2nd Screen Summit: Beacons, Connectivity Aim To Keep In-Venue Fans Engaged

Today’s sports fans demand a constant state of connectivity in order to check scores, stats, fantasy teams, and breaking news at the swipe of a phone or tablet screen. That insatiable appetite for multiscreen content only intensifies when fans pass through the turnstiles to attend a game, putting the onus on the venue to offer not only reliable, consistent cellular/WiFi connectivity but also attractive multiscreen content that keeps the user engaged with the game playing out on the field.

“When you are talking about something as new as [in-venue multiscreen content], listening is as important as developing the tech on our own,” MLBAM SVP Content Technology and CTO Joe Inzerillo said at the 2nd Screen Summit (co-produced by SVG) last month in New York. “So we concentrate on things like proximity sensors and connectivity within the venue to make sure people can get the content. We are going for more of a comprehensive underpinning approach, and we feel like the use cases are going to come as people start to engage more with the app in the ballpark on a routine basis. The fans will let us know.”

MLBAM Sees Huge Potential in iBeacon Tech
In April, MLBAM completed the first phase of its widespread installation of Apple’s iBeacon technology, rolling out hundreds of iBeacons throughout 24 MLB ballparks, allowing fans to use the technology to automatically check in to every home game and get offers and rewards. Additional ballparks will be outfitted with dozens of new iBeacons to bring interactive experiences to each.

Apple iBeacon hardware emits a Bluetooth low-energy signal, which iOS devices detect, and uses geofencing for micro-location awareness. The iOS device alerts the At the Ballpark app that the user is approaching or leaving a location with an iBeacon and determines its proximity.

“Ultimately, I think, beacons or proximity technology are all about establishing context in a frictionless way for the user so that we can try to guess what they are most likely to do next. That is really what we are trying to accomplish.”

Since Opening Day, MLBAM has upped the iBeacon ballpark count to 28 and, next week, will raise the stakes even further with the introduction of interactive ballpark attractions at Target Field for the All-Star Game. Fans attending the All-Star events with At the Ballpark on their iPhone (iOS 7 required) will be able to use iBeacon, which offers a unique mobile perspective through original content automatically delivered to their iPhone.

“We feel like we will have all the ballparks done very shortly,” said Inzerillo. “Specifically for All-Star, we have really done some pretty cool stuff to allow people to experience things not just at the ballpark but also around the city and at FanFest. People can almost go on a scavenger hunt to collect more information about the All-Star Game and what’s going at Target Field.”

Barclays Center Leads the Way for Arenas
The Barclays Center and Brooklyn Nets apps — which began successfully using beacons through Proximity during the NBA Playoffs this season — are among the most advanced live in-venue offerings to date, boasting interactive venue information, live video feeds, and replays (powered by Cisco StadiumVision Mobile multicast streaming and supported by Cisco Connected Stadium WiFi). In addition, the venue offers a password-free public high-density WiFi network free of cost, moving the burden of traffic off the cellular networks. And the Barclays Center continues to work with Cisco, High Point Solutions, and other vendors to ensure top-notch cell-network connectivity throughout the venue.

“We want our fans to be engaged throughout the entire lifecycle,” said Logan Meier, senior director, facilities presentation, Barclays, “and part of that is giving them unique and premium content and, most important, educating them to let them know the content exists and where to find it, [and] making sure they log back into the Barclay Center and Brooklyn Nets apps to consume all this content we are offering them by sharing it through social media and other outlets. Every single night, we will offer new and unique content that is not offered on the center-hung board or the Website, so we need to let our fans know this content is there.”

Getting Ahead of the Game
For its part, EVS has helped to make massive inroads when it comes to multiscreen experience, both inside and outside the venue. Using its C-Cast technology, FIFA is offering the popular MatchCast app during the World Cup this summer, which allows users to choose among six feeds (main match feed, tactical feed, two player feeds, two team feeds), as well as a variety of video clips and varying angles for every key moment in a match.

However, half the battle for apps like At the Ballpark, the Nets and Barclays apps, and MatchCast is getting the fan to download them in the first place. Although alerts on the videoboard are helpful, downloading robust apps like these in a venue that may already have connectivity challenges is not ideal.

“When a fan is in-venue, it’s not the ideal time for them to download the app,” said James Stellpflug, VP, sports products, EVS Americas. “You have bandwidth problems and the need for the fan to become disengaged from the game to download the app. So we are seeing a lot of our customers working with us to come up with solutions to get fans to download the app before they come to the event. Then, at the event, they remind the users that there is content available to them.”