I went to my first Old Firm derby in the late 1980s. It was a feisty little affair. Graeme Souness was in charge. And, in a way, it spoiled me for most other sporting events. But ever since this introduction to sports arenas, I’ve been fascinated by the emotion of sport.
Why it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, how that sense of awe comes over you as you step inside one of the cathedrals of the game and how very scary Glaswegian men can end up hugging each other and crying.
People in sport know emotion plays a bigger part than in any other paid entertainment. We all know that teams are more than brands and fans are more than customers. Any of us could convince someone to try Coke over Pepsi, but you couldn’t get 99% of fans to switch teams. And how often do you hear about someone who wants to get married at, or have their ashes scattered in, their favourite McDonald's?
How, then, can we capture this emotion? How can we harness it, improve it, celebrate it and reward it? I’ve been addressing these questions for a while now and, every so often, a brilliant new technology comes along that improves the measurement. So I’ve collated a few examples of how it can be done and just what the benefit and opportunities are in capturing fan sentiment.
In 2011, the national stadium of Peru, Estadio Nacional, installed a network of sound-level meters along the roof of the stadium, using these to measure the mood of the crowd. Cheering, singing or subdued, the system picked it all up. And the way they used this was brilliant. They turned it into a live light show on the exterior of the stadium so that everyone across the city could see the excitement, in effect using the lights to advertise the passion of the fans.
Last year, Siemens trialled audio-mapping of fan reactions inside the Allianz Arena (pictured, above), Bayern Munich’s home stadium. It shared a visual representation of the fan noise and was able to show reactions to certain players, minute-by-minute action and, of course, the goals. It was a great use of visual storytelling and was a great way of sharing the action through a different medium.
In 2012, I was part of the team who helped EDF showcase its Olympics sponsorship and naming sponsorship of the London Eye by measuring fan emotion via social media. The "Energy of the nation" campaign used an algorithm to read positive and negative language referencing Team GB on Twitter; a daily score for the fan sentiment was created from this information and then shown in lights on the London Eye as a pie-chart percentage. A good way of bringing fan engagement from all over the country together in one moment every day.
Verizon repeated the trick for Super Bowl XLVIII. Simplified to a daily Twitter vote called #whosgonnawin, the result of the fan vote was shown on the lights of the Empire State Building every night in the run-up to the game. It was the first time the Empire State Building had allowed a brand to use its lights, but the combination of this being the first Super Bowl in New York and it being a representation of the fans across the country was pretty compelling. The activity became a symbol of the game and got more than just the Broncos and Seahawks fans chattering – it trended globally.
Most stadiums in the US use facial recognition primarily for security, but increasingly they’re using it to study the demographics of their fanbase and to tailor the experience, advertising, music and entertainment. But beyond the negatives people may feel about the stadium watching them so closely, this technology could also be used to find the happiest fans, the most passionate or maybe just the guy who likes to have a nap during the game.
IBM has worked with Wimbledon to use facial recognition of players to help fans find where their favourites were practising or playing. Most recently they have used the technology to create match highlights based on the players’ own reactions to the game. They have also combined play and crowd noise and reactions to pinpoint the most exciting moments. This creates a much better experience for the fans at the event and online following.
So where is all this going?
Well, when it comes to telling a story, the best way to make it resonate is with emotion. So bringing the fan’s passion to life is a great way to engage more deeply and to bring them closer to the sport.
Equally, the opportunity to use technology to reflect genuine fan passion is a great way for sponsors that may have traditionally found it challenging to bring their brand to life in the sport setting.
In the future, live sport and entertainment will remain the ultimate experience. Millennials may love their screens, but centennials are rejecting the always-on approach, music artists are demanding that fans put away the phones and it stands to reason that broadcasters will demand the same at sport events. But the need for distraction, information and secondary entertainment will only increase, so fan engagement will have to keep up and must stay relevant and immediate. Luckily, there are plenty of tech toys at our disposal now.
Grant Campbell is creative partner at Wild Things