SBJ/Jun 15-21, 2015/Marketing and Sponsorship

Jets stroll down ‘Silicon Alley’ with an eye on engagement

New York City’s “Silicon Alley” community of Web developers normally interacts with sports execs with the regularity of an East Coast earthquake. Still, there they were, 175 strong, a midtown melange gathered at a definitive millennial hangout: a WeWork location, which we made the mistake of calling a “temporary-office business.” Nope, we were admonished by a 20-something garbed black-on-black, WeWork is a “co-working space.”

Still, we aren’t the only ones trying to bridge the gap between millennials and baby boomers. The New York Jets, long one of the leading NFL teams in terms of interactivity, gathered six WeWork startup companies last week to pitch fan-engagement products in a “Shark Tank”-style competition. For the winners (and perhaps some of the other presenters): the opportunity to work with the Jets, along with club seats to the game of their choice.

Jets judges: Rosina Lansor, Paul Marsh, Jeff Fernandez, Neil Glat and Seth Rabinowitz
Photo by: NEWYORKJETS.COM
Certainly, it was an audience more accustomed to clicking through TechCrunch than these pages, but the presentations offered unique views of Silicon Alley’s view of opportunities within sports (largely social media-based). We noticed that the presenters, perhaps dreaming of angel funding and IPOs, all too often had to be reminded of the basics that we who survived the first Internet bubble will never forget.

“What’s your business model and how can the Jets make money from this?” asked Seth Rabinowitz, Jets senior vice president of marketing and fan engagement, to half of the presenters at the app-fest.

Jets President Neil Glat said the night was an effort to connect with both the tech community at large and Jets fans within that group. “We reached out to [WeWork] hoping to find better ways to engage fans,” Glat said. “This sort of thing takes us out of our comfort zone and takes advantage of us being in New York. We should always be doing both of those things.”

At least in part due to having former MSG President Dave Howard as a consultant, Satisfi, originally developed for hotels and resorts, seemed the most grounded in business realities. As a real-time customer service provider, Satisfi lives in a team app and enables fans in a facility to chat directly with team personnel about their most frequent, and frustrating, issues such as “Where’s the closest bathroom with a changing table?” or “My seat’s dirty or broken” or “Where can I buy a particular brand of beer, or any beer after the vendors have stopped selling?”

Dave Howard presents for Satisfi, which took top honors.
Photo by: NEWYORKJETS.COM
Some of the answers are auto-response, some are from team personnel, but the desired result is faster resolution of problems. Satisfi generates analytics that allow teams to show how long it takes to solve each customer complaint and spot larger customer service issues. “Sponsorship revenues are a possibility, and you can incorporate things like real-time e-coupons,” said Howard, now an independent consultant, “but the larger idea is that you build fan loyalty by resolving customer problems quickly.”

Satisfi has been in use at Citi Field, and company Chief Revenue Officer Don White said the most frequent questions invoked locating beer, bacon-on-a-stick and upgrading seats.

There were confusing apps, like MovableAds’ presentation for a virtual card game based on game action, with the end game of getting fans to watch advertising.

Everyone’s had problems finding friends at large events. X3East’s app claims to solve that with real-time mapping, so that, for example, Steelers fans at a Jets game could find where the majority of the yellow and black jerseys are tailgating, or the quickest way in or out of the parking lot. “Ingress and egress are the biggest pain points on game day and we want to eliminate those,” said Denis Cranstoun, CEO and founder.

There were some social media “curation systems” like Minr, a fan polling app from Yopine, which is hoping to provide revenue opportunities to many teams whose fans are looking down at their mobile devices (“proximal advertising”) as much as they are looking at the live action in front of them.

Teleport was an intriguing combination of Facebook, Foursquare and Periscope, allowing users to check in from different locations and see all the video, stills and other social activity generated at different locations or “channels.” To demonstrate, co-founder and CEO Preston McGee Jr. took a live selfie on the largest screen in the room. One drawback is that it is an independent platform, while it likely should be within a large application, like Twitter.

In the end, Satisfi took top honors. Glat said it might be in use as soon as next season. “We looked for innovation, how quickly we can adopt it and the practicality of the business model,” he said. “We’ll have to see how easily it scales, but we just felt like Satisfi scratches that itch fans have for real-time information.”

As for more traditional business opportunities within the world of sports marketing?

“Should WeWork be a team sponsor and buy a suite? Certainly,” said Jeff Fernandez, Jets vice president of business development and ventures. “First, we’re really just trying to reach out to this community to see if there’s a company or two we can grow with, make some great apps for the team and hopefully really make some money, if it’s a breakthrough proposition.”

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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