What Do Fans Want in a Stadium Experience?



Sports stadiums used to have it easy. They could have congested parking lots, narrow entranceways, poorly lit concourses, sticky floors, obstructed views, acoustics that alternated from empty silence to deafening echoes, overcharge for the same five foods and two beverages and barely know their season ticket holders. What choice did fans have? Watch the game if it was on TV (a big if in those days) or read about it the next morning.


Sports stadiums no longer have the monopoly on satisfying fans’ passion. Fans can now watch their favorite team—which may be on the other side of the world—at home on a 55-inch 4K TV. They can have another game going on their tablet and scroll live stats on their phone, all while enjoying a farm-to-table-to-delivery meal.


That’s the experience stadiums are competing against: comfortable, personalized and connected. How can stadiums and arenas compete?


How satisfied are sports fans with the stadium experience?


A 2018 survey by Deloitte of 15,000 sports fans found that almost everything that matters to fans are under the stadium’s control. The “core four” expectations were:


  • a safe, comfortable and clean stadium;
  • a view of the game that matches their expectations;
  • an exciting stadium atmosphere; and
  • a high-quality game.


That last one stands out among all the factors Deloitte polled: It’s the only one that, by its nature, is left to chance.


Fans Deloitte surveyed were highly satisfied on the core four. However, casual fans were less satisfied overall than the more serious fans.


Casual sports fans expect more from their stadium experience


Casual fans may be more interested in the sport as a whole or an individual player than the team at the stadium. Many American soccer fans, for example, are fans of the English Premier League or mega-clubs, or they may center their fandom on superstars. They may even root for their favorite players from their videogame teams.


These fans may be fanatics for those teams or players, but lukewarm about who they can actually see live. Because they are not as emotionally invested in the team, their interest may be satisfied by watching remotely by themselves or with a few friends. The fanatic, on the other hand, wants the company of several hundred or several thousand fellow fanatics. The casual fans, therefore, need a reason beyond “being there.”


Deloitte categorizes those reasons as “experiential elements.” Among the experiential elements with the lowest satisfaction scores are integrated entertainment options in and around the stadium before, during and after the event. Fans don’t want to go to the stadium, watch the game and then return home. They want the stadium and the game to be the centerpieces of their experience, with memorable dining, entertainment and activity surrounding the sporting event itself. That could be anything from a few popular food trucks and local band in the parking lot up to the multimillion or multi-billion-dollar development.


Individualizing the in-stadium experience for sports fans


Many teams are using their apps to connect with fans from door-to-door. Casual fans, in particular, respond to these initiatives. They want to use their phones to customize their experience in real-time.


When they pick up their phones, they want to see stats, highlights and shareable media. They want to unlock new ways to interact with the team, sponsors and other fans. Digital sponsorship activations have stepped in to meet this need. Fans can use a team app to answer trivia questions or respond to polls (“What was the best block of the first half?”). By participating, they can receive a digital coupon or be entered into a drawing for a reward provided by the promotion’s sponsor.


Fans’ digital expectations place an infrastructure demand on the team. Between 2012 and 2015, the portion of sports fans who expected in-stadium WiFi rose from 53% to 60%. Within two years, NFL stadiums were laying down hundreds of miles of cable and installing hundreds of wireless access points to meet in-stadium fan demand.


More than just gifs and games, fans want to use that connectivity to view menus, place orders, buy souvenirs, check the lines at the bathroom and still have the team cater to them with personalized attention. It all comes together to create a personalized experience that puts comfort and convenience at the forefront.


Scaling the expectations: Digital leads but does not exclude


The challenge for smaller stadiums or arenas, including multipurpose facilities and public-use grounds for youth or rec sports, is satisfying these expectations within their budget and resources. While some facility investments, such as better lighting for a safer and more welcoming environment, may be feasible at all levels, others will require arenas and stadiums to get creative.


Smaller stadiums cannot provide real-time menus with in-app ordering, but they can promote their standing menus and parking lot food trucks via social media so fans know what to expect and can engage before the game. Minor league teams often can’t provide slick, instant highlights on the team’s social media accounts. But they can encourage and leverage user-generated content from the fans to provide video and promote fan-to-fan and fan-to-club interaction.


As important as digital technology is to the fan experience, it’s only a tool and it is only one tool. Deloitte’s respondents placed a much higher value on experiences and attributes that could be addressed without technology than on those factors that require technology. “The staff engage me in a friendly manner” and “The staff quickly resolve problems” were nearly twice as important as mobile-based entertainment, activities or interaction.


Whether fans are at a local high school game, a Double-A baseball field or Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium, they are more demanding than they were 20 years ago. The emphasis on technology does not exclude or diminish any other aspect of the stadium experience. Applied smartly, it expands the opportunities at any scale.


Are you interested in improving arenas, fields or stadiums? No matter what the level of competition, Current can help. Contact us to learn more.