Presented by Extreme Networks

It’s been decided: on Sunday, February 4, we’ll witness the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles battle it out at Super Bowl LII. Under the dome of the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, an estimated 70K hyper-engaged fans, media, and dignitaries will be watching, snapping, and posting throughout the course of the game.

Underpinning that engagement: secure, connected Wi-Fi, which isn’t just a nice-to-have any more, but essential. It’s not just a part of the fan experience but a wellspring of actionable, in-depth customer intelligence. With the amount of data passing over the network increasing exponentially, digital marketing teams are being handed the ball, and a clear field for their engagement strategies and tools.

The NFL case study

Currently 22 NFL stadiums are leveraging the ExtremeAnalytics tool from Extreme Networks, the League’s Official Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Analytics Solutions Provider, including Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium, Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, New England’s Gillette Stadium, and Buffalo’s New Era Field.

It all started when organizers realized that there was a correlation between television ratings and in-stadium attendance.

“When the television audience sees too few people in the crowd, they subconsciously believe it’s not as interesting an event,” explains Norman Rice, chief marketing, development and product operations officer for Extreme Networks. “So the NFL’s original goal was to improve attendance by improving the fan experience. That meant enabling connectivity and engagement — whether that’s sharing social, consuming from outside, sharing just in general, or consuming content from within the venue.”

As a result, in-stadium wireless usage has increased from one terabyte to 4 times that on game day year over year. From 2015 to 2017, the average number of unique users rose from 20,574 to 28,001, with peak concurrent user count shooting up from 14,836 to 18,650.

And as fan engagement soars, attendance rates are corresponding, Rice added.

But that initial focus on increasing attendance led to something arguably more valuable: unexpected insights gleaned through hundreds of thousands of usage data points.

Fan experience + advertising advances

As in-stadium Wi-Fi data ramped up, marketing and experience teams gained the ability to understand which applications are running on their networks, who is using them, and what the response time is for each application. The location of users and their mobile activities can be mapped in context to other identity-specific information about the mobile user — including demographic information, brand affinities, social network information, buying behaviors and more, allowing tailored customer profiles to be updated on the fly and personalized experiences delivered seamlessly.

“With this engagement, you can work with each fan, each person, and make sure that it all connects your brand to that particular person, and to what you can give them to make them more loyal, make them stickier, or reward them for being a fan.” Rice explains.

And as usage grew, the club gained a whole lot of invaluable analytics, uncovering some surprises along the way, especially as more and more stadiums came on board.

For instance, the demographic at Super Bowls typically skews towards an older male audience. So when asked which social network would be most popular at the Super Bowl, many might default to Facebook as their answer. But at last year’s Super Bowl, other social apps like Snapchat ruled the day. With ExtremeAnalytics, not only can NFL sponsors discover the people who are actually attending these events, they sometimes uncover unexpected platforms to reach and connect with end users in the venue.

Advertisers can identify touch points like these via consumers’ profiles, what they’re doing during the event, and in what cycles, via time stamps on the data. That allows them to optimize ad placement — for instance, in the case of last year’s Super Bowl, choosing Snapchat during the fourth quarter, perhaps. And by pinpointing each ad to a specific set within a specific geography, that ad can be highly targeted, delivering the right information at the right time, right when those users will be most receptive.

On a very technical or tactical level, Rice says, you can highlight or amplify certain services that you want to make available to a fan in the venue, he says. For example, using a push alert in the mobile venue app for autographed memorabilia.

With one-step engagement enabled, you can prioritize that ordering and outreach service, and the content delivered to the person, over any other content that’s available in that venue – for instance, amplifying the offer by giving it higher priority to those on a particular channel, rather than somebody who’s watching something on YouTube.

“Giving the Game Day app priority seems trivial or easy, but it actually creates both a completely different user experience and gives the advertiser an unprecedented advantage by capturing that fan’s attention naturally and powerfully,” Rice says.

Super Bowl LI and the 2018 NFL season

Last year, Super Bowl LI made Wi-Fi history by being one of the most connected and engaged sporting events to-date. The game leveraged both Extreme’s Wi-Fi infrastructure and Wi-Fi analytics solution, and the company reports that a record-breaking 11.8 TB of total data was transferred, up from 10.12 TB at last year’s Super Bowl — a tremendous amount of data for a single event.

Super Bowl LI broke another Super Bowl Wi-Fi record, with over 27K concurrent users on Wi-Fi at peak — 41 percent more than Super Bowl 50. In total, over 35K fans were on the network throughout the game.

What were they doing? Social networking, and a lot of it. 1.7TB of the total data was transferred from social networking engagements, a 55 percent increase in comparison to Super Bowl 50.

“In the ’17-18 NFL season, we saw video usage through the roof — people were basically real-time filming the game and sharing it externally through social,” Rice adds.

The case for a Wi-Fi strategy

The NFL Clubs and Stadiums have made significant investments in their fan-facing Wi-Fi. Now that they can measure the operational and business metrics, they can watch trends across games and stadiums to establish benchmarks, create digital strategies that are smart and data-driven, and deliver more powerful and personalized fan experiences.

That means ensuring that both the Wi-Fi platform is providing a seamless, quality experience in-stadium as well as in-depth analytics to measure that satisfaction and continue to fine-tune.

It results in data that’s relevant across every department — from social, digital, and marketing, to sales and business development stakeholders — unlocking a spectrum of actionable opportunities across the stadium and throughout social platforms and the web. Which means Wi-Fi in an event space is so much more than engaging with fans during the game. Actionable data gathered in-stadium means you’re always engaging and connecting with fans, even when the next game is days away.

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