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Scoring Big: 5 Ways Mobile Enhances The NFL Fan Experience

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Football field with mobile phone

Are you ready for some football? And commercials? And trolling your rivals’ Twitter feeds? And pre-ordering your Super Bowl XLIX World Champs shirt? Your favorite brands better be, especially if they plan to compete for your attention.

Engaging in the Big Game extends beyond yelling at the TV. Mobile engagement is becoming a strong contender for improving the fan’s experience during commercial breaks and the game itself. Advertisers know this, which is why they’re beefing up their mobile content and engagement strategies through apps, targeted messages, and social media.

More fans are using their mobile device as primary viewing screens at home as well as a means to consume second-screen content like fantasy football during live games. Stadiums are providing WiFi and mobile-equipped services like in-seat ordering, while mobile ticketing has become a fail-safe method for securing your spot at the game.

Come February 1, we’re excited to experience the next steps in bridging broadcast and mobile content. Here are five ways the National Football League (NFL), its teams, and its partners use mobile to strengthen the quality and enjoyment of the fan experience. Plus, a few examples of what we’d like to see.

1. Mobile As The Second Screen

For the 30th consecutive year, the NFL ranks as the most popular American sport. Like most powerful institutions, the key to maintaining your number-one spot is through adaptation.

Seventy percent of fans engage with their mobile devices during live games. The NFL has taken notice and started investing in digital strategies. For example, NFL Now is an app that provides users with game highlights, “Can’t Miss” plays, and even episodes of original content like “A Football Life” and “Hard Knocks.”

The NFL has chosen to acknowledge the shift in game watching. Sure, there are still those fans that can’t (or won’t) look away, but most of us want to gloat on Twitter or check to see if our Facebook friends witnessed that epic interception.

According to a study by the Mobile Marketing Association and SessionM, 59% of Super Bowl XLVII watchers used their smartphones during the game, and a total 91% did so during commercials. What’s more, 35% of those distracted fans engaged with a brand based on a commercial they just watched.

Here lies the perfect opportunity for brands to embrace users’ short attention spans by sending time-and-game specific content to their phones. Consider this hypothetical: You’ve just watched a delicious Dominos pizza commercial early in the game that prompts you to download their new app. Upon opening the app, you’re asked to choose the team you’re rooting for. By halftime, Dominos sends you a push notification congratulating your team’s lead in the half with a discount offer. Boom, you order a pizza.

By keeping the customer connected to the brand during the game and when they’re on their smartphone, advertisers succeed. Ultimately, brands win when they remember to make it about the customer and consider their context.

2. Mobile As The Primary Screen

Although TV still dominates when it comes to watching the Super Bowl, mobile viewing is not far behind. During the week of last year’s game, fans watched 10.3 million video streams on the NFL Mobile app. Furthermore, more broadcasters like DirecTV and CBS are becoming open to showing live NFL games on subscribers’ mobile devices.

This is great news for those with weekend shifts, disgruntled churchgoers, and out-of-market fans. What this tells us is that fans are willing to pay for premium, accessible content.

Recently, I was beyond Seattle broadcast range and attempted to follow the Seahawks/Rams final regular season game from a live-Tweeting blog. Between the confines of 144 characters and large gaps in reporting, the experience was poor to say the least. If I could have purchased a one-game pass from Verizon, I would have in a heartbeat.

The lesson here is that although pre-built packages make sense to broadcasters, they don’t always align with how users consume content. Netflix knows this – we binge-watch TV, but sometimes we only want a bite. If brands allow their content to be flexible, they can charge more for it and fans will pay. Why buy prix fixe when you’re only hungry for a la carte?

football game twitter feed

Twitter is a great complement to a live game. But it’s not enough to replace it.

Although live blogging doesn’t share the same sense of excitement as watching live, push notifications can be extremely useful in keeping fans connected to the game.

When your schedule doesn’t align with kick off and you’ve resigned to not watching live, receiving score updates via push notifications can be a life saver. They’re quiet, unobtrusive flashes of hope, fear, and jubilation all rolled into one. Most of all, they’re an efficient and effective means to an end: staying connected to the team. Verizon’s NFL Mobile app does this particularly well.

football game push notifications

Push notifications are a great way to keep fans engaged before, during, and after a game. Especially when there’s rich content, like in the Verizon’s NFL Mobile app.

3. Mobile-Enhanced Stadiums

With all these great viewing experiences, why would fans want to go to the game? Well, many don’t. A majority – as many as 57% of NFL fans – prefer cheering from the comfort of their own living room.

Because of this, teams have started looking for ways to enhance the stadium experience with technology. Jonathan Kraft, President of the New England Patriots, describes this challenge:

If we want people to still come to our stadium and find it worth the money, we have to figure out how we give an experience that’s different than the experience at home and give you all the comforts of home.

Many teams – such as the Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers – have invested in free wireless access at the stadium. High speed WiFi enables everything from video streaming to in-seat ordering. These are the kinds of features designed to make the live experience as comfortable and fun as the living room experience.

Social media access might be the greatest benefit of WiFi, though. As fans arrive at the game or watch a big touchdown run happen, they want to share the experience. The Patriots report that during these key moments, the number of uploads on the network actually surpasses the number of downloads. Fans are telling friends that they’re at the game through updates, photos, and video.

Teams welcome this publicity but also realize it’s crucial for keeping fans coming to games. Many fans view connectivity as a mandatory part of the experience.

fans at mile high stadium

Stadium enhancements keep fans engaged — even in the nosebleed seats.

Along with WiFi, venues like ATT Stadium are using beacon technology to augment the fan experience. Beacons can trigger notifications to fans using a stadium app, when the fan is in a certain range of the beacon.

This ability to send localized, personal messages has opportunities for both wayfinding and upselling. Beacons can pinpoint user location on a map more accurately or trigger push notifications for everything from shorter bathroom lines to seat upgrades.

Of course, WiFi and beacons become much more powerful when fans are using an app. The Levi’s Stadium app uses these enhanced networks to connect to a range of features – watching four replays at once, access to stats and game content, and in-seat ordering.

And while the app gives fans more to do during downtime, it also allows teams to collect deeper level data about fans behavior, learning where they’re going, what they’re buying, and what they’re watching.

Here we’re seeing that teams are investing heavily to pair digital experiences with real world events. This has many tangible benefits for fans, but also for teams. Fans get a great experience, and teams are able to gather valuable information about fans. And as they gather more information, the opportunity for using localized, personalized messages grows tremendously.

4. Mobile Ticketing Loyalty

Mobile devices are also making it easier for fans to get into games. Last season, nearly half of NFL teams began accepting mobile tickets for admission. The San Francisco 49ers have even integrated mobile ticketing into the stadium app, giving fans an additional tool along with wayfinding and ordering services.

While they don’t make great souvenirs, mobile tickets offer fans many other advantages. Tickets can be immediately downloaded and managed in apps like TicketMaster and Passbook.

This means no more scrambling to print tickets or worrying that you left the tickets pinned on the fridge. Improved barcode technology assures fans that the seats they just splurged on are authentic. TicketMaster enables fans to buy or transfer tickets, which helps fans get last-minute seats without having to make a deal in the stadium parking lot.

The shift toward mobile ticketing creates an opportunity for loyalty programs. Teams like the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets have recently introduced programs to reward fan loyalty. Fans earn points for attending games and engaging with the team. 49ers fans are rewarded for purchases, while Jets supporters can get points for “fan assists” – turnovers caused by crowd noise.

levis stadium app features

The Levi’s Stadium app is a great game-day hub. It combines mobile ticketing, a loyalty card, and in-seat ordering all in one place.

Loyalty programs have great benefits for fans and teams. Teams reward fans for their support while also learning more about fans and incentivizing their behavior.

Pairing these programs with mobile ticketing is a powerful combination. It’s a step closer to creating a mobile tool that both enhances the game-day experience and allows teams to have a deeper connection with fans after the game is over.

So what can we learn? There’s value in pairing digital and real-world events. But that doesn’t happen only at the event itself. There are great opportunities to look at the entire interaction a fan has, before, during, and after the game.

5. Fantasy Football

Loyalty programs are a great opportunity for fan stickiness, but another phenomenon has already engaged millions of football fanatics. This is fantasy football. Over 41 million people already play fantasy football, spending an average of almost 9 hours per week on the game.

Mobile adoption has been a big driver of fantasy football’s growth. For ESPN, participation increased 20% between 2011 and 2012, and a key factor in this growth is the app’s ability to let fantasy owners access games and content anywhere.

Fantasy football thrives on real-time information and research, and mobile apps afford both of these. Apps from ESPN and Yahoo both balance the utility features of the game (setting a line up, seeing scores) with the rich content needed for research (statistics, player updates, and expert opinions). The former makes apps essential during game time, while the latter enables deeper content engagement in between games.

espn fantasy football app features

ESPN ‘s redesigned Fantasy Football app lets owners easily manage the team and keep up with scores. It also features expert advice and video content to keep fans engaged.

It’s this between-game stickiness that has the potential to extend and deepen fan engagement with football itself. Many people start out as casual fans of a team, but become invested in individual players and teams as time goes on. Suddenly, Sundays aren’t just about watching the local game – it’s about experiencing all the games and plays.

If it’s true that modern brains are wired to seek out constant updates as a kind of reward, then mobile fantasy football does a great job of playing to this. The magnitude of fantasy football’s success might be hard to replicate, but there are still many things we can take away.

Apps often struggle with combining multiple features. Some fantasy apps, like ESPN’s, are finding ways to do both. They make managing the game easier, but also provide content to help users get better at it. This, paired with the combination of real-time updates and content marketing, make for an incredibly engaging experience, even when the game is off.

What’s Next?

Whether you’re cheering for your team at home, at the stadium, or anywhere in between, mobile technology is having a huge impact on the fan experience. It’s never been easier to watch a game or stay connected to the team.

The NFL and its affiliates have certainly kept up with emerging trends and the needs of modern fans. As the technology matures and enhanced experiences become the norm, the next step will be using data to make all interactions appear integrated and seamless – like a perfectly-timed ball dropping into the hands of a receiver in the end zone.

Special thanks to Anthony Bursi of Oracle, who researched and co-wrote this article.


Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

James Spence is a creative director and UX specialist, working for Oracle out of Seattle. He leads a team of designers, copywriters, developers, and art directors to produce award-winning, highly-engaging cross-channel campaigns for leading national brands. James has experience in visual design, UI/UX, and mobile interaction design. When not at work, James enjoys Boston sports teams, doing stuff outside, and playing with dogs.

(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)

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