By 2020 around 70% of the world's population are forecast to own a smartphone. Mobile phones have become so present in our lives that many do not imagine “going offline” at any time. Even for the precious 90 mins during a football match.

Connectivity is especially important to younger fans. According to comScore’s ‘Global Mobile Report 2015’, 91% of UK Millennials own a smartphone. With the changing fan demographics and fluctuating in-venue attendances it is easy to understand why many event organisers have looked to app solutions to enhance the enjoyment of attending fans, and to attract the second-screen viewers at home.

Opportunities

Sports venues have to shift towards better enabling and monetising their digital strategies. High smartphone ownership drives demand for reliable in-stadia WiFi that guarantees instant access to game content and social media.

New technologies are changing fan experiences at sport venues like never before. Mobile apps have huge potential to become a way for clubs and venues to build stronger relationships with the fans, and the same goes for sponsors.

The apps should not be made exclusively for the in-stadia experience. There is potential for them to become the first source of information for fans throughout the week, not only on match day. Mobile apps are a great way to gather information on fans, and to collect all kinds of data about fan behaviour.

Quality over quantity – getting the core functions right

Ultimately, the aim of creating a mobile app is enhancing the game experience, not dominating it. Including too many features, too much sponsored content or trying to squeeze everything into one application would discourage fans from using it again. Venues should therefore focus on getting the core functions right.

The following 5 features that are absolutely essential if you want your app to be effective:

1. BUILDING FAN LOYALTY - Team information and news

The app should become the primary source for club related updates. Providing fans with exclusive news, live results, fixtures, league table, etc. is essential to building a strong relationship with them, and increasing downloads. Live in game stats, provided by the likes of Opta, encourage use of the app in-game.

2. INCREASING FAN ENGAGEMENT - Exclusive content

Fans who experience sporting events through television coverage are privileged with unobstructed views, zooming options and commentary analysis. Therefore, allowing all fans to access exclusive photos, highlights, interviews and instant replays whilst in the stadium can increase fan engagement and encourage visits to the venue. Behind the scenes content displaying the match day routine has also proved popular with fans.

3. DRIVING SALES – Tickets, Merchandise and F&B

In-app kiosks are an easy and efficient way to encourage fans to make purchases with just a few clicks. Levi's Stadium, for example, gained an astonishing $1.25m in revenue from food, beverage, merchandise and parking in the first season since introducing the app.

4. BOOSTING SPONSOR REVENUES – Sponsored Content

In-app sponsored features, such as a betting centre, directly drives traffic to partners. Providing opportunities for fans to contribute content in exchange for rewards increases fan engagement and sponsor awareness. Though it may not always directly generate revenue, if properly executed, it is a great opportunity to add value for sponsors.

5. ENCOURAGING FANS TO SHARE THE EXPERIENCE – Social Media

Making it easy for fans to share content on social media is a must that can prove very beneficial for rights holders and sponsors in today’s world. Not only does social media provide multiple sponsorship opportunities, but it creates a global audience for the club. Personalised hashtags, built-in photo filters, etc. are all ideas that can help fans share their unique game experience with their friends.

Building and delivering great mobile experiences has already become the beating heart of the sports industry’s fan engagement strategy. Making an easy-to-use, intuitive app that provides a complex system of functions is certainly a challenge, but getting the core features right is key to making fans happy and engaged.

Whilst you’ll be hard pressed to find a team without such an app across the Atlantic, the concept is less proven in our own back yard. European teams are only now starting to adopt the idea of a “Smarter Venue”.

Our own CelticLIVE solution is proof that demand for such a product exists. Celtic FC has utilised the match-day app and HD WiFi solution to morph Celtic Park into a Smarter Venue. Combined with 60+ FanTV screens, in-stadia posters and social media, CelticLIVE continues to be a hit with fans, partners & sponsors alike. However, In order to keep up with fan demands teams need to remain innovative. The addition of live odds & a betting centre to CelticLIVE has certainly proved worthwhile, but with more and more teams realising the benefits of the “smarter venue” solution we all need to keep our eye on the ball.