Next Level Experience – fan engagement at sporting events

SXSW is in full swing in Texas; an annual Mecca for music, film and technology fans. As well as being a breeding ground for start ups to promote new ventures, 2015 has seen the festival utilise technology that might not be new, but certainly seems to be reaching a greater level of maturity.

If you look closely around the convention centre, you might spot the small hockey puck sized discs dotted around - Bluetooth beacons. The concept is simple; using a network of these, you can serve contextual content to people with the corresponding app through push notifications. They utilise low energy Bluetooth, so are much more efficient on device battery levels.

With over 1,000 in the area, the SXSW technology team are utilising Beacons to track attendees across the event and serve up relevant information about sessions, guest speakers and networking opportunities; including allowing attendees to find like minded individuals to connect with at the festival.

Beacons have been available for some time now, but the pickup rate has been slow thus far, with a number of obstacles to get over to utilise the technology. Recently though, the price of Beacons have come down, and you can buy one for as little as £20 nowadays. The primary cost lies in app development and covering the area adequately with enough beacons to ensure effective coverage.

If you've shopped in an Apple Store in the last 12 months, you've probably already experienced beacon technology. They no longer have traditional checkouts, but use the Apple Store app on users phones to take payment from your associated iTunes credit card. Users simple find the item, scan the barcode with the app and make payment, all without even speaking to a sales advisor if so inclined. The app also allows your to check stock levels and make appointments with Apple geniuses.

That's conference and retail usage scenarios, but what about beacons in sports?

In keeping with sports marketing trends, the U.S. continue to lead the way in the technology realm. The NFL trialled beacon tech in Times Square for the Super Bowl this year, but haven't really implemented it to a wider fan base in games; unlike MLB who have had beacon technology implemented at 20 of their 30 league teams since early 2014.

This isn't uncommon for MLB; they are traditionally an early adopter with new technology and have previously run successful trials with Apple's passbook tech alongside YouTube parterships to get highlights to fans.

In terms of beacons, I was lucky enough to experience it first hand at the San Francisco Giants' AT&T park at the tail end of last year. We settled into our seats 20 mins before the first pitch and fired up the Ballpark app that is available at all MLB games; features vary depending on the stadium though, and this is where the Giants are leading.

Thirsty or fancy a hot dog? Check the menu, order straight from your seat and have it delivered. Not sure where the nearest toilets are? Check out their interactive map that highlights the quickest route to get there. Want to impress the person your with and see the game from those fancy looking seats? Simply view available seats, pay a nominal fee and upgrade; all from the app. Users are also able to check in at the stadium and are rewarded with discounts and offers based on their previous behaviour.

In short, beacon technology is being used here to create that feeling we all strive for as sports events marketeers; the fear of missing out.

By adding to a fans experience and rewarding them for engagment, you create additional value. By creating additional value you build loyalty. Increased loyalty builds revenue and generates new customers as your existing customers tell their friends about their experience.

All this, from a tiny disc. Contextual onsite marketing should be an increasing trend for 2015, both in the US and across the world as more and more venues and digital teams begin to grasp to the value of what it can do for customer conversion.

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