Igniting Innovation &
Technology in Sports

Dec 4, 2014 | 11:30 a.m. PT
Levi’s® Stadium

The Gameday Experience

Yao Xiao, Image Think

"The Game Day Experience" panel took place on Dec. 4. Below are a few "lessons learned" from the conversation.

Making Sure That “Being There” is Still Better

Is ‘being there” still better? 

Yes. That was the unanimous opinion of speakers at “Igniting Innovation and Technology in Sports.” 

But, making sure it stays that way, and can compete with increasingly tech-equipped homes, is a growing challenge.

“No one ever said their greatest sports memory was watching something on TV,” said Robb Heineman, CEO of Sporting Club, the parent organization of Sporting Kansas City, the pro soccer team.

And, noted, Wen Miao, senior vice president of Global Client Technical Services & Engage Cloud business unit at TIBCO, attending games is an important social event, an aspect of community building – especially on college campuses. That sense of community must ultimately be even more important than winning if fan engagement is to be sustained through the up and down cycle of winning and losing.

Still, the growing cost of attending sports events, together with the extraordinary technologies now available at home – HD, second and third screens, surround sound, and more – are placing greater pressure on the value proposition, said George Pyne, former president of IMG Worldwide Sports & Entertainment. As a result, expectations have risen for food, the length of lines, treatment by staff, and the availability of amenities like wi-fi.

Indeed, says John Paul, CEO and Founder of VenueNext, the firm created by the 49ers to advise other teams and institutions on state-of-the-art venue design after the 49ers own experience in designing the high-tech Levi’s Stadium. The first goal of stadium designers, he said, should be to mitigate the disadvantages of leaving all that technology at home. “You can’t turn people’s smartphones into a brick when people walk into the stadium,” he says, so providing adequate bandwidth is an absolute must.

But once you cover the basics, then what? What technologies enhance the fan experience, and which get in the way?

Some experiments with in-game content have been duds. Jed York, 49ers CEO, said his team’s provision of in-game replays designed to be viewed on mobile devices have been less well-received than expected. Bob Morgan, manager of Public Content Solutions for Facebook, said in-game chat rooms and similar interactivity didn’t work well either. 

What does work is help navigating the stadium experience from parking to finding the bathrooms to scouting out the shortest concession lines – “wayfinding” as it’s known. And that’s closely connected to the fact that people’s digital engagement is increasingly mobile.

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York told the conference that the percentage of 49ers ticket holders who use mobile is significantly up. That means it’s important to help them while they’re on the move – looking for parking, navigating the stadium. And it’s equally important to use the information gained from that mobility to respond in real-time to their needs. 

Last year, York said, the 49ers undertook their first experiment with scanning mobile tickets at their former home, San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. Its continued use at the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara has enabled the team to reduce ticket counterfeiting, manage parking inventory, and even manage concessions. For example, he said, it’s been discovered that more hot dogs get sold at the south end of the stadium than the north end. This discovery helps them manage inventory, reduce spoilage and keep customers happy.

But even mobile technology has its limits: why more hot dogs are sold at the south end remains a mystery.


Using Data to Build Engagement

Although most of “Igniting Innovation & Technology in Sports” focused on fan-facing technology, the potential uses of aggregate data also received some attention.

Soccer executive Robb Heineman noted that Sporting Kansas City, the MLS Soccer Club in which his firm, Sporting Club, is a principal owner, is gathering data from all of their different systems to build fan profiles and to better understand who their customers are and what those customers want.

And on a more micro level, they have developed the ability to monitor twitter feeds so that they can determine, for example, if there is a problem in a particular section of the stands with an unruly fan. The data that has been most useful, he said, “is the simple stuff that happens in the ecosystem.”

Are they at the point where they can change the beer on tap for a particular game based on who is coming? Not yet.

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York noted that the data obtained from online fan engagement, especially interaction with mobile devices, has allowed the 49ers to manage parking and concession stand inventory more efficiently.

Analyzing fan data isn’t limited to team and venue administrators. Claude Ruibal, Sports Partnership Manager at YouTube, described how Google Search set up a “war room” to analyze the inquiries it was receiving about the World Cup, and generated trends on what those queries were showing fans wanted to know, anticipating fan interest. 

He, too, noted the move to mobile: During the 2010 World Cup, only 10 percent of the Google searches came from mobile devices. For the 2014 World Cup, the percentage had skyrocketed to 71. This, he said, represents “a huge second-screen opportunity.” 

Moderator: Ben Cohen

Ben Cohen is a New York-based reporter for The Wall Street Journal's sports page. He covers college football, college basketball and the NBA, among other sports. 

Panelist: George Pyne

George Pyne is an American business executive and former president of IMG Worldwide Sports & Entertainment. Throughout his career, he has created billions of dollars in shareholder value for NASCAR and IMG combined, and has recruited and led talented executives to transform both companies.

Pyne has been recognized as one of the most influential people in professional sports by Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Sporting News and the Sports Business Journal. He is a member of the Sports Business Journal’s Hall of Fame and the National Football Foundation's Leadership Hall of Fame. He has been hailed by Advertising Age as one of its "Top 100 Marketers." Pyne has also received the NCAA's Silver Anniversary Award for lifetime achievement.

As the former President of IMG Sports and Entertainment, Pyne was the driving force behind the prolific growth of many divisions during his nine-year tenure. Pyne's divisions, including IMG College, whose revenues grew from zero to $500 million dollars and whose earnings grew at an annual compounded growth rate of 38 percent, drove meaningful shareholder value from Forstmann Littles' acquisition of IMG for $750 million in 2004 to its $2.4 billion sale to William Morris Endeavor in 2013.

Prior to IMG, Pyne was Chief Operating Officer of NASCAR and the second non-family member in 50 years to join its Board of Directors. During his 11-year tenure, NASCAR emerged as a dominant force in North American sports. At the forefront of the company’s explosive growth, Pyne's accomplishments included a $4.5 billion television rights deal in 2005, the $750 million sponsorship of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series in 2004, investments by 100 of the Fortune 500 companies, the creation of a $2 billion licensing business and the recognition of NASCAR as one of the most admired brands in North America.

Panelist: John Paul

As CEO and Founder of VenueNext, John Paul is responsible for the company’s growth and operations, while leading the VenueNext team on its mission to set a new and much higher standard for live event experiences. Prior to VenueNext, Paul spent over 35 years as a founder, CEO or executive leader of product and engineering teams at startups and major American technology companies.  

Most recently, Paul was Senior Vice President at Dish Digital where he created an Internet based next generation video distribution service, a continuation of his award winning work at Sling Media, with the Slingbox product line, which was acquired by Dish in 2007.  In 2002, Paul founded and created one of the first photo sharing services named Our Pictures Inc., which was acquired by Simple Star Inc. in 2005.

From 1996 through 1999, Paul was Senior VP and General Manager of the Server Division of Netscape, which was sold to Sun Microsystems for $1bn. After AOL’s acquisition of Netscape, Paul remained at the company as Executive Vice President, leading acquisitions of smaller companies in the calendar, email, music, application server, and wallet categories, and successfully maintaining a high rate of talent retention post acquisition through his innovative organizational leadership style.

Before Netscape, Paul held leadership positions in companies including Banyan Systems, Compaq Computer, Siemens and Digital Equipment Corp.  Paul graduated magna cum laude from the University of Illinois with a B.S.E.E in 1976.

Panelist: Robb Heineman

Recognized as one of the most progressive, forward-thinking leaders in sports today, Robb Heineman is the CEO of Sporting Club, the parent organization of Sporting Kansas City, and one of the club’s five principal owners. Heineman also serves as Managing Partner of Sporting Innovations, a technology company focused on innovation in sports and entertainment.

After taking over as the organization's CEO in 2006, Heineman worked with several local municipalities around the Kansas City metropolitan area to get a soccer-specific stadium built for Sporting Kansas City.

In January of 2010 the Kansas Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the plan for the 18,467-seat Sporting Park, an 18-24 field youth soccer complex and new offices for Cerner Corporation. The project drew nationwide acclaim, and was ranked the 8th-largest economic development deal in North America for 2010 by corporate real estate magazine, Site Selection.

Since then, Heineman has been instrumental in creating partnerships with worldwide leaders in a wide range of sectors. The spring of 2011 saw Sporting Club announce historical partnerships with the likes of Panasonic, Sprint, Cisco and Google, enabling Sporting Park to serve as a living lab for sports and entertainment technology.

Heineman has been at the forefront of the creation of Sporting Club’s groundbreaking membership model, a revolutionary concept that has changed the way fans interact with professional sports organizations in this country.

Panelist: Wen Miao

Wen Miao is a senior vice president of Global Client Technical Services (Global CTS) & Engage Cloud business unit at TIBCO.  Miao oversees the delivery and success of over 4,000 enterprise clients worldwide. As the Global Head of TIBCO Engage Cloud business, Miao spearheaded the launch of a brand new product designed for marketers to engage with their customers in new innovative ways.  TIBCO Engage uniquely combines real-time interactions, loyalty rewards, and social communities to create meaningful and personalized interactions that turn customers into fans. Miao joined TIBCO in 2005 and has served in a variety of leadership roles, including heading up TIBCO’s Analytics and Architecture Services group, where he created and oversaw execution of large-scale real-time enterprise systems.  Prior to joining TIBCO, Miao held senior management roles at Xelus Software, Netfish and i2 Technology.  

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