Venues Get Creative With Video To Draw Fans to the Stands

Every baseball fan remembers the ballpark where they learned to love the game. Some remember the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field; for others, Monument Park at old Yankee Stadium springs to mind. When they remember childhood nights spent under the stars watching a game, it’s the game, the company, even the hotdogs that come to mind. What they don’t remember is the video.

I grew up going to games at a little concrete donut in South Philadelphia, with two postage-stamp video boards nestled in deep centerfield. Now, when I venture down I-95 to see the Phillies play, I’m bombarded with every stat I could possibly want displayed on the largest HD video board in the National League.

In the past decade, video has come to define the in-game experience and has grown beyond the scoreboard to include IPTVs, fascia boards, digital signage, and even mobile apps. Venues must compete with the at-home broadcast experience (once again, far different from what most remember from their youth) and find new ways to compel fans away from their flatscreens and into the stands.

One technique is to provide them with a video-content experience similar to the at-home broadcast: for example, showing highlights and replays. While MLB has a policy of not showing close calls on the video board during the game, the NFL allows the in-venue team to show the same instant-replay feed from under the hood.

“They can see what the referee is slowing down and zooming in on, and that keeps them coming to the stadium,” said Bryan Lykins, director of broadcast operations for the Miami Dolphins, at SVG’s Venue Technology Summit last month. “We don’t play flagrant fouls, but we do show as many replays as we can. The NFL is a fan experience, and it shows the fans that the league is open with them.”

Besides Video, There’s WiFi
Another tactic is the proliferation of WiFi networks and distributed antenna systems in venues spanning every professional sport. Fans attending sports events may be in the stands to watch the game, but they also want to be connected to their social networks.

“WiFi is an expectation that the fans are coming to expect throughout all leagues, and it’s to compete with the home experience,” said Chip Suttles, VP of technology, Seattle Seahawks. “In the near future, I think you’re going to see that, although you’re trying to create that unique experience by being at a live game … fans want that second-screen experience at the game as well.”

Echoed Gene Arantowicz, senior director of business development for Cisco Sports and Entertainment: “You don’t want to check your life at the door just because you go to a sporting event.”

Venues are answering the call not only with wireless connectivity but with in-venue apps that allow fans to check stats, order food, view exclusive camera angles, and more. The recently opened Barclays Center released an official mobile app that provides key arena information, including event details, transportation information, and a guide to Brooklyn, with plans to include real-time video streaming. Video streaming, as well as the ability to order concessions, will be available only to those fans accessing the app via the Barclays Center WiFi.

Attending a game may not be as inexpensive as we remember, but the experience of being in the venue has become significantly more dynamic in the past decade. Generic fan prompts have been replaced by custom-produced features. Static menu boards have gone by the wayside in favor of HD screens that can be updated simultaneously from a central control room. Fans who once struggled to find a cell signal at the game can now text friends, tweet, and upload pictures to Facebook.

Venues have changed to fit the times, catering to fans’ need to be constantly connected and consistently entertained. However, one thing remains the same: the game. And maybe the hotdogs.

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