Sports Venue Production Summit: Entertaining Fans in the Stadium Means Making Them Feel at Home

The art of entertaining fans in-venue via a videoboard has become just that: an art form. With fans enjoying increasingly impressive and engaging productions on their televisions at home, the pressure is on to provide a truly special experience in the stadium when they do pony up for tickets and come out to a game.

At SVG’s Sports Venue Production Summit in Philadelphia last month, videoboard– and in-venue–production professionals discussed some of their strategies for keeping fans entertained. What that comes down to is giving them the best bang for their buck, which, these days, means providing the amenities and information that they’d get from their home TV and internet connection.

“Our goal is to try to create, in essence, as close to network-TV–type coverage of the game, which largely focuses on replays,” said Marc Bauman, SVP/executive producer, Creative and Technical Production Services Group, Madison Square Garden Co. “We are trying to push replays all of the time.”

In fact, he said, during a New York Knicks or New York Rangers game, his team will cue up as many as 110-180 replays. Replays have come to be a core offering that fans expect from a videoboard, and, when the action on the field stops, their eyes look for them.

Carl Mandell, director, broadcasting and video production, Philadelphia Union, concurred, noting that, in all sports, when play pauses, fans turn to the videoboard. “We take that fact and use it to our advantage,” he pointed out. “Action is constantly going on in [soccer], but, any and every time there’s a break in action, we are putting something new up on the board.”

Madison Square Garden’s Marc Bauman, the Philadelphia Union’s Carl Mandell, and the Philadelphia Phillies’ Sean Rainey participate in a panel on production strategies for entertaining fans in-venue.

Madison Square Garden’s Marc Bauman, the Philadelphia Union’s Carl Mandell, and the Philadelphia Phillies’ Sean Rainey participate in a panel on production strategies for entertaining fans in-venue.

Soccer is different from most mainstream U.S. sports in that there is very little — if any — play stoppage outside of halftime. This means that Mandell’s team really needs to maximize its time to engage fans during pregame and in the very tiny moments when the ball is out of play.

MLS clubs may have a small window to entertain fans in and provide content, but other sports are blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with far more time to fill. Consider NASCAR, where a race day is an all-day affair. At some tracks, the gates may open as early as 12 hours before the start of a race, meaning that a whole lot of content needs to be created.

“We had a race in Texas recently where we had an 8 a.m. crew call, the gates opened at 10 a.m., and the race started at 7 p.m.,” reported Michael Rocha, director, content services, Panasonic Xperiences, which works in many stock-car–racing venues. “We have lots of opportunities to entertain the fans, and our challenge is to find ways to entertain them, keep them engaged, and build up the momentum to when those cars finally start making those left turns around the track. That’s actually when our day gets easy: when the race starts.”

In addition to replays, fans also look for relevant stats and data. In the case of the NFL, which as a league has nationwide appeal, giving fans what they would get at home means keeping them up-to-date on the other games going on around the country and, perhaps most critical, the fantasy stats being registered.

“We’ve come to realize how knowledgeable our fans are, and most them are season-ticket holders,” said Carson Smucker, a producer for the Philadelphia Eagles. “So what we try to do is supplement the videoboards with all of the other information they would get at home. We make sure our fantasy scores and out-of-town scores are constantly being updated, provide live updates when another team scores, and make sure our fans have everything that they would have if they were at home. That’s what makes them the most happy.”