In the debate about how to best enjoy watching sport, most would agree that those at the stadium have it best. The proximity of the live action amplified by the collective reactions of the crowd combine to generate a priceless “I was there” experience that most people dream about experiencing even a few times in their lifetime, let alone week in, week out.
Celebrating with strangers in the away end at a football match, waving Union Jacks at the Olympic Stadium, seeing the sweat drip off a boxer as he slaves towards the end of another punishing round, or relaxing with a drink while watching the cricket at Lord’s on a summer’s evening – all unique experiences to which sitting in front of the television can hardly compare.
That said, there has been some significant press attention of late focusing on the escalating price of watching live football. Rising ticket prices, along with the additional associated costs of the matchday experience (travel, food, etc.), all add up to create an expensive day out. And it’s not just the prices that can make sitting in front of the TV seem a bit more appealing; a better view of the action, replays, punditry (even if of often dubious quality) and the ability to go online and join a community of others watching the same event all contribute too. While recent focus has emphasised the plight of match-going football fans, many of these issues are common to all those who watch live sport.
Up until now, any complaints expressed by those lucky enough to regularly attend live top-level sport would have been dismissed as spoilt whinging from people who don’t know how lucky they are; however, the extent of ticket price rises, especially in football, and the simultaneous observation about the importance of fans to the health of live sport have started to make people sit up and take notice. Sport not only unites and inspires, but also represents big business. If fans stay away, clubs and stadia lose out on income, the atmosphere flattens (with potential impact on both the players and the excitement conveyed in the broadcast), and fans miss out on a potentially fantastic experience; in other words, everyone suffers.
And while the message is still filtering through to clubs and venue owners (though as a previous blog reported, innovative pricing schemes are becoming increasingly common), smart brands have already been stepping in redress the balance. With live events a central asset in many sponsorship platforms, focusing on those who attend is a vital pillar of a strong activation plan.
For example, to reward fans of Capital One Cup finalists Swansea and Bradford – travelling hundreds of miles to Wembley with fuel prices notoriously high – Synergy created the Capital One Convoy, thanking fans for their loyalty by providing them with free transport, another cost contributing to the high price of following a football team.
And recognising that the actual viewing experience at live sport events can often be compromised, with key incidents happening in a flash and without the benefit of televised action replays, Barclays, title sponsor of the Barclays Center in New York – home of the Brooklyn Nets – created an app that gives users a live stream and instant replays: the best of the live and televised experiences rolled into one.
Of course, one thing compromising the live sport experience (well, depending on your point of view) is the lack of internet in many stadiums, something else we’ve passionately questioned on this very blog. This is something that obviously distinguishes the live and televised experiences quite considerably, with TV audiences able to follow punditry on Twitter, interact socially with their mates, and engage with a whole host of branded content as they watch sport. Were WiFi to become widely available in stadiums, the opportunities for brands to step in with apps that improve the live viewing experience for fans would be manifold.
Indeed, some forward-thinking brands have already started to step in to fill this gap. At the Betfair World Matchplay Darts and the Betfair Masters for example, Synergy worked with title sponsor Betfair to install wireless internet in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens and Alexandra Palace respectively – allowing event attendees to bet online and interact socially in just the same way television viewers. A bonus for the brand – after all, they want as many people as possible to be betting on the action – and fans alike. And given the existing online inventory of many sponsor brands, be it content, websites or apps, it is surely in the brand’s interest to allow fans at the venue to make use of them (as well as boasting about their attendance!).
No doubt, the smartest brands will be those that enhance the sporting experience for those watching any touchpoint – be it at the ground, on the sofa or in the pub. With the size of the televised audience for major sporting events, only a very naïve sponsor would forget about the legions of fans in front of the TV. Hence the success of the RBS 6 Nations Live Challenge app, for example, which capitalises on the second screen phenomenon.
The atmosphere is ripe for rewarding those who attend live sport, and the message is clear: wherever they may be, don’t forget the fans.
By Jessica Enoch on April 4th, 2013