If Super Bowl LI proved anything, it’s that the overriding fan experience trend for 2017 and beyond is the ever-closer integration of sports and entertainment.
The Super Bowl has been the undisputed king of American sporting events for years, but this year was different. Bigger. Flashier. More entertaining.
No single individual or company is responsible for the genre-bending success of Super Bowl LI. (Official NFL hospitality partner On Location Experiences, an innovative sports entertainment partnership that includes RedBird Capital financier Gerry Cardinale, Bruin Sports’ George Pyne and the NFL’s own private equity arm, definitely played an outsize role — more about them below.)
But the event’s success has clearly shifted the calculus for industry watchers — and pointed the way forward for fans everywhere. With that in mind, here’s a look at six of the top fan experience trends likely to change the game (pun intended) for fair weather fans and die-hards alike.
- Curated Fan Experiences & White Glove Hospitality
The “Wild West” of sports hospitality may finally be civilized. At least, that’s the gist of this excellent Forbes interview with On Location Experiences CEO John Collins, whose team put on an entertainment extravaganza for the ages at February’s Big Game.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, whose hometown team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in historic fashion this year, On Location Experiences packaged customized, white glove hospitality and entertainment opportunities with prime game day seating. By all accounts, attendees had an absolute blast. At OLE’s Club Nomadic, a “pop-up concert hall,” they got a semi-private audience with Sam Hunt, Snoop Dogg, and the Chainsmokers. They got to choose from three in-stadium parts, including VIP access to the Anheuser-Busch shindig at NRG Stadium. And, yeah, they got to sing along with Taylor Swift at a Saturday night blowout.
Six words for next year: Expect more where that came from.
- Literally Pulse-Pounding Wearables
Can’t afford to spring for a VIP Super Bowl package? Alert Shirt, a super-cool wearable innovation developed by We:ex, Foxtel and Che Proximity, might be the next best thing. We:ex describes Alert Shirt as “a fan jersey that uses wearable technology to take the experience into the physical world, allowing fans to feel what the players feel live as it happens during the game.” In other words, Alert Shirt is the closest you can get to the action without actually running onto the field — which, friendly reminder, is absolutely not allowed under any circumstances.
- Virtual Reality (VR) & Augmented Reality (AR)
Wearables like Alert Shirt represent the leading edge of a broader fan experience revolution. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies promise to shake up fans’ very notion of reality — and bring them closer to the game than ever before.
This Deloitte report touches on just a few of the potential fan experience applications for VR: 360-degree stadium cameras that pipe real-time action into fans’ headsets, for instance. For AR, the possibilities are even wilder. Think real-time stats and injury reports that turn the stadium into a deck of live player cards.
- Multiuse Stadium Environments & Sports Districts
This trend isn’t exactly new, but it’s definitely heating up. The first wave of fan-centric “sports districts” hit in the 1990s and early 2000s, when cities like San Diego and Cleveland spent billions revitalizing and enlivening neighborhoods around new or existing major-league stadiums, in a mostly successful attempt to emulate historic districts like Chicago’s Wrigleyville.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Like modern airports, newly built stadiums seamlessly integrate high-end retail, lodging, and mall-like amenities to create true destinations — places that fans in town for a weekend game feel like they never have to leave. Going forward, expect these fan-friendly destination zones to grow larger, more upscale, and more enticing to people from different walks of life — from suburban families, to urban high-rollers, to college students perched in the cheap seats.
Which fan experience trend are you most excited about in the near future?