Fan engagement has become big business for sports clubs in recent years. One story doing the rounds, for example, says that when Real Madrid bought Christiano Ronaldo from Manchester United in 2009 for £80m, the club had already worked out that sales of replica Ronaldo shirts would more than cover the transfer fee. If not the wages...
In the seven years since Ronaldo made the move to Spain, football and other sports clubs have been careful to nurture and grow their audiences on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. They’ve also started to take the business of fan engagement more seriously in their stadia too, which is where Stadia Solutions comes in.
The company split from sister company Sports Revolution last August, leaving them to focus on sports media, sponsorship and marketing, while it concentrates on in-stadium engagement delivered via bespoke content on digital screens and mobile apps.
“The key driver for the separation of the business was to bring a focus for each company, so our job is looking after the rights holders, developing new media and revenue streams and providing them with operational services around their media assets, including creative content production, scheduling, and maintaining the hardware,” explains Stadia Solutions co-CEO, Gordon Campbell.
The company currently works with 52 clubs across 44 venues - some are home to both football and rugby clubs. Of those, 13 are in the Premier League, with the rest in the lower divisions. For all of these, Stadia Solutions produces a variety of content to be shown around the ground on match days – a useful time-killer when you’re in that massive queue for a pie and a pint at half time.
Man of the match voting screens offer a sponsorship opportunity for Stadia Solutions' commercial partners
But it’s the mobile side of things that we’re most interested in, of course. In this respect, one club, Celtic in Scotland, is something of a poster child for what the company can do if given free reign. Celtic fans can download the Celtic Live app, designed by Stadia Solutions, which launched in October 2014 and acts as a matchday companion.
Through the app, supporters can access an audio commentary on the game and trivia questions, as well as vote for the man of the match. Tweets are also monitored, with the best ones picked up and displayed in the app, a move which Campbell says has upped the quality and reduced the bad language in Celtic-related tweets on matchdays as fans are keen to see their tweet make it to the app.
When a goal is scored, the app serves up a card with some trivia or stats relating to the goalscorer. Along with the man of the match voting screens, these cards offer a sponsorship opportunity for Stadia Solutions’ commercial partners.
There’s also video footage filmed on the fly, interviews with fans, and predictions for the final score; all shaky-camera, amateur stuff and deliberately so. This goes out in the app before being released anywhere else and, perhaps not surprisingly in this user-generated content age, gets three times as many views in the app as the more polished, “official” footage.
This is all good and well, but do you really want all this stuff going on in-app when there’s a game to watch? Campbell says the company recognises that supporters are there to enjoy the game first and foremost. “The number one purpose is the live experience,” he says, “We want to add to that, not replicate it in the app. Everything in the app is punchy, bite-size and designed to enhance what’s happening on the pitch. And when we look at the usage of the app on match days, not surprisingly, it peaks in the run up to kick off and during half time and at the end of the match, with much lower levels of activity in between. We are all about how to engage the already-engaged fan."
The other element to the Celtic partnership is wi-fi. Stadia Solutions installed a wi-fi system for the club which is promoted on all media assets around the ground. Anyone connecting to the wi-fi for the first time is taken to a branded portal and invited to download the app for iPhone or Android. Once on the wi-fi, whether they download the app or not, fans can browse the web, with one or two restrictions. They can’t access sites offering live scores as they are available in the app, and if they try to access any betting provider other than Unibet, Celtic’s exclusive partner, that won’t work either. They can upload photos, but not video. Live streaming is also a no-no.
“The Scottish Premier Football League were nervous about allowing photo uploads, but in reality, people are not taking photos of the action, but selfies of them and their mates at the match,” says Campbell. “I hope in time we can convince them to relax the rules on the upload of videos too.”
So what does the future hold for fan engagement on mobile?
“The great thing about mobile is that it gives us the ability to learn about the fan in a way we’ve never been able to before,” says Campbell. “Not just data, but what they’re doing, their matchday rituals, so we can start to target content and give our commercial partners the ability to reach them in a more contextual way, bringing in new revenue streams for the club.
“We see the matchday experience evolving so that fans will be able to watch the content on the screens around the ground or stream it to their mobile device, and choose their own content. But it is an evolutionary process. Anyone who says they have the killer app for fan engagement is never going to get there. You have to try stuff, measure it and learn what works and what doesn’t, and that’s the beauty of mobile – it allow us to measure everything.”