SBJ/July 26 - August 1, 2004/Marketingsponsorship

Ready for the next big thing, or will you be lapped by technology?

Those of us in sports marketing like to think that we’re early adopters, willing to learn and leverage emerging technologies in order to sell more stuff. But have you noticed that it is becoming tougher to keep up with changing technologies and consumer habits?

Radio had the American electronic mass media market to itself for 20 years before television arrived. That’s a glacial pace compared with what’s happening today. E-mail, mobile phones, interactive television and the Internet all arrived at roughly the same time, in the past decade or so.

While we’re intently focused on understanding the commercial potential of these technologies as they exist today, that rumble you hear in the distance is a tsunami of high-tech change racing this way.

Technology Review, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reported earlier this month on Microsoft Research’s Aura project. Aura is essentially a bar-code reading, Internet-enabled device that can be integrated into a mobile phone. The user can scan any bar code — on a Georgia Bulldogs T-shirt, a billboard in the men’s room at Heinz Field or a can of beer at a baseball game — and the Aura server goes to work.

In seconds, displayed on the cell phone awaiting input from the user, is purchase information about the product plus coupons and discounts, retail promotions, an offer to join booster and fan clubs relating to the product, health warnings, purchase and shipping information and a list of worldwide discussion and special-interest groups formed around the product. Users can respond to the choices. They also can e-mail it to friends and create their own interest group. They can respond to it with their own “blog” (Web log) or ignore it.

Ever wonder where your day went? Soon you’ll be able to remember, re-create and share every moment with products from Nokia and Microsoft.

Nokia’s Lifeblog service is already on the market. It’s a phone and camera, bundled with organization software that records, transmits and organizes hundreds of daily text messages, photos, videos and multimedia messages.

But Microsoft is taking this life-recording concept a big step farther.

Microsoft’s SenseCam is referred to by Microsoft’s engineers as a “black box for the human body.” This unobtrusive device, about the size of a badge worn clipped to your lapel, has a wide-angle camera that can automatically capture 2,000 images every 12 hours. It also can record temperature, light levels, motion, gestures and body heat. The result is a home-movie history of your life. SenseCam will include software that will enable PC-based organization and access to data.

Think about the sports-industry opportunities — if your customers buy your products, you can let them tag along with the Houston Astros’ Roger Clemens as he pitches Game 7 of the World Series.

Is your stadium’s naming-rights deal about to expire? Find out what new potential sponsors want to know about your property. Hang a SenseCam on 200 fans at the stadium on game day. Observe how fans respond to stimuli on the field, the scoreboard and the menu at the hot dog stand. Track every moment, every step of their time at the game.

A new wireless service, Dodgeball, is under development in New York and nine other cities, according to Technology Review. Using cell phones as the platform, Dodgeball tracks the movements of like-minded registered users and facilitates gatherings.

For example, you would identify yourself to Dodgeball as a fan of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. You tell Dodgeball to let you know when other Earnhardt fans are nearby.

Next thing you know, you’re stepping off the airplane at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis. You go downtown and punch a button on your cell phone. Dodgeball instantly identifies Earnhardt fans (and fellow Dodgeball users, and their friends) within 10 blocks. You text-message them to meet at a local sports bar.

Imagine the applications of Dodgeball to Earnhardt’s sponsor, Budweiser, and NASCAR’s title sponsor, mobile phone marketer Nextel.

These products aren’t science fiction; they’re real. Are you ready for them?

Don’t be too eager. The trick to succeeding with promotions in spite of fast-changing technology is not to plan too far ahead. One also must make sure that promotions are based on technology that sponsors understand. Because consumers will ostracize sponsors who don’t understand new technologies better than they do. And it’s critical that customers quickly, unmistakably, see the value that you’re providing to their lifestyle through the technology platform.

That high-tech tsunami is on the way. Sports sponsors who follow these basic guidelines will surf the wave instead of drowning in it.

Mel Poole (mpoole@sportsbusinessjournal.com) is president of consulting and marketing firm SponsorLogic.

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