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There’s nothing like being there. Except, increasingly, being at home is exactly like being at the big game, or at a stadium gig… and it’s sometimes even better.
It’s not so easy today to claim that attending an event is as good as watching it broadcast. Going to a baseball or football game gives you the roar of the crowd, the tailgate parties, and the opportunity to see yourself on the Jumbotron. It also comes with the steep price of tickets and food, the risk of obnoxious people around you ruining your day, and poor connectivity as thousands try to send and receive “look where I am!” data at the same time.
Advances in TV and video streaming technology mean that you can stay at home where the snacks are cheaper, the seats are more comfortable, you can see the action better with additional data augmenting the game, and enjoy an experience that’s as good as being there. So why leave the house?
It’s a problem that stadiums, shopping malls and cinemas are all having to face. The options for our leisure time have improved dramatically over the last few decades, and now being there often leaves consumers dissatisfied when they attend a big event: “It’s okay, I guess, but it’s not as good as being at home”.
Shopping malls have an even bigger problem. Catalogue shopping used to be a poor substitute for going to a bricks-and-mortar store, but now e-commerce means that people can instantly find what they need or browse through multiple stores without aching feet at the end of the day or suffering through an interminable wait for a spouse outside a changing room.
The at-home experience is winning out because advances in technology have allowed it to improve to the point where people prefer it. High-definition and now 4K video streaming, integrated data adding more depth and context (e.g. the first-down line in football, strike zone box in baseball, fly-over views for replays, etc), 2-day shipping and free returns are giving an edge to our inner couch potatoes. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, venues can fight back in exactly the same way, using technology to create a better experience — and the foundation is reliable and high-performance wireless connectivity.
At a sports match, someone can enjoy the game live, and connect to Facebook and WhatsApp – vital for taunting friends who support rival teams. Facebook Live and similar apps become possible, making the experience shareable. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and more are all available for those customers who demand to be connected to these services. Sports apps allow users to keep up with their fantasy teams, and other live games – similar to flipping between channels to catch a quick score or highlight. Stadium applications enable in-seat browsing and ordering of concessions, “swag” (e.g. hats, shirts, etc), and some advanced stadiums are testing augmented reality applications which overlay information while viewing the game live. With these services being mostly popular with a younger audience, it’s important that going down to the ball game retains the communal fan experience while balancing the desire to connect across popular mobile platforms.
Shopping malls with free and optimized Wi-Fi might worry that they run the risk of “showrooming”, where a customer finds what they want in-store, checks availability online, and orders it using their mobile at a discount. But bricks and mortar stores need to put this worry aside and offer Wi-Fi to their customers. Without it, they risk losing any loyalty they have. Instead, they should look for ways to engage their customers who consistently shop online. They could, for instance provide links to video reviews of products on their Wi-Fi welcome screen, flag up deals only available in-store, offer mobile payments, optimize dressing room queues, and allow customers to try on clothes, and share the images with friends to get an opinion on their fashion choice. The risk of customers switching entirely to online shopping is bigger than the risk of showrooming.
Some movie-goers may balk at the idea of Wi-Fi where mobile devices cause so much strife, but the movie theater is now competing with ad-free streaming services on big home screens with surround sound and comfortable sofas. Mobiles may be forbidden during the feature itself, but people are more likely to sit through the ads if there’s a second screen they can interact with.
The case for connectivity is clear, but the issue that venues and shopping malls face is the sheer density of people. This can quickly overwhelm the data services available, making connections slow or simply fail altogether. Venues should tackle this by offering a mixture of connectivity options. Today, a combination of managed, free Wi-Fi and distributed antenna systems (DAS) for cellular is the basline. However, as shared spectrum technologies (e.g. CBRS 3.5GHz in the US market) become more prevalent they can provide yet another option that can deliver high quality of service without the cost and complexity of DAS. Regardless, these networks need managed and optimised to meet the standards that consumers expect at home. Nothing is worse than a venue advertising connectivity and having it not work.
A reliable Wi-Fi connection is not the only way that people can be tempted to patronise live events, but it will help encourage those who don’t just want to say “I was there” — they want to say “I am here”.