How the Sports Industry Looks at Mobile

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As event venues go, sports stadiums are some of the best. For fans of the team in question, attendance is more or less compulsory. Even for attendees who aren’t fans, there’s a novelty factor. And they are by design equipped to handle a high volume of people, comfortably. All of which Enterasys presumably understood when they booked last week’s analyst event at Gillette Stadium with the New England Patriots. The company responsible for bringing wifi to 70,000 Patriots fans every week assembled a collection of representatives from all of Boston’s major sports teams – the Patriots, the Bruins, the Celtics and, last but not least, my Red Sox – to talk about their mobility strategies.

While I’m neither a hardcore network analyst nor a Patriots fan (it’s the only New England team I don’t root for) then, the opportunity to hear senior technology representatives from multiple large sports businesses talk about how they were leveraging mobile made attending an easy decision. What I heard there was even more interesting than I expected. From Patriots President Jonathan Kraft (Williams Alum) to Red Sox Director of Business Applications’ Heidi Labritz (old colleague), the teams were candid about their opportunities and challenges both.

A few of the more interesting takeaways from the session.

  • Mobile App Development:
    The Patriots (and it sounded like the Bruins, Red Sox and Celtics) are a mix of in-sourcing and outsourcing with respect to mobile development. There’s no centrally adhered to policy one way or another.
  • One App vs Multiple Apps:
    There was an ongoing internal debate at least with the Patriots concerning whether the best strategy was one multi-function mobile application, or multiple mobile apps each with discrete areas of functionality (score tracking/updates streaming, concessions, parking, etc).
  • Mobile App Traffic:
    The Patriots mobile app gets as many impressions as their website, Patriots.com.
  • Mobile App Functionality:
    The mobile apps being planned and built are not just static pages, but rich applications. Full streaming video is one requirement, which has significant implications not just for the application design but the infrastructure necessary to support it.
  • Mobile Monetization:
    Because ticket costs for all of the sports are high, there was less focus than expected from the teams on monetizing their applications. All expressed a concern about the perception of “nickel and diming” their customers. Instead, teams were intent on leveraging mobile to either improve the customer experience, increase their spending via concessions or both.
  • The Threat of HDTV:
    Most of the clubs, if not all, regarded HDTV as a serious threat. Much as teams once feared regular Standard Definition (SD) TV broadcasts, the concern is that HDTV will offer customers a similar experience in the comfort of their home. As a result, teams are trying to emphasize the advantages of the live experience while trying to replicate as many of the comforts of home as possible – i.e. good bandwidth.
  • Mobile App Usage:
    Patterns of mobile app usage are predictably dependent on timing. Pre-game network usage around the park is characterized by heavy uploading to Instagram and other services. During the game, uploads decline while downloads – of streams, statistics or other relevant material – skyrocket.
  • Network Capacity Planning:
    According to the Patriots, maximum stadium capacity is 70,000 people. Peak usage last season was approximately 16,000, with 10,000 active clients the average. The club wants to design for full capacity, at least in temporary bursts.
  • iOS Traction:
    Interestingly, three out of four users at Patriots games were on iOS. They had no explanation for this division (there is an Android version of their mobile application).

It can be argued, of course, that sports as an industry is an outlier, with requirements distinct and divorced from those at more traditional businesses. And it is true that very few financial services companies, for example, need to concern themselves with the competitive threat of HD.

That said, in the importance of mobile to its bottom line, sports is no different from the majority of industries today. Mobile functionality will eventually become commoditized, like CRM or ERP today: no longer a competitive differentiator. Until that time, however, mobility offers a compelling opportunity for many businesses to differentiate themselves: witness banks like Simple or USAA, which offer deposit-by-phone. Given that opportunity to realize a competitive edge, intelligent businesses are looking to learn from anyone with deep expertise in mobile – sports included.

Disclosure: I am a lifelong Red Sox fan, Enterasys is not a RedMonk customer.


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