Friday, February 14, 2014

Technology and Sporting Event Attendance: Innovation or Inhibitor?

Marketers of live sporting events are at crossroads. Cable TV networks bringing us unprecedented numbers of games to watch at home also brought predictions that televising games would pose a threat to fans buying tickets and showing up to watch in person. That trend never fully materialized. In fact, it could be argued that more access to sports has fueled fans' appetites for consuming more, including attending games in person. A point of comparison might be the music industry. One opinion is that the rise of digital music and less control over distribution actually stimulated interest in music, although maybe not increasing music sales overall. The decision point facing sport marketers is how maximize reach of televised live events while at the same time enhancing the experience of attendees. 

Second Screen = Second Threat?

Sports have not only survived the Television Era, but they thrived during it. Today, sports marketers are figuring out how to co-exist with a different force: mobile digital technologies. People have become attached to their digital devices; one recent study estimates American adults spend 60 hours a week consuming digital content including TV and online video. When we consume sports, the devices are not being put down. Fans use mobile devices while watching live sporting events to gather information, share content, or interact with others.

Our digital appetites at sporting events are not being satisfied for the most part. Wi-Fi access at a stadium or arena is often hit or miss, with miss being the status in many instances. The threat arising from fans using smartphones at sporting events is not that they will pay less attention to the game; the threat is that frustration with connectivity could detract from the total consumption experience. Just as inconvenient parking options and miserable traffic patterns can discourage sporting event attendance (particularly when the same event can be consumed indirectly via TV or online), failure to meet fans' technology expectations could negatively impact satisfaction as well as the decision to return for future events.

Technology and Strategic Planning

Where does technology management fall in marketing strategy? When evaluating the impact of technology on an organization in the context of a situation analysis, technology resources are an internal issue that could be a strength or weakness. Considerations include current technology resources deployed, customer usage of and satisfaction with technology, and extent to which technology adds value for customers as well as the internal market (employees). Technology is also an external issue, with the rate of change of technology platforms or emergence of new technologies that could affect the organization should be evaluated to determine if they represent opportunities or threats.

Based on findings of a complete situation analysis (e.g., the popular SWOT technique), marketers can respond to technology-related issues by following the MAC approach to transform SWOT analysis findings into marketing strategy:
  • Match strengths with opportunities
  • Avoid exposure to weaknesses or threats 
  • Convert weaknesses into strengths
Match represents the low hanging fruit that can be picked and ideal starting point, coupling internal capabilities with market opportunities. A case of how matching might play out for a sport property is to pair a strength of "outstanding customer service" with a market opportunity of "increase in e-commerce transactions completed on mobile devices." For example, a team might leverage its customer service orientation to offer fans options to order food and beverage or merchandise from their seats using their mobile devices and have orders delivered to them. 

What is your take on the influence of technology on live sporting events? Can sport properties figure out how to better serve customers' mobile needs while they are in their venues? Or, will technology play a role in encouraging people to stay home and consume indirectly... while engaging in consumption on a second screen? In your view, what technology enhancements are most needed to make attending live sporting events a more enjoyable experience?