by Thor Olavsrud

IBM forms practice to improve engagement for sports fans

Nov 20, 2015
Consumer ElectronicsMarketsTechnology Industry

Big Blue's new Sports and Entertainment Global Consortium and the IBM Sports, Entertainment and Fan Experience consulting practice aims to offer sports enterprises an integrated capability spanning design, strategy, technology and data to drive growth and profit.

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Credit: Thinkstock

Sports fans are passionate about their teams. While that passion generates plenty of revenue for franchises, leagues and broadcasters, the explosion in mobile technologies, social media and data offers significant growth potential.

The combination of sporting events and sales of sporting goods, apparel and equipment now generates as much as $700 billion a year, according to global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

[ Related slideshow: 8 ways analytics are changing pro sports ]

“The sports industry has witnessed substantial growth worldwide, and is progressively becoming a lever boosting economic development and awareness of cities and countries,” Nicolas Sultan, principal at A.T. Kearney Middle East, said in a statement accompanying the release of an A.T. Kearney report on the business of sports last year. “Sports has also become the most secure way for programmers to retain viewership when the TV audience is increasingly fragmented among hundreds of channels and the rise of the Internet. Winners in the business of sports will be those players who excel and develop a winning formula.”

Making fans part of the action

The generally accepted bedrock of that winning formula has been a new focus on digital fan engagement — delivering a richer, more personalized experience to fans both in-venue and at home that takes advantage of the now nearly ubiquitous “second screen” of mobile devices. A fully designed and realized experience of this sort should move fans from passive spectators to active participants via multiple points of engagement. This has created new opportunities for technology providers that can help power fan engagement initiatives.

[ Related: How data analytics finds the truth — in baseball and in business ]

Sports venues, in particular, are losing ground as fans now largely prefer the broadcast experience to the in-stadium experience. Fewer than half of U.S. stadiums, for example, provide even basic connectivity on game days and even fewer are equipped to meet fan expectations for wireless services to mobile devices, ecommerce and entertainment options, and delivery of data and analysis of events and athletic performance.

Yesterday IBM took a step to further capitalize on those opportunities with the creation of the Sports and Entertainment Global Consortium, which brings together specialists in construction and design, network infrastructure, wireless and telecommunications with the aim to “design, build and deliver the ultimate fan experience.”

[ Related Slideshow: How technology gives the sports iIndustry a winning edge ]

IBM also announced the new Sports, Entertainment and Fan Experience consulting practice led by Jim Rushton, formerly chief revenue officer of the Miami Dolphins and Sun Life Stadium. The consulting practice will deploy more than 100 global specialists in experience design, mobility, marketing and data analytics supported by a global network of 20 digital design studios.

Founding members of the consortium include the following:

  • Construction and design: AECOM, HOK, Whiting Turner
  • Infrastructure technology/carriers: Alcatel/Lucent, Anixter, Commscope, Corning, Juniper Networks, Ruckus Wireless, Schneider Electric, Smarter Risk, Tellabs, Ucopia, Zebra Technologies, YinzCam (IPTV), Zayo, Zhone
  • Communications solutions providers: Level 3, Verizon Enterprise Solutions
  • Fan experience consulting and data management integration: IBM

Collectively the consortium members already work with more than 250 of the world’s top sports venues.

Turning fan enthusiasm to revenue

“Sports enterprises and venues need to look at ways to get to know their loyal fans as individuals and convert that fan loyalty into new venue streams — not just on game days but 365 days a year,” Rushton said in a statement Thursday. “It’s an ongoing experience that starts when a fan purchases tickets, travels to the venue, attends an event; and it continues well after the event is over.”

[ Related: The Internet of Things comes to the NFL ]

“IBM’s approach from the outset has been to combine the tech savvy of its integrated systems expertise with the best practices of its heralded fan-friendly, immersive data engagements at major sporting events,” Jared Miller, chief technology officer, Arthur M. Blank Sports & Entertainment Group, added in a statement Thursday. IBM is a founding partner for Arthur M. Blank Sports & Entertainment Group’s downtown Atlanta Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which will be the home of the NFL’s Falcons and Atlanta United FC of Major League Soccer when it opens in 2017.

“From supplying the robust infrastructure in its advanced fiber-based optical networks and distributed antenna system that ensures connectivity for fast, reliable Wi-Fi over 70,000 fans attending a game, to the video displays and digital signage, IBM is building the network backbone that will support the operational systems for the stadium, such as physical security capabilities including cameras, managed doors and video intercom systems.”