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No WiFi? No Fans!

By Jen Cohen Crompton

No WiFi? No Fans! image shutterstock 17408071

It’s simple. If a stadium doesn’t have WiFi, then it won’t have fans.

In college football, the Southeastern Conference, which is home to what many people consider the top teams in the game and equally known for its committed fans, has experienced a decline in attendance, which has people worried about the future of ticket sales and fundraising.

According to records of student tickets scanned, Georgia students left 39 percent of their designated sections empty in Sanford Stadium over the past four seasons. Despite their allocation of about 18,000 seats, the number of students at games between 2009 and 2012 never exceeded 15,000. Many attribute this decline to the team’s athletic performance, because it is very painful to watch a terrible game of football, but this is not the case.

Using Georgia as an example, the average student crowd at games was almost 6,000 short of maximum capacity, and the team was ranked fifth. Another example is Alabama, where 32 percent of student seats went unused between 2009 and 2012, which is when the Crimson Tide won three national championships. In these examples, there is a weak tie between performance and attendance making the reason for lack of attendance something beyond team performance.

How about WiFi?

With stadiums already competing against the comfort of a fan’s home and knowing how much the second screen is impacting fan engagement and interaction, the lack of WiFi seems to be another issue that needs addressing. Fans are becoming phone-dependent – they need to be in constant contact with people and information.

In an interview with WSJ, Georgia senior, Kim Baltenberger, complained about the stadium saying, “You can’t text, Instagram or tweet.” These are all capabilities that fans, especially students, want to make games more interactive and fun. And we know that social media apps are not the only online activities that fans want while at games.

Programmers have worked hard to collaborate with football organizations to develop applications providing stats and game updates to fans and impact the fan experience, but without WiFi, these apps are too slow and become useless.

As a result of these demands, most schools are considering new stadium WiFi networks, which may cost anywhere between $2 million and $10 million.

Although, the need for this technology is greater in college than in the NFL, said Enterasys Networks chief executive Chris Crowell, whose company outfitted the New England Patriots’ and Philadelphia Eagles’ stadiums, the NFL is still making necessary adjustments to stadiums.

Recently, I visited the MetLife Stadium and upon arrival, tried to check in via FourSquare, then take No WiFi? No Fans! image MetLife WiFi 169x300an Instagram photo to share with my friends. I was able to do it, but my 4G LTE service was incredibly slow. Right when the game kicked off, I saw a display promoting the complimentary WiFi, available statdium-wide, through the partnership with Verizon. I went to my settings, selected my network, and there I was, Instagramming my experience, tweeting with a local sportscaster about the jerseys in the stadium, and checking my fantasy lineup.

As much as we may not like to admit it, I was relieved when I had WiFi access and could enjoy my second screen – so, WiFi improved the experience.

In the same WSJ article quoted above, Scott Stricklin, the Athletic Direction of Mississippi State said, “We can’t afford to lose a generation,” which is exactly what will happen to teams if technology doesn’t happen to the stadium.

Photo credit: Shutterstock