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Connectivity matters. With one out of three college students and young employees classing it as essential as water, air, food and shelter, according to a Cisco report, limiting wi-fi infrastructure in sports venues risks antagonizing a significant target demographic.
While it could be argued that this statistic may be more representative of the first world problems of a younger generation, it does reflect the significance of sharing and communication to an always-on fan base – and the potential of a connected stadium strategy.
Risk vs reward
Look no further than the single biggest event in the annual sporting calendar – the NFL Superbowl. With TV ads costing more than US$4m for a 30-second spot, the global reach and branding value comes at a cost – with this immense level of investment capable of pushing some brands towards bankruptcy.
However, for sponsors keen to access such a significant demographic the impact is worth the risk, and there is huge competition to access these fans and align brands with the excitement of the event. Within the arena, these sponsorships can be protected – everything is controlled from the branding on jerseys to the gadgets in the coaches’ hands.
In terms of connectivity, the Superbowl as an event is supported considerably as partners recognize the huge marketing potential of successfully supplying this event. Extreme Networks – one of the leading wi-fi infrastructure providers in the USA – has invested significant sums to power the wi-fi within the arena and to provide fans with stable connectivity.
It’s interesting, therefore, to examine the Superbowl against the backdrop of this connectivity and understand the potential ramifications relative to sponsorship value.
Purview Analytics, the analytics engine associated with Extreme, has published detailed data from the 2014 Superbowl (see below) that shows the huge appetite for sharing on the fans’ part at an event. Key highlights illustrate that social networking applications were the most highly used, with more than 60% of wi-fi connected fans sharing on Facebook, and another 18% and 17% on Twitter and Instagram respectively.
A total of 3.2TB of data was shared at the Superbowl last year. On Instagram, five photos were uploaded every second. Pretty impressive, right? Very impressive, actually… at least until you look at the same analytics data from this year’s Superbowl, which shows that 25% of the total attending fans logged onto the wi-fi, sharing almost twice the amount of data at 6.23TB.
When you also factor in the DAS systems around the venue, sharing exploded to an estimated 12TB+ of data – a record at any single event. This is a fact that was and should be celebrated as it highlights the fan excitement the event generates and the huge appetite for information and fan-generated content around it.
Hijacking the hastag
However, this level of fan engagement and data usage clearly illustrates the risks related to a connected stadium, as immense volumes of event-specific content can be shared. Significantly, this means that event IP is shared out in huge volumes to a wider audience across social channels, with no alignment to sponsorship value.
Unlike within the stadium where every facet of branding and sponsorship can be controlled, social channels are hugely competitive, with external brands able to create, promote and excite fans around a specific event, effectively hijacking the hashtag to drive alignment with an event at zero cost.
A study by Blue Agency following the 2014 FIFA World Cup highlighted the issue. Adidas, as premier sponsor, paid between US$25-50m to effectively align itself with the event, while its largest competitor, Nike, spent nothing on official sponsorship and invested heavily in creating content and buzz across social media. The results of this study demonstrated that Nike had almost double the interactions and engagement, as well as significantly more affinity with the event across social media channels.
Whether its wi-fi and DAS today or forthcoming 5G networks, connectivity is unavoidable. However, wi-fi presents a unique set of problems as it powers fans to share event content in real-time – meaning it has the potential to erode existing commercial agreements with both sponsors and broadcasters – as traffic is diverted to the unmanaged sphere of social media. A case in point was the much-maligned post by Twitter CEO Dick Costolo after the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao boxing match [held in Las Vegas on May 1, 2015], stating that Periscope – Twitter’s live-streaming video app – was the real winner, and which was perceived as a congratulatory remark for the piracy that had been enabled.
The issue therefore lies in strategies to manage social media to make it work for commercial rights holders, so as to ensure sponsors retain access to official and exclusive opportunities. There is a huge opportunity presented by connected stadiums – app solutions could create new revenue streams and, most importantly, protect sponsorship value effectively.
Ultimately, for connected stadia to make viable commercial sense in this respect, it is imperative that sponsors and rights holders look towards digital sponsorship tools and products to provide greater control and value – with greater emphasis on driving fans towards official digital properties that can be controlled, while providing a platform for sponsors to take advantage of.
By John Fennessy, founder of Crowdsight (www.crowdsight.co), a mobile platform that creates and measures sponsorship value at live events, while driving fan engagement through rewards
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