How Digital-Era Sports Franchises Pump Up the Fan Experience

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There are no time outs in the business of sports.

As fans, we want 24/7 access to news about our favorite teams and athletes, no matter how or where we’re viewing the content. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a game day or not. In season, or out of season. At the game, or watching on HD TV from home.  As consumers, we expect the same level of personalization that we receive from our favorite team as we get from our favorite retailers, airlines, or coffee houses.

THINK Sports Venue

Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium will feature IBM technology throughout to provide the ultimate fan experience.

Sports enterprises that want to provide an “exceptional” fan experience must create single information technology (IT) system to help combine the multiple points of engagement with their fans at home or at the venue.

To help sports enterprises deliver personalized fan engagement, IBM today announced the first global consortium and consulting practice aimed at modernizing venues and the sports experience of the future.

While times, and fans, have changed. Most sports venues haven’t. Whether inspiring growth in an existing sports enterprise, updating an older sports venue, or designing a new stadium such as Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, there are three pillars in the foundation of a successful sports enterprise: the fans, the team, and the venue.

The Fans

Today, the fan rules in every sense. ESPN surveys have found that over the years, fewer fans want to attend an NFL game in person. By watching at home, fans can control their own “narrative” of the game by connecting to social media and tweeting, posting, and sharing content as the game unfolds.

And yet, technology — the very problem — can also be the solution for getting fans to attend a game in person.

In a digital era sports venue, fans will have an immersive experience with the same connectivity they have at home. Where they can take advantage of a whole new world of statistics, sharing, and connecting with fans like themselves. Engagement with the game and other fans — instead of passive TV watching on the couch as in the past.

Technology can help weave together various parts of the game day experience, such as the logistics of getting to the venue: traffic, parking, public transportation, weather conditions, and the long, frustrating lines once fans reach the venue.

Creating an exceptional fan experience requires choreographing time (game day, non-game day, off-season), proximity (in-venue, out of venue, at home), and relationship with the sports enterprise (passive fan, engaged fan, high-value customer) to create personalized fan engagement.  Add to that IT trends, such as mobile, social, analytics, cloud, commerce, cognitive, networking and security solutions. The IT design requires deep understanding of human wants and needs.

The Team

The modern sports enterprise is a complex and multi-layered business, which includes operations as diverse as sales and marketing to managing the performance and health of team players. It’s a fragmented system of silos — on and off the playing surface — with multiple moving parts that affect the entire enterprise.

Consolidating data streams from the entire sports enterprise through a single IT platform can create a holistic view. By optimizing pricing and demand, the integrated system shapes real-time decisions and allows a sports enterprises to scale, grow, and innovate with ease.

A digital approach allows owners and senior managers to get real-time insight and a single view of KPI’s that affect the bottom line. Sales and marketing can understand the attitude, behavior, and needs that drive fan behavior in order to provide customized and personalized solutions. IT tools that secure and connect disjointed information from multiple apps contribute to a seamless sports business ecosystem.

Additionally, with multi-million dollar contracts at stake, each decision surrounding player selection, injury prevention, and collaboration of members of the team, becomes critical for improving performance on the field, as well as, achieving the greatest value from individual and collective player contracts.

The Venue

Fans tend to aware of only those situations that relate to them personally at the venue: where to grab food without missing a play or getting in and out of the venue without sitting in traffic for an hour.

However, operational efficiencies behind the scene that make it all possible — monitoring water, lighting, fire, elevators, heat and air conditioning, crowd management and theft control — are equally important to optimizing the venue.

A central command center, for example, can create a unified infrastructure that covers everything from streamlining security activity and announcements, to monitoring and managing the movement of fan traffic, to clearing up congestion before it occurs, ensuring energy efficiencies, and even tracking the weather in advance to be able to predict attendance and ticket sales.

The sports enterprise of the future goes beyond the venue, even beyond the broadcasts, into the fabric of fans’ lives through their devices and their passions, creating a new definition of personalized fan engagement contextually relative to the individual fan. Consolidating the three pillars of fan, team, and venue paves the way for a single view of the entire sports enterprise that is critical to staying ahead of the game.

For more information on the new IBM Sports & Entertainment Consortium and IBM Fan Experience consulting services, please visit – and check out these photos on flickr.

Global Program Manager, Cloud Communications; Managing Editor, IBM THINK Blog

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