Engaging With Fans at Live Events

Neil Coleman, global marketing director at Actix, an award winning pioneer of software that enables mobile operators to run more effective networks, considers how major events, sports venues and mobile operators can work to deliver communications solutions optimised for high density areas.

Introduction

There can be few better opportunities for sports venues and mobile operators than a full stadium of roaring fans. A (sometimes irrationally) loyal audience of thousands or tens of thousands of people is located in the same place at the same time with one common interest. It is a marketer’s nirvana. Here are people actively participating in an event for which they have paid and wanting to experience the moment as fully as possible.

The digital opportunity is immense. It offers fans the chance to watch highlights, vote on player performance, order snacks, gamble and a limitless number of other opportunities, many of which would improve fan engagement and also generate revenues for sporting brands, venues and operators. So why is it that none of this is already happening?

 

The Challenge For Operators

The issue, of course, is mobile network capacity. There are a number of issues that make delivering a seamless experience to fans difficult in highly populated areas. These include:

·        Fluctuating quality of service: several of the potential applications outlined above require timely information being delivered to users. There is little point in sending a video replay if it does not arrive soon after the event it is depicting. Due to the limitations of fixed capacity it is extremely difficult to be able to guarantee this reliability of service within an environment where thousands of communications need to be generated at the same time.

·        Usage opportunities: typically a football stadium may become a densely populated area for two to four hours every fortnight during a season. The rest of the time it might be an industrial estate or an out of town area with a small local population. An Olympic stadium may attract one hundred thousand visitors for one month, and few for the rest of the year. Sporting venues, brands and mobile operators have to balance the benefits of deploying stadium-wide technology against the costs. Since infrastructure investment can easily run into millions of pounds, this is an important issue.

·        Reliability: even if the opportunities outweigh the costs, a further challenge arises in how to effectively ensure that fans really do receive the service that they expect (and, indeed, may have paid for). Every mobile and Wi-Fi user has experienced frustrations getting online in crowded areas or losing a signal at the wrong time. A mobile network marches at the speed of its slowest element. Unless the Radio Access Network (RAN) (the part of the network that communicates between the user’s handset and the core network) and backhaul infrastructure (the pipes that carry data to and from the RAN) are both fit for purpose, issues arise.

For major events such as a FIFA World Cup or Olympics the problem is even more complex. Mobile operators need to not only provide capacity for a number of stadia but also to ensure that those around the venues can also communicate effectively. Add in the high volume of bandwidth-intense uploads of images and videos and the issue no longer becomes a one way communications challenge.

 

A Growing Issue

At the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, 35% of the 433m pages of digital content consumed were done so on mobile (source: FIFA.com). With the increased profile of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the increase in smartphone penetration that will have taken place in 12 months’ time, it is fair to say that consumption at the 2014 FIFA World Cup will vastly exceed this number, which itself was a 66% increase on the previous Confederations Cup in 2009.

The huge growth in smartphone data usage means operators can no longer afford to ignore the issue of driving sufficient capacity into densely populated venues. People are now expecting to be able to access data wherever they are and sporting venues and brands that ignore this are not only missing opportunities, they also run the risk of alienating their customers. Add into this the high number of VIP subscribers that will attend large sporting events (for example people visiting from overseas and data hungry consumers) and mobile operators have little choice but to face head on the digital capacity challenge.

To deliver the most effective subscriber experience and the highest possible return in infrastructure investment, mobile operators need to combine proactive and reactive measures in densely populated areas. Key to achieving this is real insight into what subscribers are doing on the ground and how to maximise their experience within the network.

 

Optimising The Customer Experience

When planning a network roll out or upgrade or optimising an existing network to support a major sporting event or venue, mobile operators need to understand the expectations of customers as well as the real life experiences that they are receiving from the network on the ground. The current subscriber experience can be measured by geo-locating and analysing the quality of calls, messages and data to deliver a real picture of subscriber experience. This helps to establish the core capability of the network and to assess areas where issues are likely to occur.

Specific locations where there will be a high density of people (for example an Olympic stadium or a fan park) need particular attention. These areas can be ring fenced and KPIs established to ensure the quality of customer experience. In addition tracking high value VIPs should be considered– for example those that consume or produce a great deal of data – to understand where these people congregate and to assess their impact on network traffic.

Operators can also undertake walk tests in these areas, to identify what the subscriber experience is like on the ground and to ascertain congestion zones and areas where there is poor or no network coverage– places which are likely to be problematic for subscribers.

All of this information is essential when optimising the current network and planning future infrastructure roll outs, particularly when combined with estimated footfall projections for major sporting events. This insight can then be used by the operator to identify the areas most in need of extra coverage and capacity and to decide on the most appropriate technologies that should be deployed in order to meet the demand whilst satisfying customer experience quality expectations. For one off events, short term capacity and coverage can be deployed and then removed after the event concludes, as was seen most recently during the London 2012 Olympics.

Operators are able to deploy a range of technologies such as distributed antenna systems (DAS), small cells and Wi-Fi to supplement the core mobile network. However testing is essential to ensure that the installed system fulfils the capacity needs of the venue without adversely impacting the network.

Once the network has been installed and tested, real time troubleshooting becomes the key tool for customer experience optimisation. The mobile network needs to react quickly to subscriber experience issues. This can be achieved by identifying key subscribers, tracking them and monitoring their experience in real time so that network issues can be quickly identified and located as they happen and immediate corrective action taken. By correlating this data with customer complaints records and even comments posted on social media it is also possible to more accurately prioritise fixes according to their wider impact on customer experience.

With the emergence of Self Organising Networks (SON) it is now becoming possible to empower the network to make dynamic changes depending on capacity and local population. This is particularly useful in the case of major sporting events as the network can automatically react to the density of population in an area. Consider a Football World Cup event, for example. Some people will arrive at the venue early, others will socialise in a city before heading to an arena. There will be an intense two hour period where a population of more than 50,000 people will be in one small area before they disperse again, many moving to key transport hubs. SON will enable operators to deliver the optimal experience for subscribers during the whole event, as long as operators have access to up to date, relevant insight from the real experiences of subscribers on the ground.

The opportunities for mobile operators and major sporting venues to use mobile to drive enhanced fan engagement is significant and potentially highly profitable. The challenge for operators is to ensure that the investment that they make in infrastructure delivers the most effective return, particularly when network improvements can cost tens of millions. The key to achieving this is proper network planning and constant customer experience mapping. Mobile operators should see sporting events as an opportunity to engage with a highly lucrative audience. The right insight into customer behaviour is critical to achieving this.

About Actix:

Actix is a UK-based software company operating globally to help mobile operators deliver effective mobile network services to subscribers. Its flagship product, ActixOne enables operators to test, monitor and optimise mobile networks in real time using geo-located information from subscribers.

 www.actix.com

 

Additional information