Connected Sports Conference: Leagues, Teams Meet Challenge of Staying Engaged With Fans

It’s one of the biggest challenges facing the sports business today and was the magic word at this week’s SVG Connected Sports Conference: engagement.

The American (and global) public has more sports and entertainment video content available than they could ever consume. So how do leagues and teams engage with their fans so that they keep them consuming more? That was the big question as 130 professionals gathered on Wednesday at the Helen Mills Theater in Manhattan.

Jayne Bussman-Wise, Brooklyn Nets & Barclays Center

Jayne Bussman-Wise, Brooklyn Nets & Barclays Center

“We want fans coming to our games, we want to sell tickets, but we also drive a lot of content to fans at home watching on TV,” said Jayne Bussman-Wise, digital director for the Brooklyn Nets and the new Barclays Center, a venue widely regarded as one of the best in the country in terms of mobile connectivity. “So how do we on the digital side create applications, products, and engagements so that we can reach those fans whether they are in the building, they’re at home, they’re not in front of the TV? It’s that 360-degree view and being with our fans wherever they are and whatever platform they are on.”

The National Football League faces one of the more unique challenges in the industry. By the far the most popular and profitable of the major sports leagues, it must also tackle issues related to keeping fans in the stadium happy as ticket prices continue to skyrocket.

“One of the biggest risks to our business is that the media experience at home has become so good,” said David Healy, director, media strategy and business development, NFL. “You have to work really hard to make sure that the stadium is still the best place to watch the game.”

David Healy, NFL

David Healy, NFL

The key for the NFL is mobile connectivity in the stadium via digital antenna systems and WiFi.

“There’s no magic bullet; you have to have strong connectivity in both places,” noted Healy. “As part of our technology partnership with Verizon, there is a sponsor deal and a content deal but also a commitment by Verizon to help innovate around the technology. They’ve made a commitment to help clubs improve the digital antenna systems in the stadiums at no cost to the club.”

The New York Giants have taken steps to improve the in-venue video experience at MetLife Stadium, offering their own mobile app that enables fans to access — among other things — multiple camera angles and replays they wouldn’t normally get watching one of the stadium’s four videoboards.

Don Sperling, New York Giants

Don Sperling, New York Giants

“What we try to do at the stadium is create a home-field advantage,” said Don Sperling, VP/executive producer, New York Giants. ”We don’t have a problem selling tickets. That’s not an issue for us. However, we do have a problem keeping those fans who have bought the tickets highly motivated and highly interested and wanting to fight the traffic and go through everything that it takes to get inside the stadium on a game day. We are competing with the 50-in. screen in their homes. That’s obviously a big issue for the league. [Commissioner] Roger Goodell has talked about that at pretty much every event we’ve been to. So what we try to do is give everybody inside the stadium what they have at home.”

Mark Fratto, St. John's University

Mark Fratto, St. John’s University

For some, the digital world has brought about opportunities that never existed before. Colleges, for example, are able to achieve a much broader reach and gain significantly more exposure for their brand thanks to social media and digital video platforms. As a result, schools are able to compete in the crowded sports-media landscape.

“It really changes the game for us on the Olympic- and women’s-sports level,” said Mark Fratto, senior associate athletics director for communications, St. John’s University. “We’re able to produce games and actually sell them to ESPN for ESPN3 distribution, and, when Fox is ready with its Fox Sports Go product, we plan to work out some things with them where we’re actually able to generate money for our budget and educate our graduate and undergraduate students. We’re also able to generate a whole lot of exposure for our athletes and teams that they don’t normally get from television.”

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