SBJ/March 24-30, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL ups fun factor via technology

Team apps could offer experiences

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The NFL plans to unveil tomorrow its latest initiative to improve the in-stadium experience, launching a partnership with app developer Experience that lets fans upgrade seats and obtain closer access to the team, like getting on-field pregame or getting an in-seat visit from a cheerleader.

League officials, gathering this week for the NFL’s annual meeting, are expected to brief owners on the initiative and encourage them to adopt the technology.

Experience sold the targeted service to three NFL teams last season and has a full client roster of roughly 90 pro and college teams. The NFL, by taking the expected action this week, is putting its stamp of approval on the technology, although the relationship brings no official designation.

The NFL model will lean on offering team experiences more than seat upgrades.
Brian Lafemina, the NFL’s senior vice president of club business development, who will report to owners tomorrow on the league’s fan initiatives, said Experience expects a notable increase in its NFL team users next year based on the company’s discussions with clubs. “They believe up to half the league will be deployed for the 2014 season,” Lafemina said.

Teams would pay a fee to use the technology, but the cost per club would decline as more franchises use it.

Like most sports leagues, the NFL is trying to enhance fans’ enjoyment of games in-venue, countering the allure of continually improving at-home entertainment systems. The league has created a season-ticket-holder perk plan and has pushed teams to offer exclusive in-stadium video. It also requires all plays to be shown on video boards and is moving to improve Wi-Fi reception at stadiums.

Experience’s service works as a link within a team app. Teams could generate revenue with the product by charging for the upgrades and experiences purchased.

The Atlanta Falcons were one of the clubs to use the technology last season, offering it to 3,000 of their season-ticket-holder accounts. The team branded the experiences “memories” and averaged about 800 sold per game.

“Anything from pregame on-field, to a birthday message, to cheerleader visits, to mascot visits, to the fly-by pass, which is a dedicated lane where you don’t wait to get into the stadium,” said Jim Smith, the Falcons’ chief marketing officer. “All the experiential things sold out within the first four hours they were made available.”

In the Falcons’ case, the team gave season-ticket holders points tied to their accumulated “memories.” The club plans to expand the program to all 16,000 season-ticket-holder accounts.

Teams may customize the offering any way they wish, said Ben Ackerman, president of Experience, but he said the expectation is that the NFL model will lean heavily on experiences. Extra seat inventory is low in the NFL, which sold out 98 percent of its seats in 2013, so seat upgrades may not even be possible in certain venues. (The Falcons did charge for seat upgrades).

The Seattle Seahawks, who also used Experience, allowed season-ticket holders to get into the head coach’s postgame press conference and kick field goals after the game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also used the service last year.

Whether the Experience product is available only to season-ticket holders or made available to all ticket holders is a choice that is left to the clubs.

During his presentation tomorrow, Lafemina is scheduled to update the owners on the overall progress of the league’s in-stadium experience push. Owners this week also will vote on a bevy of competition-related proposals and will receive a report on expanding the playoffs from 12 team to 14 teams, likely for 2015.

Last night, the owners were scheduled to hear a speech from Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, which is a business that describes its mission as “guiding companies as they build sustainable corporate cultures from the executive suite to the shop floor by demonstrating that how you do what you do matters more than ever.”

A source close to the NFL said Seidman’s message of how “doing the right thing in and of itself is beneficial and in the long-term more profitable” is important to Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Seidman follows a lineup of high-profile speakers who have addressed the owners at their annual meeting in recent years. Speakers last year included CBS President and CEO Les Moonves and McDonald’s President and CEO Don Thompson. In 2012, former president Bill Clinton spoke, and previous years’ speakers have included the heads of Google, Walt Disney and Goldman Sachs.

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