This was certainly an active football season. Even those who usually tune out the sport couldn’t ignore the attention that Ray Rice and others brought.
But it was not all about plays on the field and scandals off. There was a lot happening throughout the league to transform the fan experience, both in the stadium and out. There has never been a better time to be a fan of the NFL if you seek interaction with the players and your peers, and immersion into the game. What’s the driving force behind this fan experience transformation? Mobile.
With 59% of ESPN’s unique users exclusively accessing content on smartphones and tablets, it’s no surprise that mobile took a leading position in the marketing and fan engagement strategy for the league, teams and publishers. Here are a few of the best plays of this season.
- The In-Stadium Experience Gets a Makeover: In a bid to win over the 57 percent of fans who prefer to watch the game at home, teams made innovative upgrades to reinvigorate the in-stadium experience to be more interactive and engaging. This was the first year that the San Francisco 49ers played in the new high-tech Levi’s Stadium. The stadium, easily the most futuristic in the league, is outfitted with beacons that talk to its new app, helping folks check the lines at the bathroom and get directions to their seats. Fans can now order food and drinks without leaving their seats and in between beers and hotdogs, they can stream (at a very high speed) replays and access other stats.
At the AT&T Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys fans used their smartphones to display their selfies and other pictures on large LED screens. Through the AT&T stadium app, fans lit up the seats in unison with their phones lighting up with a strobe display. All of these features and capabilities drive engagement and participation from fans throughout the entire game.
- Fantasy Football Leagues Cater to the Smartphone Generation: ESPN Fantasy Football, the most popular fantasy game, rolled out a redesigned cross-platform experience with mobile as the primary pillar, following 68 percent of its fantasy traffic in the 2013-14 season coming from mobile. Even if fans did not use the most popular platform for their fun, chances are they were still managing their dream teams via mobile. The NFL.com also rebuilt a new fantasy football app this year keeping fans close to their team on the go. In the seasons ahead, we will see these apps get more personalized and contextual, such as surfacing unique content and experiences when the fan is in the stadium where one of their players is on the field.
- Games, replays and other content available anywhere with near universal live streaming: Fans are a mobile breed — always on the go — and want a plethora of video content at their fingertips whenever and wherever they want it. This season, live streaming via mobile was on overdrive. The New York Jets, for instance, made available live pre- and postgame videos, press conferences and other team events via mobile. MSN expanded its real-time sports video coverage to mobile. And as the season’s high-pressure last few weeks approach, all playoff games are being streamed live via mobile ensuring no fan misses a play.
- Traditional Brand Advertising Gets a Twist: In addition to multimillion-dollar TV spots and in-stadium signage, marketers this year sought to engage with captive football fans via mobile. In the Indianapolis Colts stadium, for instance, appliance, electronics and furniture retailer hhgregg embarked on a branding initiative via a mobile football game that had fans pitted against each other for prizes, gift cards and team merchandise. Fans started playing against each other on game days, and the matchups were displayed on iPads and an Xbox in the stadium to capture the attention of passersby, and the top three players are listed on the stadium’s leaderboard.
In the seasons to come, we are sure to see teams, publishers and stadiums take a much more mobile-first approach. As the cost of going to games increases, and the lure of watching it for free from your warm couch endures, introducing unique, stadium-only experiences will be essential for teams to get fans in the seats. Furthermore, the demand for personalized, real-time content on any screen that fans now demand — be it existing smartphones and tablets or emerging wearables like iWatches and Google Glass — will be a central focus for teams and publishers as they seek to engage fans and drive revenue.Enjoy the last few weeks of the season. It’s shaping up to be an exciting finish.