With the arrival of the affordable 52-inch, high-def TV, a diehard NFL football fan can’t be blamed if he or she opts to watch the game in the comfort of the home rather than in a stadium. That’s one of the reasons the Miami Dolphins organization is loading up on digital technologies to help transform the fan experience at Sun Life Stadium.
Here’s their vision of the future: The regular fan in the stadium gets many of the advantages of watching at home as well as the experience of attending a live event and soaking up the excitement of the crowd. Using a tablet computer or smartphone, you can view any stat you want, listen to your choice of play by play banter, Tweet with your pals, get snacks delivered, and choose from a variety of camera angles for instant replay.
This complete scenario is still a year or so away, but Tery Howard, the Dolphin’s chief information officer, is rapidly putting into place the digital building blocks that could turn the vision into reality. Her newest acquisition is a piece of software, the IBM Intelligent Operations Center, that makes it possible to integrate a wide variety of information streams and in-stadium service providers into a single info management system. “We’re creating a smarter stadium,” says Howard. “We want to make sure the fans leave with the ‘wow!’ feeling whether the team wins or loses.”
This was the vision that real estate baron Stephen Ross brought to the table when he bought majority interest in the Dolphins and their stadium three years ago. He saw the stadium as more than a place to watch football but as an entertainment venue. Sun Life hosts music concerts, college football, baseball games, and other events.
Howard has been on an aggressive tech upgrade path since she joined the Dolphin organization as CIO in 1999. First she implemented a team management system that made it easier to evaluate college stars for the NFL draft and to monitor the performance of Dolphin players. Then she installed a sophisticated point-of-sale system for all of the vendors in the stadium. Most recently, she adopted FanVision, a specialized handheld device that brings the fan a wide variety of video and audio streams. Now she’s working on incorporating social media and a digitally-enabled customer loyalty program.
Last year, it became clear to her that she needed to integrate the stadium’s then-separate channels of information into a single system for analysis and sharing. It was then that IBM brought her the insight that a stadium was similar to a city in some ways, and that software designed to help cities get smarter could be used in a stadium as well. The Intelligent Operations Center software had just been introduced.
The software now manages weather monitoring, crowd control, fan purchase predictions, and public safety. It’s also helping to enforce the NFL’s alcohol sales rules. All sales are supposed to stop before the start of the third quarter of every football game. At Sun Life Stadium, an alert goes off when any concession rings up an alcohol sale after the cutoff.
This just the start. In the future, Howard hopes to be able to use the crowd management system in concert with other systems to identify season ticket holders when they enter the premises, guide them real-time to the fastest routes to their seats, and make special refreshment and merchandise offers to them when they’re likely to respond positively. “We want to differentiate the premium fan compared to the casual fan. The premium fan should have an even better experience,” she says.
Her ultimate goal is to leverage digital technologies to create a better experience for all fans than that offered by any competing venue. No, not every fan will get a luxury suite and a comfy couch to sit on, but they should experience a lot of the pleasures and conveniences of home.