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Writing the Playbook: The Sports Industry’s Mobile Strategy

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A few weeks ago, we highlighted some of the ways the airline industry is deploying mobile technology to improve the travel experience for both its staff and its customers. Another arena making hay with mobile is the sports industry.

While the business of running a team used to be conducted primarily with clipboards, whiteboards and VHS tapes, today it’s quickly turning mobile-focused, relying on tablets, smartphones and wearables. Across the board, the multi-billion dollar sports industry is investing big bucks in mobile and serving as vital testing ground for the latest mobile use cases.

Sports franchises, leagues and stadiums across the globe and at all levels are using mobile strategy to improve the experiences of:

  • Players on the field (and coaches on the sidelines)
  • Fans at home and on-the-go
  • Attendees in the stadium

Here’s a look at how the industry is using mobile to reinvent the way various sports are played, viewed and appreciated:

The Team Experience
Mobile today plays a pivotal role in how some sports teams enhance the performance of their athletes. Take the Seattle Sounders, a pro soccer team that has outfitted its players with wearables to optimize training and keep its players fit and injury-free.

The Sounders look at data like heart rate, velocity, acceleration and sleep patterns to build a complete player report every day. This helps the team’s coaches determine when to rest a certain player, when to remove someone from a game, which type of playing surface is most dangerous and many other factors.

The good news? It’s working. Since the Sounders implemented this mobile data tracking three years ago, players have had to sit out half as many days due to muscle injuries. In fact, the team finished the 2014 season with the best record in the MLS.

The NFL is another area where mobile is making an impact. Tablets are quickly transforming how teams coach their players in a big way. Microsoft Surface is the NFL’s official tablet sponsor, and every coach and player in the league now has a Surface or an iPad. These portable devices have largely replaced the traditional bulky three-ring binder. Teams use them to download and view playbooks and study still photos during games.

The tablets also allow coaches and players to stream and share video clips with each other, increasing off-the-field collaboration and preparation, which leads to improvements come game time.

Before the tablets, teams were confined to dark film rooms and strict schedules if they wanted to watch video of an upcoming opponent. There was no such thing as a game-time revision, because it was difficult to share information. Now, because of mobile technologies, NFL players and coaches can access all kinds of media from wherever they want, whenever they want.

The Fan Experience
Sports teams, fully aware their businesses are dependent upon fan engagement, have also turned their attention to mobile technologies to change how their fans interact with them — and vice versa.

For example, the NBA’s LA Clippers have implemented a system that allows fans to use their mobile devices to choose which highlight plays the arena will show on the in-house video board during timeouts. Say Blake Griffin throws down a huge dunk and you, the fan, want to see it again. You can now select the dunk via the Clippertron mobile app and then see it on the stadium’s massive video screen.

This technology allows Clippers fans to use mobile as a vehicle to interact with the team, arena and other fans in brand new ways. It’s redefining the fans’ relationships with their favorite teams by giving them power they’ve never had before.

The NFL is also placing RFID tags in players’ uniforms and at the first-down markers to enable them to track speed, acceleration and distance covered, accurately and in real time. For viewers at home, this data means better insight and visualization of how players are moving on the field. For example, fans are able to see how far a linebacker was from the QB before he was sacked, as well as the route he took, or the crisp right angles of Calvin Johnson’s double-juke move that got him so wide open for that touchdown.

At home, mobile gives “couch coaches” so much insight into the game that they finally have some legitimacy when they yell instructions at the TV screen. Research shows that 77 percent of us now watch TV with a laptop, phone or tablet nearby, which means fans are searching more on mobile in general and are doing so more frequently during games.

This new dynamic of sports watching creates more moments for marketers to reach fans on mobile devices, and also means fans are able to connect with their teams and other fans during games. After the Oakland Raiders recently dropped to 0-8 on the season, the team tweeted to its 400,000+ followers, most viewing a second screen, “An 0-8 record isn’t good, but many positives have come out of the first half of the season.” Fans, some skeptical and some sympathetic, responded within seconds.

All of this results in a more social sports-viewing experience; fans can, in real time, use mobile to share thoughts about a specific play, pass along relevant links or use video chats to share the experience with family or friends in different locations.

The Stadium
Mobile is also dramatically changing the design and functionality of sports arenas. Mobile apps are redefining how fans access food and drink at the game. Apps like Bypass, Snagmobile and Yorder allow for mobile food and beverage ordering and point-of-sale purchases from anywhere within a stadium.

Smart sports venues are implementing all kinds of mobile strategies. Levi’s Stadium is home to the first mobile app designed to enhance every aspect of a fan’s stadium experience. It can locate parking spots, unearth the least-crowded restroom, order food and drinks from seats, show instant replays and much more.

Meanwhile, the Sacramento Kings are building a new arena, slated for the 2016 season, centered around mobile connectivity. Fans in the new arena will be able to use their mobile devices to watch plays and replays from multiple camera angles within seconds of action on the floor and in some instances will dictate the broadcast.

The Kings are also developing an app that will serve as the fan’s wallet, ticket and social media platform to connect with friends in the arena. The team already made mobile news when it announced it was the first NBA team to accept Bitcoin, and it’s currently using Google Glass on the court and streaming live aerial drone video to enhance footage of the game.

“But I Don’t Care About Sports…”
The sports world has emerged as a key testing ground for new mobile use cases, with significant early success. Businesses of all shapes and sizes can take cues from the countless mobile initiatives of pro sports teams today. For example, expo centers, conference halls, and music venues could implement mobile technology similar to that in stadiums. Live televised events outside the sports world could supplement the viewing experience with mobile apps. And organizations with members who must be in good shape and avoid injury (think: law enforcement or military) could take a cue from the Sounders’ use of wearables. The list goes on.

Real mobile value emerges when we rethink how we operate and engage instead of viewing mobile as just another channel for business as usual. This allows companies to build more engaging and personalized experiences for customers externally and employees internally, and turn analysis gathered via mobile technology into actionable insights about their industry and constituents. Sports has helped write the playbook in this realm, and many other industries would do well to follow their lead.

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