SBJ/March 14-20, 2016/Opinion

How technology puts fans in the game, measures enjoyment

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For the past four months, University of South Florida students and faculty have been involved with Enthrall Sports and the Tampa Bay Lightning to create and test a fan-friendly app that transforms the game experience by involving the fans in the game presentation, delivery and evaluation of the experience. Working closely with the Lightning’s game operations, marketing and social media teams, Enthrall, a Seattle-based technology company, has implemented and tested a mobile app feature that enables fans to determine the night’s music selections, create video content to share throughout the venue (and ultimately to fans viewing the game at home or on a mobile device), and become an active participant in game day.

In short, Enthrall’s technology enables the first, patented, real-time interaction between smartphones and the in-venue Jumbotron and other forms of display. Enthrall’s technology also includes facial recognition, enabling the team to analyze and measure the engagement level and emotional response of the audience.

Using Enthrall’s FanCap, fans can create short videos and submit them to the team’s control room. Real-time voting can be conducted via phone.
Photos by: COURTESY OF ENTHRALL SPORTS
It’s an area others are tapping into as well, including FanPics at Staples Center and Verizon Center. And the timing is spot-on, related to the spending we’ve seen over the past decade to improve arena and stadium technology.

We are leaving the era when fans and viewers have had content pushed at them; pushed content is all about the sender and not the receiver. Instead, “pulling” content from the fans engages them in a way that they can be creative by producing meaningful content. According to Enthrall CEO Alan McGinnis, “When content is pushed to the audience, it excludes fans from participating in the experience. Fans are eager to engage and participate and they expect to be able to do so.”

On a somewhat related front, team owners are in many cases struggling to protect the gate — the tickets sold to the game. The live experience is competing with a home viewing experience with very compelling HDTV, surround sound, multiple replays, their own food, drink and restrooms, and no traffic. Creating an epic, live game experience where the audience participates rather than spectates is a solid response to that challenge.

Fans have been creating team-related content and posting it on their preferred social media outlets for some time. Why not share that content with others who feel strongly about the subject matter and share it where it can have the biggest impact: in the venue during the game?

A LOOK AT ROI WITH ENTHRALL
ROI is always a key consideration before resources are committed, so a top-line projection of ROI might look like this for each of the affected groups:


Owners: Reap the benefits of an experience designed to encourage fans to leave their living rooms to be participants in an interactive experience that they help create at the venue. Owners love that fans become brand ambassadors by sharing their content and experiences, and potential consumers are drawn to products and experiences that are trusted and promoted by like-minded peers.

Fans: Appreciate that they can engage directly with the team and players via sharing their passion with meaningful content that they create and share with other fans to enhance the game atmosphere.

Sponsors: Receive real-time data and analytics regarding how fans respond to content enabling them to adjust campaigns and promotional activities for better performance and improved ROI. Sponsors also benefit from an entirely new inventory of content that can be sponsored. This content has life beyond the day of the game, and by its nature this content is much more engaging and could command a premium.

Venue: Is not burdened with extensive build out for Enthrall’s technical architecture. The platform resides on the existing local area network and requires

McGinnis describes the app as “crowd-sourcing content in a live, real-time setting. With our technology, the Lightning can offer an innovative, cutting-edge game-day experience that truly engages and entertains its fans.” Lightning CEO Steve Griggs says “the Enthrall technology enables us to tap into the passion and creativity of our fans on a nightly basis while enabling our fans to share their passion for the team in a variety of smart, fun and engaging ways.” It goes without saying that the cumulative effect of fan-generated content is to inspire other fans to become more involved and create content of their own, thus creating live inventory that can be repurposed and serve multiple audiences while living on a variety of platforms.

Enthrall’s mobile app — FanCap (short for Fan Capture) — lives inside the team’s mobile app. Using FanCap, fans can create short videos and submit them directly to the team’s game-ops control room. The team can request specific video themes (such as a victory dance) or accept video regardless of theme. The Lightning also can use the technology to conduct live, real-time voting and fan polling during a game. And FanCap addresses the issue of the music selections being played in the building, as well, asking for access to attendees’ music libraries and aggregating that music into a play list that represents the preferences of the fans attending that particular game.

 
The Lightning invites fans to engage in the game-day experience.
Using in-venue video cameras and Enthrall’s facial-recognition technology, the Lightning can obtain quick-time fan feedback and fan reaction, enabling the team to modify and experiment with what works and what doesn’t, possibly meaning intervention and change in the same game.

In a world of ubiquitous smartphones where everyone is a content producer, Enthrall created an app that capitalizes on the fans’ interest in producing and sharing content. Because of the stage, it can produce a high level of talent capable of creating the type of meaningful content shared and enjoyed by the masses of sports fans. While fans have been creating and sharing content on multiple social platforms for some time, Enthrall appears to be a vehicle that organizes the social chaos by creating a “fan channel” that serves as a conduit between the fans and the team.

Bill Sutton (wsutton1@usf.edu) is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.

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