Touchdown or Tripping Hazard? The ROI of Stadium Wi-Fi
For fans, the return on investment in sporting events is simple: Seeing their favorite team dominate competitors, pull off last-minute miracles and make the playoffs is reason enough to buy tickets. But for club owners and sponsors, the decisions aren’t as simple. Team performance is compounded by facility conditions, ticket prices and the availability of convenience-driven add-ons like ultrahigh-density stadium Wi-Fi. When does spending big bucks on stadium tech result in a revenue touchdown, and what challenges conspire to make this potential route to ROI a tripping hazard?
I Want Wi-Fi
Wherever consumers go, they want free Wi-Fi — and slow connections don’t count. Expectations for better wireless internet are on the rise: A study sponsored by Red Roof Inn found 83 percent of users are connecting at hotels, 72 percent in cafes and 64 percent in airports, the National Post reports.
What does this have to do with stadium Wi-Fi? Quite a bit. Even when customers drop into cafes for internet access or lounge in airports waiting for their next flight, they expect free premium Wi-Fi. What happens when they attend sporting events — sometimes for four hours — and want to make social media posts, comment on the game in progress or connect with brand advocates via mobile apps? It’s simple: They want the highest-grade Wi-Fi available.
Enterprise-owned stadiums are responding to these demands: According to MLS Soccer, Orlando City SC’s new facility features Wi-Fi with 583 access points, making fan connections available throughout the stands and every concourse.
“It all had to be built into the design, hence the back-of-house technology is very complex,” Brent Beardslee of ICON, the company that managed the project, told MLS.
Meanwhile, TechTarget reports that the Atlanta Braves are using their new Wi-Fi setup to roll out augmented-reality applications, which allow fans to point their mobile device at a player on the field and get access to stats, photos and videos. The Braves’ Vice President of Marketing Adam Zimmerman reflects that this technology is “a whole new medium to monetize.”
Show Me the Money
But how do enterprise owners shift from shelling out cash for better Wi-Fi to enjoying a healthy ROI? The road to ROI starts with recognizing — and then solving — the unique stadium Wi-Fi challenges. For starters, where do you put the access points? Mobile Sports Report notes that overhead networks seem to be the easiest way to provide wireless access and keep technology out of harm’s way. The problem? As fans find new uses for the network and mobile device adoption grows, Wi-Fi connections are quickly overwhelmed. Access points under the seats are another option, but these are prone to accidental damage.
One emerging solution is the use of proximate networks that combine front-of-section, back-of-section and handrail-mounted access points to provide total coverage. Many of Orlando City’s access points leverage this design in the form of small, rail-mounted gray boxes, according to MLS Soccer.
Bottom line? Good-enough Wi-Fi won’t cut it. Stadium owners need to balance the performance of proximate networks against the need for increased maintenance and repair of close-quarters access points. They also need to layer on the right technology to empower fan access and drive brand loyalty. It’s critical to invest in a robust mobile app that offers value-added content for long-term fans, in addition to sales and specials that visitors can take advantage of while at the stadium. Savvy social media use can make fans feel like they’re part of the game and keep them coming back.
It’s also important to consider the underlying infrastructure, too. For example, one session at the upcoming Sports and Entertainment Alliance in Technology (SEAT) conference digs into the impact of ultrahigh-density Wi-Fi on the NFL, highlighting how one club was able to reduce the total number of devices required while still maintaining superior network performance.
Fans expect top-notch Wi-Fi in stadiums. For stadium owners, it’s a steep investment. But the right deployment model, combined with intelligent monetization and solid underlying infrastructure, can help convert this expensive rollout into solid ROI.