Got beacon? Proximity-awareness meets sports

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iBeacon was announced by Apple in 2013, as a part of iOS7, as a indoor-positioning system based on Bluetooth Low-Energy devices. The underlying intent was to reduce showrooming (shoppers going into stores to sample a product, but choosing to buy the product online instead of in-store), to increase foot traffic to stores, and to provide a compelling in-store experience via users’ smartphones. Working in conjunction with the Apple Store app, the beacon-based alerts provide shoppers inside 250+ Apple Stores with information on product deals, genius-bar appointments, and more.

Why yet another location-based service (LBS)? Yes, indeed, our smartphones have GPS-enabled maps, and while they suffice (somewhat) for getting to a building, they are not great for getting around/within a building. The accuracy of GPS degrades in urban areas. GPS provides a sense of location (a point and a radius around that point), but not proximity (“I’m close to parking lot 7”) or micro-location (within feet/meters, not miles). The significant distinction here is not just the notion of proximity/nearness, but also the fact that the range of the location can be as tight as a few metres.

What is a beacon? It’s a physical battery-powered device, often the size of a quarter, acting as a transmitter of information via an implementation of the Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) specification. The receiver (for this transmitter) is a smartphone app (think team/stadium/league app). It is possible to trigger actions on the smartphone app based on distance from the receiver, e.g., actions immediately next to the beacon, actions near the beacon, and actions far from the beacon. In the context of a stadium, it’s possible to install a beacon at a shelf of jerseys inside the stadium merchandise-store, and trigger messages in the team/stadium app as one walks past the store (“step into the store for our 10% discounts, only today”), as one walks into the store (“the jerseys are discounted an extra 15% for the next hour”), and then, as one stands right next to that shelf of jerseys (“the top-selling jersey of the day is #15–get yours now!”). In addition, every device since the iPhone 4S and iPad 3rd Gen is capable of being a BLE-enabled iBeacon receiver or transmitter, if configured properly.

Beacons and the Proximity-Aware Mobile Fan of the Future. Beacons present limitless opportunities to amplify the fan experience. Indeed, we are only limited by our imagination in the kinds of use-cases that are possible. It is possible to send custom alerts/notifications to fans within specific locations, it is possible to target content/experiences to locations, and to vary that experience by time of day. As with any technology, it is important to put the fan first, and to understand what sorts of experiences would surprise, delight and reward the fan, and to focus attention and energy on those experiences. Keeping this in mind, here are three broad categories (content, convenience, check-ins) of mobile, beacon-based fan experiences that we are actively building, deploying and testing with a number of teams and stadiums.

1. Content. It is possible for fans to enjoy unique content when they are near specific physical locations, within and outside the stadium.

  • Interactive museums/exhibits/points-of-interest. Think of a fan visiting a team’s interactive museum/exhibit at the stadium or at the team’s training facility, and as the fan walks up to a trophy or a game-worn jersey, we can ensure that the team mobile application automatically plays a video of the key highlight of the game or a video of a player holding aloft the trophy. Think of a fan wanting to get more information about specific points-of-interest, statues, etc., in and around the stadium, and being provided more information in real-time.
  • Stadium welcome, exit thank-you. Think of unique content being activated at the ingress/egress of stadiums and at specific stadium gates. For instance, we can ensure that a fan is greeted by a custom video message from the coach or a key player, as soon as the fan enters through a specific gate on game-day. We can also equally show a “thank you for coming to the game today” message on the team mobile application, or allow fans to view the record-breaking play of the game, just prior to their exiting the stadium.
  • Mascot tracker. By deploying beacons onto the team mascot, we can allow fans to see, in real-time, where the team mascot is, inside the stadium. This is great for families whose kids want their photo-op with the mascot, before leaving the stadium that day (as is the case with my 7-year old).
  • Scavenger hunts. By deploying beacons into specific locations of the stadium, we can enable scavenger hunts within the team/stadium mobile application. Fans would need to find beacon-associated clues at different points in and around the stadium, and could be awarded points and experiences for collecting these clues.
  • Sponsorship activation. Think of the team’s sponsors being involved in providing content near strategic locations. We can enable different kinds of content (video, podcasts, wallpapers, game photos, etc.) to be presented or downloaded exclusively at sponsor locations both inside and outside the stadium. For instance, we can enable fans who have their team app on their smartphone to be notified of a new autographed digital wallpaper that they might download each time that they visit a retail sponsor of their team, or when they approach the cash register of a fast-food sponsor of their team.

2. Convenience. It is possible for fans to get more information to make it easier to get to the game, to get back from the game, and to maximize the comfort and ease when they are in their seats at the game.

  • Where did I park? By deploying beacons into parking-lots, we can enable fans to use their team/stadium mobile application to remember where they parked their cars.
  • Which gate is the least crowded? Because beacons can track the number of hits/accesses from mobile devices, it is possible to know where the most crowds are. By deploying beacons strategically at stadium gates, we can enable a line-busting experience, where fans entering a stadium can quickly consult their team/stadium mobile application to find out which entrances are the most congested. This allows teams/venues to re-direct traffic to other entrances and parts of the venues.
  • Where is the nearest pizza shop? By deploying beacons at concession stands and amenities (bathrooms, stairwells, escalators, customer-service desks, etc.) around the stadium, and by incorporating an interactive searchable stadium map into the team/stadium mobile application, we can enable fans to find the nearest hot-dog stand, the nearest bobblehead-store, or the nearest restroom, from wherever they are in the stadium.
  • What is the best way to get to my seat? By deploying beacons around the concourses of stadiums, fans can use this capability for wayfinding via their team/stadium mobile application. This is particularly important for fans going into new/renovated stadiums, or into stadiums that they are unfamiliar with.
  • How can I pay quickly? By deploying payment-style beacons around retail/point-of-sale locations around the stadium, fans can use their team/stadium mobile application on their own smartphones to pay seamlessly and automatically at all beacon-enabled payment locations within the stadium.

3. Check-ins. It is possible for fans to automatically check-in to fine-grained locations, well beyond the standard “I’m at the stadium” kind of check-in.

  • VIP areas. By deploying beacons into VIP areas or lounges, fans can check-in to these areas, and be greeted by a custom greeting and offers as soon as they enter that area. It is the dream of every fan to stand in the locker-room of their favorite team, and to stand in front of the locker of their favorite player. By deploying beacons into locker-rooms, we can enable fans to checkin with bragging rights to “I just stood in front of player X’s locker on the opening game of the season.” This applies to beacons placed strategically in the tunnel before the players run out onto the field/ice, the Zamboni at ice-hockey games, and more.
  • Discounts/offers. By deploying beacons into merchandise stores inside the stadiums, fans who enter these areas can be automatically sent a coupon for 10% off a jersey, or be reminded about the items on sale that day, via their team/stadium mobile application.
  • Friend finder. By deploying beacons into different areas of the stadium, we can enable fans using their team/stadium mobile app to find their friends within the stadium. This is particularly useful when there is a party of people attending a game together, but different members of the party arrive separately. This beacon-driven capability can let the members of the party know when each person arrives, and also where they are located. Even more importantly, it can send offers their way, e.g., “Hey, John, I know you just got here. I’ve already paid for a beer at the bar for you. Pick it up on your way over.”
  • Reminders to get seated. Teams can equally use this capability by deploying beacons to tailgating areas, and reminding fans who are still lingering in those areas to “get to your seats for kick-off in 5 minutes.” Different kinds of content (video, podcasts, wallpapers, game photos, etc.) could be presented or downloaded exclusively at sponsor locations both inside and outside the stadium. For instance, fans who have their team app on their smartphone could be notified of a new autographed digital wallpaper that they might download each time that they visit a retail sponsor of their team, or when they approach the cash register of a fast-food sponsor of their team.

It is important to remember that beacon-based experiences are possible only when fans turn location services on and Bluetooth on their device. In addition, it is important for any kind of beacon-based experience to be completely opt-in for the fan. It is just as important that, if the fan chooses to opt out of the experience, all of the experience and the associated data must be deactivated immediately. With YinzCam’s new partnership with Gimbal, we are in the process of enabling a range of beacon-based experiences into our several team and stadium apps, some of which are described above. Over the course of the next few months, we hope to share some concrete case studies and the lessons that we learned in the process.

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