By Doug Starr – Allure-Christie

I had the pleasure of being a panelist on the National Sports Forum’s (NSF) Tech Tank Webinar recently and found that I wasn’t the only one concerned about the quickly changing landscape of sports venues. Owners, teams, management companies, and food service companies are all having to adjust to the “always on” craze that is overtaking entertainment in our high-tech world. At one point in history, going to see our favorite team fight for supremacy was enough to keep us occupied for a couple of hours. That’s clearly not the case anymore.

New technology is being introduced daily to address the growing attention deficit in society. Everybody is connected, anxious for information, poised to give their status/update, and worried about what’s going on in their network – so much so that we had to coin the acronym FoMO to paraphrase the latest generation’s “fear of missing out.” Unfortunately, if you’re an old school venue, the evolving fan base is just not as comfortable in your ballpark, stadium, or arena. They have to be entertained with more than the game action. They need to have options. They want bandwidth for communicating. They won’t be settled until they can deal with all that their mobile device opens up to them. They want venues that are all encompassing and more “Disney-like.”

The NSF Tech Tank had some interesting answers for this, using technology to address the growing hunger for more stuff and the impulsiveness of the “I need it now” world we have become. My fellow panelists were from progressive companies – Sponsorship Buddy and Loop & Tie – who both had interesting solutions for managing venue sponsor activity and rewarding the most important customers. Both of these solutions help to manage key partners and customers. Both of them help to get people back into the venue and address the notion of feeling important. But what’s important to the fans once they get into the stadium?

A 2016 Oracle study revealed that sports fans have four categories of venue offerings that are key to making them happy. Those top four were Food & Beverage, Technology, Entertainment, and Amenities. Sounds like a theme park, right? New stadiums are offering so much more than just a seat from which to view a game. Just look at how the Cowboys, Braves, Vikings, and Falcons have addressed this in the last couple of years. Sports venues have gotten the message on the last three pretty clearly, and with the creative new menu items, they are making a valiant effort to address Food & Beverage. But, there’s still something missing if Oracle’s study results are fully considered.

Food & Beverage ranked at the single-most important satisfaction factor at a game. The reasoning is simple … despite all there is to do in these new environments, fans want to eat and they want to do it quickly. But, they don’t want to miss the live game action in order to enjoy a meal. The study showed that fans are turned off by long lines and as a result, they spend less during the course of the game (the study suggested 42% less) so they can get back to the game in lieu of waiting in line. Logic might suggest that you should install more stands and carts, but that’s not addressing significant piece-parts of the problem. Fans need help making quick decisions and understanding what’s offered.

There’s a little lemming DNA in all of us. We follow the crowd, try the new trends, frequent the same hot restaurants. Fans at the game are no different. They want what everyone else wants … your newest, trendiest food offering. The key is understanding what they want, showing them where to find it, and making it quickly available. That’s pretty simple if you use technology to help. So here’s a formula that you would be hard pressed to ignore:

  1. Do the research. Commission an analytics study to determine the most popular entrees, combos, snacks, and beverages. Understand what sells best early in the game versus late in the game. Know what weather does to the product mix. Understand the differing food preferences that varied events will drive. Consider what you are wasting at the end of the game. All of this will better inform you of what you need to have on hand and offer.
  2. Install Intelligent Digital Signage that gives you the flexibility to make quick changes to menus before and during the game. Make sure that the content is good and set up (optimized) properly to help fans make quick and informed decisions. At the very least, feature those items that your Analytics Study revealed as your popular items. Use pictures, movement, animation, and pleasing graphics to assist the fan in making quick decisions.
  3. Integrate your Digital Menu Boards with your POS and Inventory systems. This helps you change prices in one place and also allows you to know when you are running out of a critical item. Fans really dislike seeing something on the menu and then hearing they can’t have it. Get those short supply items off the menu as quickly as you can.
  4. Install a business rules engine to instantly inform your Digital Menu Boards. Ensure your menus have Dynamic Content and are responsive to inventory levels, game-parts, weather, and crowd make-up. Allure’s AutoFocus® business rules engine is a good place to start. It will allow you to take advantage of what you learn with the Analytics, creating rules that automatically change the content to suit the conditions.

We’re all trying to hit a moving target in stadiums – keep the game as the centerpiece, but provide the all the accouterments that make the fan experience complete. Food & Beverage should be number one on your list, since that’s where the fans rank it. Don’t make it an afterthought and use technology like AutoFocus® paired with intelligent Digital Signage Design to make yourself the lead dog. Having a high-tech and informed Digital Signage system will show fans you heard them. They’ll keep coming back AND they’ll spend more. No matter how the team does, you’ll put a checkmark in the fan experience win column!

Photo Credit: iStock