smart Venues must now be considered Media Platforms. Through extensive conversations with Ken Martin and the Cisco team, we explored how the ubiquity of screens throughout, and even outside of the modern sports venue, force us to reimagine how media permeates the live sports experience. To produce the report, we interviewed more than a dozen sports executives from across the venue and media ecosystem. The big takeaway: venues are, necessarily, media platforms, and as such, there is an opportunity to redefine the fan experience.
For tech businesses like Advent, Fancam, MVP Interactive, Pico GP and WaitTime, the evolving role of media in the live sports experience is central to their very businesses. The connection between the core behaviors of “watching” and “going” define their value proposition. Whether it is creating an opportunity to capture a one-of-a-kind selfie, make waiting in concessions-lines less painful, or build unique in-venue experiential activations. In concert, these kinds of technologies are not making the venue into another kind of place, rather, they reinforce the unique qualities of the live event.
The Power of Togetherness
I brought my kids to the pub last weekend to watch a Liverpool match with the local supporters club. It was awesome. We sang together, we cheered together, we moaned together, and at the final whistle, we all stood up together to sing “You Never Walk Alone” as is tradition with Liverpool fans. It was a welcome reminder of one of the truly impactful social aspects of live sports: that people can be unified around an event.
It can be hard to singularly capture what makes the collective live experience unique, but at Sports Innovation Lab, we call this magic the Power of Togetherness. Live events generate a kind of energy that only a crowd or collection of people, unified through shared experience, can muster. This Power of Togetherness can be subverted by technology that drives people into their phones or away from one another. But we are more interested in the technology solutions that support the Power of Togetherness either through direct ways, like creating digital memorabilia, competitive mini-games, or helping people find one another, or through indirect ways like making it easier to order food or to find a way home.
Takeaway: New technologies present a challenge to venue operators who need to think through what Fluid Fans are expecting from the live experience. If there’s one central piece of advice we give, it’s to consider whether the technology supports the Power of Togetherness at your venue, or detracts from it. Through our Smart Venue, Immersive Media, Next-Generation Sponsorship, and Athlete-Driven Media Leadership boards, we are continuously monitoring which technologies are harnessing the Power of Togetherness for live sports, to better understand how the live experience is evolving for Fluid Fans.
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