This blog post first appeared for Crowdsight on SportTechie.com, a leading SportsTech news and information resource.
The relevance to sports teams of an always on, always connected fan has grown in recent years as Wi-Fi proliferation becomes a reality and the true potential of investing in a comprehensive mobile strategy has crystallised.
It’s become commonplace for teams to invest in a mobile app, however, along with a recognition of the Connected Stadium ideal, the mobile app; the official gateway for fans into their teams digital existence, is evolving rapidly.
Barclays Center is a state-of-the-art indoor arena that opened in Brooklyn, New York in 2012. It is now home to the Brooklyn Nets basketball team (NBA), New York Islanders hockey team (NHL) (as of this year), and also hosts a variety of other events such as concerts, conventions, tournaments, award shows, circuses, other entertainment shows, and more. The arena boasts a unique and well-regarded design and offers amenities such as local cuisine for the concession vendors, as well as multiple bar and cocktail lounge areas.
For being such a hip, modern, and cutting-edge arena experience, one would expect the digital experience to match. After using the Barclays Center iPhone app, it is clear that while it performs very well, functioning primarily for utilitarian purposes, it is not overly impressive or groundbreaking. However, compared to other stadium apps on the market it is certainly leading the way and will only improve over time.
Stadium Experience - Navigation, Map, and Eat
First, let’s take a look at the stadium experience features offered within the Barclays Center iPhone app.
Upon arrival at the stadium, the app prompts you to join the stadium WiFi if you haven’t done so before. The automatic detection works seamlessly and greets you with a basic “welcome screen”. The main menu in the top left corner is also very clear as to how to navigate to the various app sections.
The “Map” section tells you which food vendors are in close proximity to your seats by clicking on the blue squares and having the name of each one revealed. This section also tells you where your seats are relative to the entrance. It would be nice if then clicking on each vendor name revealed their detailed menu, and linked directly to order concessions. This would be an addition that would make the app more fluid.
The “Around Brooklyn” section of the app provides restaurant and bar recommendations in the neighbourhoods nearby, and includes Yelp ratings and reviews for those establishments. If you're not familiar with Brooklyn itself, this is a useful section to explore before or after the game. Generally fans want more information about the immediate offerings within the arena itself (a quick description of each food vendor, photos of the food, customer reviews, descriptions of the various lounges/bar areas, etc) and it seems that should be the specialty of the app! Barclay’s Center has so many great amenities right within the facility, and these could be better brought to life.
Ordering food via the app sounds super! However, this portion of the Barclays Center iPhone app presents challenges. If you want to be able to first browse food menus quickly before making a decision, you need to submit section, row, and seat information. This limited browsability is slightly frustrating.
Fan Experience - "Watch" and "Interact"
The “Watch” section of the app promotes the ability to watch live footage or instant replays during a game. When interacting with this section, you have the option to see live video, and the instant replay footage is actually quite impressive with strong quality and close-up action views.
The “watch” section could be made robust by adding other “behind the scenes” type video footage to interact with, even if it isn’t live. For instance, they could include a time-lapse video of the crew converting Barclays Center from an ice hockey arena to basketball arena (putting the floor on top of the ice) which would be fascinating. Interviews with players or coaches about that evening’s match-up would also be interesting to watch. It seems that there is opportunity to include much more unique video content within the app and across social media channels.
The “Interact” section of the app is exciting. It’s a thrilling proposition to be able to see your individual photos and text messages shown on the scoreboard at Barclays Center. However, it’s hard to notice any user-submitted content featured on the scoreboard during games. It is not readily apparent in the stadium and this feature lacks awareness. Also, tight restrictions on the type of fun/humorous wording and content considered acceptable to be broadcast, may diminish the spontaneity and emotion involved in cheering on your team at sporting events and may lead to frustration with the “Interact” feature.
Overall, the in-arena fan experience is great fun at Barclay’s Center. There are ongoing promotions (t-shirt throws, cheering/music, video montages, basketball shoot competitions, etc.) but this excitement does not fully translate to the app which instead feels slightly functional.
Digital Sponsorship Initiatives
Very few, if any, digital sponsorship components are included within the Barclays Center app, even though the in-person stadium experience is full of sponsorship integration.
For example, at a recent Islanders game, a Zappos booth gave away free “thunder sticks” and sunglasses, and at the Nets game, MetroPCS handed out free towels. A simple yet effective addition to the app could be a section called “Giveaways” where these sponsor offerings are listed so users can quickly discover what freebies are currently offered at each event and where in the stadium they can be found. Fans could then make it a point to seek out those destinations instead of simply stumbling upon them. This would also give sponsors more of a platform to share their brand story/messaging and better connect with fans.
The current Barclays Center app also lacks any real-time conversation elements with sponsors. Within the Nets iPhone app (different than the Barclays Center app), the Nets Twitter feed is incorporated. Porting over this content and including this type of feed within the Barclays Center app as well could be an easy way to provide more of a real-time experience and platform for sponsors to dialogue with fans. The Barclays app could also aggregate user content containing specific hashtags in addition to promoting content they as an organization create.
Any of the apps that make our Team and Event App Review Series are innovators – especially the Barclays Center app, originally released by Willow Tree Apps way back (in Connected Stadium terms anyway) in 2012. It’s key though to examine existing app offerings critically so that we can identify its real strengths, while also recognising the potential for improvement.
With this in mind, the digital experience offered within the app is undeniably impressive but seemed to fall just short in translating and enhancing to great effect, the physical in-person arena experience. While many of the features remain compelling, even ground-breaking, the opportunity to enable the functionality across all areas of the stadium remains unfulfilled.
This limitation in the Barclays Center app is most pronounced when we examine digital sponsorship, with little branding emphasis outside of the stadium naming rights. Some may find this refreshing, however, one of the primary benefits of integrating digital sponsorship components is the integral emphasis this brings on engaging and entertaining fans – as Sponsors want their brands to be seen as adding to the excitement and emotion.
In terms of the overall excitement, as fans we’re there for the game and because of this, the integration of live video replay directly in-app is fantastically valuable. The reality that you can watch highlights, means you can actually enjoy yourself more in-stadium without worrying about missing the action. In this regard, the Barclays Center app did deliver with strong video replay once the channel was identified.
One key challenge as mentioned, is the availability of certain team news or functionality only in the separate official team apps. Having a dedicated venue app (i.e. Barclays Center app) and a separate team app (i.e. Brooklyn Nets) – limits the immersiveness of game day somewhat. This is a significant challenge for the team and event apps ecosystem, to what degree they can coincide gracefully alongside a dedicated venue app. Stay tuned for more of this later in the series.
CROWDSIGHT PRESENTS: TEAM AND EVENT APP REVIEWS
This article is part of our series of Live Event App reviews where we look to understand best practice and current industry standards with a series investigating the potential of market leading Team or Live Event apps. Check out our other team/event app reviews:
- Official Rugby World Cup App: A Review of how Fans made the Rugby World Cup a Digital Business
- San Francisco 49ers App: Examining how VenueNext re-invented the 49ers Fan Experience
- Real Madrid App: Real Madrid Keep Fans and Sponsors Happy With Unique Mobile App
- Barclays Center App: Barclays Center Creates a Digital Fan Experience via Interactive App