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Sports Event end of year report: Tries hard, but still room for improvement

21st January 2020

Sports Event end of year report: Tries hard, but still room for improvement


Recent SportBusiness fan research suggests that the sports event industry still has a way to go before it achieves an ‘A’ star. Experts speaking at the SportBusiness Sports Decision Makers Summit suggested some areas of improvement and development.


According to recent SportBusiness Intelligence, 50% of UK sports fans would rather follow their chosen sport on TV than watch it live. I’m not sure about you, but that quite surprised me. To me it shows that event organisers still have work to do to improve the fan experience. Or perhaps, as most are selling out, they don’t care? It certainly is a reminder not to slip into complacency.


Of course, ticket pricing has a lot to do with it, and 68% of that 50%, cite ‘the price of tickets’ for their decision to consume sport from the sofa or on the go via the small screen. Other factors included convenience; the cost of travel; the hassle of travel; hassle securing tickets; improved camera angles and expert commentary. Many elements that are outside rights holders’ control.


Rights holders have a challenge. As broadcasters, who continue to furnish them with large chunks of cash, improve their content delivery and OTT offers ever-more bespoke options, how do they keep pace and ensure their sports forums are filled to capacity, and event day profits (I use this word advisedly, as opposed to ‘revenues’) are maximised?


At the SportBusiness/Sportel Sports Decision Makers Summit in July, experts debated how to improve the event day experience:


Michael Cole, CTO, at the PGA European Tour (which runs 46 tournaments a year across 30 countries!) explained that, “we basically have to build a town for every tournament…we no longer see ourselves as a golfing organisation, but an entertainment provider”


Connectivity is as basic a right to fans as latrines it seems. The European Tour does all it can to help fans amplify their experience through sharing images and video with friends on social media. Additional fan benefits are provided by seamless connectivity such as wayfinding and enhanced content. Cole illustrated the growing level of content being shared with fans by explaining, “in the last 4 years the number of player data points captured have increased from 23,000 to 700,000!” The PGA have sophisticated crowd tracking software which is used for safety and security, but also to maximise merch’ and food and bev’ sales. Push notifications are used to facilitate this.


An event such as the Open will require 200km of fibre to be laid and 400 cameras on course, plus 16/18 outside broadcast trucks. 5G will therefore have tremendous benefits for operators, although the impact will be minimal for the consumer; as there is not much 5G will do that WIFI isn’t doing already. It will, however, allow additional information such as immediate replays; and will also make phones cheaper and lighter, with an improved battery life.


Cole claims that ever-more technology partners are coming on board as sponsors of the European Tour, as they are wanting to showcase their expertise. He gave the example of HP; which has created an ‘intelligent course’ where they put their clients in touch with next generation technology. Cole accepted that golf needed to move towards the creation of new formats to engage new demographics. 


Paul Samuels, VP Global partnerships at AEG explained that “US Sports are very different as they are there basically as a background for a social experience- eating, drinking and chatting; rather than for the sport itself”. He was excited about the trend to use push messaging in augmented reality to create location-based marketing. He claimed that the festival experience was setting the bar for bespoke experiences- which will see a greater diversification of ticket pricing.


Samuels was quick to stress that sponsors can be used to enhance a game day experience- filling in the ‘dwell’ time with lounges for customers or experiential experiences.


Tom Jones, Senior Principal at Populous explained that, “for the new Spurs stadium we wanted fans to arrive earlier and stay later- we also had to make it NFL friendly. We did that predominantly by adding lots of additional facilities and reasons to be there; but we had to put the deep footballing traditions at the heart of the project”.


He feels that the fan experience starts with ticketing, then transport information, then a frictionless match day experience. As someone who has spent an hour and a half constantly phoning Carrow Road (56 times per day!), whilst simultaneously sitting on Norwich’s website, for two consecutive Monday mornings,  in the fruitless effort to get a single ticket (having spent £50 to become a Premium Member, on the promise it would give me ticket access), I would have to agree with him.


Jones felt that one of the best future revenue opportunities for rights holders was the implementation of real time sales: pushing merchandising of the specific scorer of the winning goal, minutes after it happens, in order to tap into fan passion when it is at its height.


Jones was delighted with description of the new stadium as a ‘pub on steroids, with a match taking place in the beer garden’. He explained that the decision to go cashless was based on service efficiency- to minimise queuing and maximise revenues.


He identified a trend in hospitality for more semi-formal environments (more intimate- but less private) and less private boxes, plus more unique access- such as a view into the players tunnel. And the options to upgrade at short notice (citing the example of a particularly important client turning up at the last moment).


Spurs’ next challenge is to secure a deal for naming rights, which do include roof inventory- for which planning permission has been secured.


Andy Rice, COO, Major Events International


Andy Rice was formerly Publishing Director at SportBusiness and Head of Sport at the Press Association, at a time when they were the host news agency for London 2012. He is currently COO at Major Events International; helping Federations and sports event organisers find the right partners to improve commercial revenues and operational efficiencies.