Spectator Spectacular: Making it Great for Fans, Makes it Great for Brands
Great sports events have the power to create lifelong memories; to inspire and to invoke raw emotions. Think of the collective hush before the shot, the explosive roar of success, the banter and rivalry. As one crowd we sing together, laugh together and sometimes even cry together.
Fundamentally, we are in the entertainment business and what drives me is creating the best and most engaging entertainment for everybody.
Over the years, the industry has been good to me. I have worked on the branding and fan experience of some of the world’s biggest sporting events since 1986 including the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and Baku European Games.
However, some of my proudest achievements have come from working on the Olympics. I have loved the Olympic Games since I was very small - my dad took me to Munich in 1972. I was lucky enough to have worked on the Rio & Sochi Olympic Games and I was the Project Director for the Look Wayfinding & Signage for London 2012.
Event Sponsors and advertisers have always acknowledged the emotional connection between sport and entertainment. Branding and sports have been a dream team for decades. But what’s exciting now - with the rise of the digital age and new technologies - is that there are ever-increasing ways in which brands can communicate and engage with consumers around sporting events and beyond.
All events have to get the basics of experience right (wayfinding, seating, toilets, food and beverage) then sprinkle some magic on the top.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this 'magic' will be augmented reality, virtual reality and holograms. These platforms are going to revolutionise the way we consume sporting events. Recently, the most interesting and effective applications of new technology mix the tangible with the digital. Physical engagement is the best way to communicate with spectators and, combined with social media, it will generate vast audiences.
Spectators love to 'prove' their presence. The Instagram moment or the Twitter hashtag which defines a time and a place is now standard; branded Snapchat filters, Facebook Live, and Instagram competitions, to live-tweeting with curated hashtags are only going to get more popular. We need to be constantly creative to keep up!
People queued around George Square for the opportunity to take photos and selfies with our iconic "Big G" logo that we created for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. It went viral on social media and it was the must-have selfie for residents, visitors and athletes. Post-games, the Glasgow City Council announced the Big G will become a permanent feature.
Technical measurement and evaluation of any experience has always been difficult to quantify. Gut reaction feeling is no longer good enough. Shiny, new tools are essential. We have developed Meshh, which has the capability to gather insight automatically and provide great data on how spectators move around events. We can now see how long fans queued for food, how long they spent on a particular exhibition, and what they walked right past. This information will transform how we design the whole experience and make stands more attractive.
Ideally, we shouldn’t just be reactive, we should also be proactive, speaking to our audiences way before they arrive at the turnstiles.
The spectator journey begins before you step out of your door and long after you leave the arena. How many times do you check your phone leading up to, during and after a sporting experience? There are ample opportunities for partners to connect with the audience to offer some great services, helpful info and targeted messages. At the top of their game, stakeholders should anticipate what the spectator needs and help: baby changing locations, disabled routes or financial incentives. Heading home after the event? Why not offer location and ratings-based dinner options, or even better, offer exclusive discounts?
However, whilst tech is great for expanding the relationship between branding and sport, it is easy to get blinded as to what the benefits are for the consumer. It’s important to be smart and use data cleverly, in order to offer a solution that will complement and enhance the experience, or risk alienating people. Keep the tech simple and helpful.
It’s also easy in this industry to think that to drive more engagement you need to introduce more tech. Sometimes you can succeed with a stripped back experience focusing on the overall look and feel of the event. The Goodwood Revival is a vintage motorsport festival brilliantly themed and curated. It is a wonderful piece of brand thinking. The signs, staff uniforms, advertising, and structures are all considered and designed with a vintage ‘golden thread’ that runs through the entire event. The spectators get fully involved. Everybody dresses up in vintage garb – even on a very wet Friday this year! For the event partners, sponsors, and exhibitors, it’s a fabulous opportunity to delve into their heritage and engage with their customers in a unique way. Simple but brilliant.
With new methods and technologies constantly evolving, the opportunities are endless. Creating unforgettable experiences has never been more exciting. Think laterally, explore the creative boundaries, keep it simple, but deliver some magic moments around and beyond the sporting arena. This will all help create an amazing experience for fans and brands alike.
Giles Stanford is Director of Global Events at CSM Live. He was Project Director for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Glasgow Commonwealth Games, and Baku European Games, 2017 World Athletics amongst other global events.