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So what conclusions could we draw from the astounding levels of digital engagement achieved at Super Bowl 53 held at Atlanta’s iconic Mercedes-Benz Stadium? Not surprisingly with cutting-edge tech deployed across the venue, including an all-fibre optic technology infrastructure and 1,800 Wi-Fi access points, the record books were rewritten for a single event, with an astonishing 24 terabytes of wireless data consumed by fans within the stadium…. Not only is this an increase of nearly 50% on last year’s record breaking 16TB at Minneapolis’ U.S. Bank Stadium, but more than seven-fold increase over five years since Super Bowl 2014 measly 3.2 TB of data consumed by fans during the game!

According to official statistics, records were set in every category of network measurement, including a 70% take up from fans with over 48,000 unique users on the network during the game and a staggering 30,000 concurrent users, during the halftime show featuring the band Maroon 5. In addition to this greater take up, usage per person also increased, with each “connected” fan, consuming a colossal 492 megabytes of data each – up nearly 20% on last year…

It is an unavoidable conclusion, that given a ubiquitous, fast reliable network, fans will consume and engage digitally – one senior sporting executive I spoke to who attended the game in Atlanta, said that it was one of the fastest networks he’d ever used and its speed and quality encouraged him to engage with the venue in a way he had never thought possible before – ordering drinks, merchandise and watching high definition video replays during breaks in play… he was so confident of its quality and low latency, he even FaceTimed his family in the UK during the game, allowing him to share his excitement and the compelling and unique atmosphere of Super Bowl 53!

So the question is, what on earth were the fans doing on their smartphones to use this much data and was it worth the massive investment made in technology supporting fan engagement and e-commerce?

Well you decide, but there were over ten thousand food & beverage orders, including over 75,000 credit card transactions processed which is a single-event record for all sports venues. In terms of F&B favourites thirsty fans ordered 117,400 beers and consumed 16,300 hot dogs making it the most popular food item ordered across the event.

Not surprisingly, the most popular apps were YouTube, iTunes, Spotify and Netflix with the most used social apps being Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat with a massive 2.83TB of data transmitted through fans sharing their special moments with friends and families across the world. Interestingly for the first time at a Super Bowl event, Instagram was the leading social app beating long time leader Facebook with over 21,000 fans using over 1TB of data from Instagram alone.

I know what you’re thinking – what has all this got to do with me and how can an event like Super Bowl, help inform your digital strategy? Many senior sporting and entertainment executives I speak to dismiss what happens in events like Super Bowl and indeed to sport in America generally, including NFL, NBA and even the MLS… they say….

“it’s not the same – their fans are more digitally engaged and have higher expectations”

More commonly I hear that US stadium are designed and built differently facilitating digital commerce with the likes of “in-seat” delivery and click and collect for F&B and merchandise! And then of course the most common reason I hear on my travels for lack of digital investment in UK stadia, is that US sports teams simply have higher incomes and more resources to deploy into digital engagement like Wi-Fi and bespoke app development…. I do have some sympathy with this sentiment, as professional sport in the UK is often a precarious hand to mouth existence, with majority of income diverted into the playing side, leaving little if any spare to invest in digital! For this reason, the UK has to an extent been left behind North America, Australasia and even mainland Europe, who have recognised the latent opportunity that exists and invested in their stadia infrastructure and in so doing reaping rewards from this investment.

While there is a long way to go to catch up with US venues, we are seeing targeted investment within the UK, both with new build projects and retrofits to older stadia. The most high-profile development that’s literally made national news headlines in 2019, is the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where over 1,600 wireless access points have been deployed providing the stadium with 100% high density (HD) wireless coverage – claimed by Tottenham to allow 65% of match day fans to simultaneously stream live video!

But it’s not just shiny new stadium that’s recognise the value of digital engagement, recent projects include Coventry’s Ricoh Arena and Aston Gate home to EFL’s Bristol City and Premier Rugby’s Bristol Bears, who successfully installed full stadium Wi-Fi offered free to fans and visitors to the venue. And just up the M5 at Gloucester Rugby’s Kingsholm Stadium, CEO of the Cherry & Whites Stephen Vaughan took the brave, and some would say inciteful step of deploying full HD Wi-Fi to supercharge fan experience through digital engagement… Stephen avoided what can be the show stopping up front capital investment, through an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) solution thereby avoiding the rip and replace issues faced by many venues worldwide. Ironically many of the cutting-edge techniques deployed in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, are also to be found at the 15,000 seater Kingsholm Stadium, including full fibre deployment to the wireless access points, a separate mini datacentre and dedicated 10GB fibre backhaul. Gloucester’s super-fast, low latency network, has allowed Stephen’s team to be one of the first clubs to successfully engage fans interactively on matchday, offering in seat delivery of both food and merchandise through their bespoke club application. While it’s early days at Gloucester, Stephen is upbeat and optimistic that the investment they’ve made will not only significantly enhance fan experience, but more importantly prove commercially lucrative for the club in the medium to long term, as digital services and experiences evolve further.

So I guess the answer to the question as to what we can learn from Super Bowl and other high density Wi-Fi deployments is plenty…  Clubs and venues with the vision to see the art of the possible through digital engagement, are building strong business cases to underpin investment through both through operational savings and income uplift.

At PTI Consulting our team have direct experience of operating some of Europe’s largest and most iconic venues and as such, understand the challenges and the tough choices faced by clubs when considering investment in digital engagement. Feel free to reach out for a chat if you’re struggling with these choices and considering investment in your venue in 2019.

You can find the full NFL Super Bowl infographic from Extreme Networks at https://www.extremenetworks.com/resources/slideshare/wi-fi-engagements-from-super-bowl-liii/#

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