Not too long ago, being a fan meant going to the game or, more often, cheering on your team from the comfort of your living room. Now, whether you’re at the stadium or at home, it’s less like you’re watching, and more like you’re in the game.
Tech companies are reshaping the sports and entertainment experience for fans and sponsors by introducing new tools and mobile platforms. In connecting with fans on a whole new level, they also build important bridges with potential customers.
The fan experience is a focus of sports properties and tech companies like SAP, IBM and HP, who are sponsoring sport franchises with in-depth data analytics, tablets, and mobile devices that are configured for interactive screens.
In 2012 alone, football (aka soccer in the U.S.) garnered $4.5 billion in global sponsorship, according to research by IFM Sports Marketing.
This global business trend has shifted sponsors’ investment focus towards consumer adoption. Fans get to enjoy innovative sports tech, and sports corporations in turn are provided with new channels to win more satisfied clients.
Tablets on the Sidelines
Recently the NFL released more details on the “Sideline Viewing System,” which allows teams to have tablets instead of black-and-white paper images of pre-snap and post-snap pictures. Switching to tablets isn’t mandatory, but it’s likely to become the new league standard, and some teams have already started using tablets as playbooks.
Instead of huddling around a binder and turning pages, staff and players will use tablets to review high-definition, color photos transmitted wirelessly over a secure system. Telestration tools allow users to draw over images and videos, so teams will be able to take notes directly on the plays and save them for later analysis. Tablets pre-loaded with game data will also guide halftime adjustments.
Fans in attendance also want real-time access to player profiles, statistical data and fantasy performances of teams and players on their smartphones, tablets and stadium kiosks. Teams are giving them just that.
The 49ers’ new Levi Stadium, equipped with Intel technology inside, is set to open this season and will host Super Bowl 50. The fan experience was central to the smart stadiums’ design and green-friendly tech services. Sponsors will have immediate access to fans via apps tailored to the live experience.
Because fans are also staying home to watch games, Levi’s Stadium will unveil new technologies such as augmented reality, interactive seats and big screens to take the at-home experience to new levels.
The 49ers also partnered with SAP to invent and design SAP Scouting, a custom platform created to improve the franchise’s draft results. The proprietary technology pulls info from league databases and other providers to help the organization measure the plus and minus of each potential draftee.
Soccer Gets Supercharged
No matter where they live, fans around the world can get up close and personal with their favorite soccer team thanks to team sponsorships from big tech companies. A multi-year partnership between Intel and Futbol Club Barcelona (FCB) gives players and coaches access to the latest devices, and provides advanced research, training and performance to FCB ensuring them a competitive edge well into the future, across generations of fans, staff, and athletes.
The agreement gave both partners an unprecedented opportunity to improve the fan experience via the latest new technology.
“This is more than a sponsorship to Intel,” said Intel’s then Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Conrad. “The technology we are deploying, and the programs we are working on together are designed to elevate FC Barcelona into the one of the most technologically advanced football clubs in world.”
Brother UK also formed an Official Technology Partnership with Fulham Futbol Club of the Premier League. Brother will support the club with a number of technological and communications services, both on and off the field.
Sports Are Big Business
Recent research by OC&C Strategy showed that overall sports sponsorship investment from B2B has increased by nearly 50 per cent between 1997 and 2013.
SAP was clearly the most active business technology company in 2013. SAP enjoyed NFL exclusivity with business software, cloud software and business analytics software categories. Their expenditure of $79 million led the way for clients, such as Madison Square Garden.
According to IEG, Madison Square Garden Sports plans to add more tech by implementing IBM software to target two pain-points: expanding real-time reporting of ticketing, and food and beverage sales, and boosting fan engagement via social media analytics.
Cisco Systems NHL arena cam is another new sports tech category that brought in sponsorship dollars. Their $41 million budget is sure to grow given their 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games sponsor obligations.
IBM, meanwhile, targeted the Rugby Football Union, the China Open, the US Open, the Australian Open and other high-profile events, spending $45 million on sponsorships.
IBM launched an iPhone app, iPad app, and four other mobile platforms during the Australian Open, including its “Smarter Planet” initiative that focuses on how visionary business leaders use new technology to create economic growth. The initiative has four key areas: analytics integration, mobile devices, social media, and cloud infrastructure.
Sponsor spending is expected to change radically in the coming years because of the direct pipeline to sport fans via consumer-facing platforms. SAP pioneered this niche together with the NFL, developing a new Stats Zone interactive display at the Super Bowl Boulevard in Times Square that was engineered by co-sponsor GMC. The display streamed data visualizations that enabled fans to follow web discussions centered on popular Super Bowl topics.
These partnerships are just the beginning. As more are formed, fans can look forward to an even richer, more personalized experience.
Robert Roble founded Sports Techie, a sports technology community, blog and expert resource in 2010 after a once-in-a-lifetime role as Wetpaint’s Moderator. He moderated the New York Giants, Houston Rockets and HBO Entourage historical wiki and online communities, in addition to writing blogs for DWTS and MSN. Bob is a pioneer in sports tech, an untapped market valued at $200 billion. His career in sports and tech spans four decades, where he’s worked for Paul Allen and the Seattle Seahawks, Magic, and Dartfish. The Sports Techie social media network is global and passionate about green, robots and animals. Engage with his blog, friend @SportsTechieNET on Twitter and Like the Facebook fan page; also follow on Google+,YouTube and LinkedIn. He is happy for the opportunity to focus his iQ by Intel eye on innovative sports technology related content, trends and products that involve Intel’s tech, people and happy customers.