SBJ/April 13-19, 2015/In Depth

Beacons upgrade Ole Miss rewards program

The University of Mississippi has seen a boost in student attendance for sports events after installing beacons across multiple venues on campus.

About three years ago, the SEC school launched Rebel Rewards, a loyalty program tied to a mobile application. To earn points toward winning prizes, students attending events with free admission, including women’s basketball, volleyball and soccer, had a bar code scanned on their mobile device.

When students attend a sporting event, a beacon at the venue picks up the signal from their mobile device and awards them points. The school uses the program to boost attendance.
Photo by: University of Mississippi
Last summer, Ole Miss upgraded the program by rebuilding the mobile app and using beacon technology as its foundation. Now, when students attend an event, as soon as the signal from their device gets picked up by a beacon at the venue, they receive a welcome message and confirmation of points earned.

Officials believe the new technology has helped them move toward the ultimate goal of gaining a greater home-field advantage through larger crowds. Ole Miss set a record for volleyball attendance and fell just shy of setting record attendance for women’s soccer this past season.

All told, about 5,300 people have registered for the rewards program, 90 percent of whom are students. Prizes awarded have ranged from T-shirts and lunch with Athletic Director Ross Bjork, to a new car and an all-expense paid trip to an SEC football road game.

The total investment cost less than $100,000, covering hardware and software expenses, including development of the new mobile app, said Michael Thompson, the school’s senior associate athletic director for communications and marketing. “It’s one of those factors that we believe is influencing attendance for sure,” Thompson said.

The beacons, as well as geofencing technology, enable athletic department officials to do some fun things on the road to keep engaging with fans off campus.

Last month, Thompson took a few beacons in his work bag to the SEC men’s basketball tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. He walked around the arena slowly enough so the beacons picked up signals from Rebel Rewards members holding mobile devices. They received a message informing them that they had earned 30 bonus points for attending the game.

In addition, Ole Miss had a few people armed with beacons hang out in The Grove, the school’s famous tailgating space, during an appearance by ESPN’s “College GameDay” last football season. Students earned points for showing up there.

On the geofencing front, for the 2014 Peach Bowl, Thompson created a virtual fence on his iPad that staked out a path along Interstate 20, the main thoroughfare from Oxford, Miss., to Atlanta, site of the game. As people drove to the Georgia Dome and had their mobile app open, they received a message from Ole Miss sharing in their excitement for attending the event.

“Those are messages our fans seem to enjoy,” Thompson said.

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