You'd think, on the surface, that creating a better customer experience would be incredibly simple and monumentally fun if you were in charge of technology for a sports franchise. After all, your customers are fans, and their experience is entertainment. It's a field of dreams, to borrow a phrase.
But this is the 21st century, and there's ESPN showing all the highlights, and YouTube showing more, not to mention that you can stream most games for most sports on most mobile devices from most anywhere besides a stadium. Or as Bill Schlough, CIO of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, and InformationWeek's 2012 chief of the year is prone to say: The competition is the couch.
The customer experience challenge might indeed be fun, but it's not as easy as it sounds. Sports franchises like the San Francisco Giants, the Boston Red Sox or the Boston Celtics may consistently put out a great product, but achieving record-level customer engagement is the business-side equivalent of hitting a Matt Cain slider.
For sports franchises, the challenge has spurred a race to equip stadiums with Wi-Fi and great cellular coverage (for 50,000 fans at a time), information-packed scoreboards with instant replay and social network feeds, fan pages on social networks, no-hassle mobile food orders and mobile ticketing, and even customized experiences for VIP fans. There's even talk that the Atlanta Falcons are considering building a stadium with vibrating seats, triggered by a vicious linebacker tackle, for instance (and best not enjoyed after too many trips to the proposed 100-yard bar, one assumes).
Schlough, Conley and Wessel are backed by organizations that believe technology can fuel growth, so they are increasing the time they spend re-imagining their products (read: teams) in a digital age. There are undoubtedly lessons here beyond athletics: How much time do you spend understanding the interaction your company has with its customers, and whether technology can make a difference? Surely many companies are thinking about seamless purchase experiences regardless of location (or perhaps even specifically because of location); or an increasingly real-time and collaborative supply chain regardless of complexity, geography or language; or product and cost strategies that spark not only new interest from new customers but also new ideas; or meaningful customer feedback loops that drive precision product tailoring and delivery, plus prediction about future customer behavior.
These are just some of your possible customer interaction points, and innovative companies are leveraging them not just to reduce friction, but to delight, retain and grow.
Part of our journey with these technology executives on stage at the E2 Conference will be listening to their creative ideas, but also the process of arriving at them, including how they elicit support by involving all of the key stakeholders. I've spent a great deal of time with Schlough, who is a leader among leaders. You'll enjoy hearing his ideas.
Fans, of course, are but one constituent in sports, and just as there are many stakeholders and customer types in any organization, there are many for sports franchises. Technology can help there, too. As InformationWeek's Michael Endler reports, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is developing technology that could reduce or even eliminate bad calls by baseball umpires (via sensors throughout the stadium and on player equipment) and encourage a better understanding of sports trauma (through sensors in helmets and mouthpieces) -- just two quick examples of how the Internet of Things is finding its way into sports.
As InformationWeek's Doug Henschen reported after attending the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston recently, there's big data and video player tracking ahead, as we fine-tune athletic performance at a microscopic level.
And let's not forget that there are folks like Mike Crowley, founder and CEO of InfoMotion Sports Technology, loading up basketballs with sensors so that players like Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies, or Kahwi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs can improve their shooting (and it seems to have paid off for both of them).
We'll explore all of this, and more. You don't want to miss it.