As one of America’s biggest annual sporting events kicks off today in basketball arenas all across the country, there is no better time to reflect on the importance of connectivity and technology in the sports and entertainment industry.

Last weekend, I participated in a Connected Stadium Panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference alongside experts and executives from teams, leagues and other technology industry leaders. The conversation focused on the evolving needs of the Digital Fan. Fans all around the globe now are demanding a better digital experience inside and outside the stadium – and before, during and after the game.

We recently conducted a survey of more than 1700 fans from around the world to understand what they want at sports venues and the findings were quite striking.

First – their digital demand has more than doubled in the last 3 years. Now more than 97% of all fans bring their mobile device into the event, and 50% expect to be able to share their game experience via their social networks at the event. That’s up from just 25% a few years ago.

Digital Fan Demand

When we asked fans what their top desires were to see the game experience improved – their top five responses were:

  1. Better and simpler WiFi experience
  2. A more immersive mobile and video experience
  3. Easier ability to identify and pay for available parking spots
  4. Better food!
  5. And of course, more comfortable seats

I find it fascinating that the top three are all technology related.

Then we asked fans what types of immersive mobile experience they wanted – they made it quite clear:

  • 62% – Mobile Video & Stats
  • 58% – Social & Interactive Fan Services
  • 57% – Event Services, Ticketing & Promotions
  • 48% – HD Displays and Dynamic Signage (throughout the venue)

And – 70% of fans are willing to receive targeted ads and promotions on their mobile device when engaged with relevant event content and services. This provides an enormous opportunity to increase levels of fan engagement for teams, leagues and stadium owners.

Obviously this type of fan experience requires stadium infrastructure investments and engaging fan-facing technologies to enhance the live sporting experience and create more value for patrons, sponsors and teams. Clearly the demands of the digital fan in the sports industry mirror those happening in all others – the digital age is transforming every business.

Our panel discussion touched on all these elements – and the panel highlighted three keys points that reinforce broader digitization themes across all consumer and data intensive industries:

  1. Consumers want more – in all industries, the advantage comes through innovation and insights. Consumer “pull” is a driving force of digitization and knowing what the customer wants and being able to adapt and deliver on that in real time will set the industry leaders apart from the rest of the pack. In the sports world, we know exactly what fans want and understand those strategic insertion points for technology– reliable Wi-Fi, convenient parking, instant replays, immersive content, shorter lines. Live sports will always remain a “heads up” game, but fans are saying these are essential to overall satisfaction of the live game-day experience.
  2. Customize it – it should come as no surprise that context is king and there is no one-size-fits-all experience for today’s sports fan. A fan with a 9-year-old child in tow needs a far different experience from the group of 20-somethings celebrating a bachelor party. Understanding the consumer and his/her needs (as well as how they might differ from other consumers) represents a huge need for more business intelligence and analytics across all industries. In short, fans want teams and properties to know them as well as they know their favorite teams.
  3. Build for the future – in our line of work, we understand better than anyone how quickly technology changes and evolves. With all of the resources invested in building new stadiums, it is essential to build on a flexible platform that can be adapted to meet the evolving needs of sports fans. The same is true of any industry that is centered on the consumer experience. Technology refresh cycles continue to compress to keep up with consumer demands as continuous innovation – with measured impact – still distance the leaders from the pack.

So that begs the question – how can a company or sports arena afford not to keep up with the ever-evolving technology? The answer is simple – they can’t.

I’ll be at the NCAA games today in Raleigh, NC – hopefully I’ll be able to have a great digital fan experience!

Learn more about the 350+ stadiums and arenas where Cisco has deployed leading digital solutions that are transforming the fan experience.