Don Nelson used to say when your team was bad your sold your fans on two things: hype and hope. Until you were able to get the product on the court or the field back to where it would be competitive, you banked on those two areas to keep the paying customer, and the casual consumer, engaged and coming through the turnstiles.
For the New York Jets this fall, the talk has been around hope of the future on the field, maybe not the near future but a not too distant one where competitive and winning football is on the way. That is the hope. On the business side, the goal is not just hype players, but hype, and deliver a fan experience that is not only value worthy regardless of results, but is cutting edge and leading the way to a future where the technologically savvy fan will be engaging in and around the excitement on the field.
That was an intriguing offering on Tuesday, when the team held its second annual business upfront at Met Life Stadium. While the Giants were practicing on the field just outside the massive windows of their shared home, Jets officials were on hand to talk about experiences that are not just first rate, they are cutting edge in the uber competitive world of sports innovation around the fan.
Yes there were lots of offerings about first class cuisine, new swag and game presentation of the semi-traditional kind. What the Jets really offered were some looks into the future of an enhanced, multiplatform state of the art in game experience that clearly outs them in a leadership position for what some of the future may hold for fans in any arena. All revolve around a key mobile experience, and perhaps even more interesting is that they are all focused on the valuable in-game experience away from top quality chow, with a glance at what is coming down the road.
The presentation, delivered partially by Jets SVP Seth Rabinowitz, gave a great peek into how teams are going to both enhance and protect the in game experience, and down the line grow some new mobile first digital resources.
I Called It!: The Jets will be the first NFL team to begin using an active peer to peer prediction game, built by their partner Xperiel, that will give fans a chance to earn points and win prizes by predicting the outcome of each Jets offensive possession on their mobile app. While there have been attempt with trivia before, now fans will be able to use data and compete with fans throughout the stadium, with results being tracked on the stadium videoboards as well as by the team and on mobile. While some may see it as a distraction, this will be a great test, and by using the boards will keep people looking up and not down, for peer to peer prediction models in stadium. The level of prize could keep fans in the seats and stadium longer, and while not for cash right now, will be able to loop in brands as the opportunity grows.
Augmented Reality and Interactive Tug-Of-War: The Jets have been winning awards and using Virtual Reality for a few years, and now Rabinowitz touched on the team’s expansion into an AR play yet to be revealed. Why is AR so valuable to teams vs. VR? Few reasons. It is social and involves peer to peer or group play, just like sports. VR while robust is still an individual experience and is limited in scope. While some views Pokemon Go as a fad last year it proved a great point as mobile devices evolve; there is a way to get consumers involved in a communal experience that is augmenting what they are doing in real life. What this will be will be interesting, but it is another first for a team, and it will be stadium specific as well. Another way to keep fans in seats and reward them for loyalty at the stadium.
Enhanced Stats: The continued evolution of the NFL’s movement into enhanced real time statistics has been steady with several fits and starts. The chips inserted into players padding are charting thousands of pieces of data, with the constant hand wringing of what is too much, and what, if any, can tip a competitive balance. However the Jets advancement of use of enhanced stats for fans should again deepen the experience for those who love not just the numbers but the real time comparative data that shows how fast a player can go across the field, how solid a hot was and how crisp a cut can be. Will it be slanted to the positive and controlled? Of course, this is team first after all. Will it be an enhancement for games? Given that the enhanced stats will only be available through mobile to the fans in stadium again says a lot about access and that experience and gives you something you cannot get by staying home (the stats will of course also be available to broadcasters as well).
JOAN: Move over Siri and Alexa, the Jets have JOAN. The Jets Official Answering Network, will provide fans at MetLife Stadium real time answers to their questions on stadium locations, policies and more through a chat window in the Jets App. Again not a deal breaker but a smart, fun and noteworthy addition that will make the Met Life Stadium experience that much better.
Those were just a few of the wide range of enhancements; there will be a fan Hall of Fame (terrific especially when a team is on the rebound, and great storytelling) more and more mobile-first video content and storytelling, and as mentioned, enhanced and unique dining experiences as well. All that is great, but the first to market and mobile first mentality is what made the Upfront so interesting from a sports business perspective. All the elements are evolving and can provide both great engagement and selling opts for Gang Green, and nine of which are dictated by on team performance.
Is the process in mobile still evolving for teams? For sure. Connectivity in stadia is still an issue, and getting fans to download an app remains a challenge. But the interactive user experience continues to get better, and the enhancements the team, and other teams, will be offering are providing a unique window into how and why fans will turn out to fill seats when we boast about the improved experience at home. Sure winning is tantamount, but that cannot be controlled. The experience can be, and now more time and effort is being put into that experience than ever before, with good reason, time and resources.
And that’s not just a good thing; it’s a smart business play. Hype and hope not just for wins but for the fans experience; Coach Nelson would be proud.