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Marketing to sports fans has changed a great deal over the last few years, and marketers face new challenges to bring fans into stadiums.

Let’s start with the fact that the economy is still terrible for the younger millennial generation. The jobs they’re getting don’t pay much, and their wages aren’t growing. According to the government’s Current Population Survey, the median income for people between 25 and 34 has fallen in every major industry but health care since the Great Recession began nearly 10 years ago. Couple that with the rise of prices for sporting events, parking, food and drink at stadiums. And with advances in TV and video technology, consumers can enjoy “the best seat in the house” from their couch with HD onscreen action and replays without spending the money and time it takes (traffic woes, parking, long concession and restroom lines).

With these challenges, it’s more important than ever before that sporting brands focus on creating experiences that enrich live events and cater to tech-savvy fans who could (and want to) engage with four or five screens when at the game.

It is common for fans — 90 percent of whom have a smartphone — to expect “smart stadiums” so they can use their devices during games to respond to offers and other enhancements to the experience. And the younger generation, in particular, expects connectivity. In this report by Cisco, young professionals said that the Internet is as important to them as air, water, food, and shelter. And without connectivity, the younger generation of fans may not purchase tickets, or they may be bored throughout the game if they can’t connect to the Internet or upload photos to social media.


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Enter connected stadiums

Until recently, Barclays Center, home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, was considered the most connected stadium in the country, but they lost that title upon last year’s opening of Levi’s Stadium, set in the heart of Silicon Valley and home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. During Super Bowl 2016 — hosted at Levi’s Stadium — 27,316 unique Wi-Fi-enabled fans used 10.1TB of data! To put that in perspective, it is equivalent to the estimated size of the print collection of the Library of Congress. The Super Bowl saw 20,300 peak concurrent users, and they were able to maintain average download speeds of 15 to 23 mbps —three times faster than the fastest stadium Wi-Fi last year.

Smart stadiums offer marketers, teams, and brands tremendous opportunities to drastically enhance the fan experience for ticketholders.

The opportunity for brands

Let’s take a look at some of the opportunities for brands:

  • Between timeouts, fouls or penalties, halftime, etc., the actual playing time during a game is limited. People want access to content — player and game stats, video highlights, updates on their fantasy-league points, and other media — when live play isn’t taking place. And sometimes, even when it is. It only makes sense to enable fans to watch an instant replay from multiple angles that will not be shown on the Jumbotron. Look at how your brand can capitalize on this: providing messages, in-app advertisements, and other contextual content during different elements of a game experience or even in different environments (ex. watching other games on your phone while you’re at the store, in a train, etc.)
  • One thing that can be frustrating at large sporting events is the long lines — for the team stores and kiosks, food and beverages, and let’s not forget the restrooms. This is an opportunity to add value — such as an app that guides fans directly to their seats, helps them find the closest restroom with the shortest wait time, or provides them with a stadium map. Think about what you can offer fans to make their experiences more convenient, and people will thank you for it.
  • Beyond improving the fan experience, connected stadiums provide opportunities to increase the team’s bottom line through additional purchases and increasing ticket sales. Offer fans the ability to upgrade their seats from a mobile device, purchase a limited-edition shirt for that game, or to order a sandwich and imported beer to be delivered directly to their seats, for example.

If brands are not taking advantage of these marketing opportunities, money is being left on the field.

Advice for sports organizations looking to capitalize on this opportunity

Honing in on the teams themselves, here’s some advice on how to capitalize on this emerging marketing revolution:

  • Stadiums racing to digitize are partnering with companies to provide integral technologies. To become part of that, you will need a robust, integrated platform to manage your content across all channels and touchpoints. Organizations need to leverage a holistic, integrated platform that is easy to use and that relies on common datasets and fully integrated workflows. They can’t rely on piecing together separate and disparate technologies to reach your fan base. What works best is a solid, integrated, digital foundation.
  • It’s essential that backend infrastructures be able to scale upward. A cloud-based system provides the necessary level of scalability and elasticity.
  • It’s equally important to understand the customer journey of the sports fan, which is a very nonlinear path. For example, the friend of an avid sports fan, when invited to a game, could become a fan through the connected experience. There are opportunities at every touchpoint regardless of screen, channel or device.
  • Fans — like nearly every connected user — are demanding highly personalized, contextually relevant, amazing real-time experiences. To accomplish that, teams must have data about their fans — who are more than happy to provide it if they get great experiences in return. You can’t provide those experiences without analytical data and the ability to select the right audience. Analytics can enhance every division of your organization — from creating the optimal user experience to recognizing and addressing potential trends that help boost your business.
  • Once you have some experience with the data you select, are you optimizing the fan experience? Are you providing the most ideal and optimal experience to enhance your fan’s experience?
  • Don’t forget the global opportunity. A football club in the UK, with a healthy regional market of 5 million, realized it had fans around the world it wasn’t serving. It then increased its reach to 500 million!
  • Stay ahead of the wave. The NFL has asked all its stadiums to provide free Wi-Fi to fans by the end of this year. It knows that fan engagement through an immersive mobile experience is the key to improving the fan experience and maximizing revenue.

The number of connected mobile devices has already surpassed the world’s population, and by 2018, it is estimated that there will be more than 10 billion. An average of 60 percent of Americans are sports fans (76 percent are upper-income men), and internationally, the numbers are staggering — 3.5 billion for soccer alone. This is a wave brands definitely want to ride.

Chris Nguyen is group product marketing manager for Adobe Experience Manager, helping brands create experiences to target and engage customers through mobile apps and online.

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