The New England Patriots and other teams are using social-media technologies to create a unique, immersive experience in their stadiums for fans.
By Michael Vizard
Professional sports teams have a major problem of their own invention. With the advent of high-definition television, sport fans are not only getting a better view of the game at home, but they’re also a lot more comfortable. To combat a problem that technology helped create, CIOs across a range of organizations are now looking to mobile computing and social media technologies to provide a more immersive experience in the stadium to make sure there are plenty of fans in the seats.
Every time a fan with a season ticket decides to stay home from a game it costs the sports franchise about $20 on average in lost concession and merchandising revenue. To make sure fans come to the game, IT leaders in professional sports are employing everything from customer loyalty programs to sophisticated wireless networks that connect fans to not only the latest stats, but to a full range of multimedia properties they can access only at the game.
At the cutting edge of this trend are the New England Patriots, who will be playing host to 70,000 fans who will come to watch the AFC championship game played in what promises to be a chilly Gillette Stadium. The Patriots have spent a fair amount of the last year getting fans who have season tickets to download applications that, among other things, give those fans instant access to the latest online statistics and the ability to subscribe to NFL Red Zone, a service that gives them access to any NFL game in which a team is within 20 yards of the opposing team’s end zone.
According to Fred Kirsch, publisher and vice president of content for The Kraft Group, which owns the Patriots, the goal of providing online services is to enhance the community experience that fans can only get at the game. Given the cost of tickets, Kirsch says it doesn’t make much sense to charge extra for online services. As part of its effort to keep fans coming to Gillette Stadium next year, the Patriots plan to expand delivery of those services to every fan in the stadium, but also to add new services such as being able to order concessions that can be picked up at specific location, a parking application that uses global positioning system technology to identify open parking spaces, and even access content that only the Patriots can provide, such as locker room interviews and on-field conversations with players.
The Patriots are able to provide this capability, says Kirsch, because they worked with Enterasys to deploy a network throughout Gillette Stadium that includes 360 wireless access points. This year the network had about 350 GB of data downloaded per game on average, which Kirsch says is nowhere near capacity.
Jonathan Kraft, president of The Kraft Group, says the team selected Enterasys because it was the only vendor that would put its promised performance metrics in writing. The Patriots spent the last year essentially piloting the system with their most loyal fans, which Kraft says in retrospect may have been overly cautious.