Brooklyn Nets see big bounce from beacon-enabled mobile-engagement strategy

The National Basketball Association club delivered thousands of messages to fans at the Barclays Center during the recently concluded playoffs, with the help of Roximity, a location-based alert and deals platform, and plans to support beacon technology into the 2014-2015 season. The response, which was not detailed further by the Denver-based company, suggests that professional sports teams can use mobile to build engagement, even when they fail to capture championships.

?We have a very fan-centric approach to everything we do,? said Randy Lewis, the Nets? vice president of global marketing. ?It really is a fan-first approach because that?s how we?re going to get people to come back. 

?I can?t control the performance of the team on the court but I can make sure that regardless of whatever is happening on the court that we?re providing the best possible experience to our fans,? he said. ?And sometimes, win or lose, if you deliver on that, the fans will continue to come back.?

The Barclays Center was the busiest arena in the United States during the first half of 2013, selling 657,423 tickets, according to Pollstar. But with a league-leading player payroll of $101 million, the championship-hungry Nets were expected to lose at least $50 million even with an extended playoff run. In their second season playing in New York?s Brooklyn borough, the Nets were knocked out of the playoffs by the Miami Heat in the Conference Semifinals.

In an interview with Mobile Marketer, Mr. Lewis discussed how mobile fits into the Brooklyn Nets? plans and how it is helping the club drive fan engagement.

How are you using beacon technology to enhance the in-stadium experience?

We launched a pilot program through Roximity and the goal for us really is to optimize the fan and consumer experience in the Barclays Center. We can not only welcome them to the building upon entry but also guide them as to what deals and specials are available to them in the building. But even more so, what experiences and amenities are available to them. For example, when a fan goes to the upper concourse, we have seat upgrade capabilities within our app. So someone in the upper concourse may get a notification that says hey, check out the Barclays Center app for possible seat upgrades. Now someone sitting in the upper level is made aware, hey, I can get downstairs.  

We also have in-seat ordering capability in the upper concourse. So we?ll make them aware of that. It could just be a simple message that says, check out the Barclay Center app for in-seat food ordering options. If I?m a fan, it?s great for me because I am now made aware of something that has the biggest benefit. That?s what people seek in all their interactions ? personal, professional and particularly in attending an event. 

If we deliver messaging to them that brings them value, people will appreciate that and they?ll engage. That?s how we?re leveraging the technology. We?re optimized for the fan experience in our building.

How do fans know they can get involved with this?

We deployed Technology Coaches around the building that coincided with the start of the playoffs. Their first event was the first playoff game as well. What they?re doing is they are outfitted in Barclays Center shirts to indicate that they are Tech Coaches. They?ll walk the building, engaging with fans, letting them know about the technology that exists in the building. ?Hey have you connected to the WiFi , have you downloaded the apps?? 

They have iPads with them so they can walk consumers through some of the features and functionality that exists within the apps and explain to them some of the benefits. For any given event there?s probably 10 to 15 of them that are deployed throughout the building. So that?s one way we?re raising awareness of all the technology that?s available to consumers. 

For example, we have stadium vision. When you?re watching a game and you miss a big play, you can go through the Barclays Center app and go back 30 seconds and watch a replay of that. It also gives you the ability to watch an event from the different camera angles that are available. 

What are your plans for mobile going forward?

I don?t think that industry is totally evolved yet. I think there?s going to be a lot of advancements and improvements made to it. Today, fans have to have their Bluetooth on for the beacons to deliver push notifications. Our goal will be to take it to the next level and leverage a solution where we can understand or get a better feeling of dwell times for a bigger audience. We would be able to manipulate flow throughout the building.

Nets' app reaches out to fan base.

If you get online, it?s hard to see for example that there?s a lot of people outside a concession stand. Wouldn?t it be great if I could deploy push notification to you saying there?s no line at the Brooklyn Burger outside section 110? Similarly you could do that with bathrooms. Being able to affect the fan experience in a positive way to let them know of ways they can get through lines faster, use the building more efficiently and things like that ? that?s ultimately where we want to go. 

Nothing really attracts fans in sports like championships. What is your answer to that?

We?ve conducted focus groups with some of our season ticket holders. We just had our third of six last night. One of the questions is how does the overall team performance affect your overall experience and your willingness to renew and surprisingly there are some people who say it has everything to do with it. 

But some say the experience they get at the Barclays Center is so great and the experience I can deliver to my family and my client is great regardless of what happens on the court. It clearly has an effect but it?s not the be all and end all. Which we love to hear. 

How do fans sign up to receive beacon-enabled messages?

When fans get to the building they provide their email address in order to connect to the WiFi. So it?s a name and an email. Then they have the opportunity to opt-in for communication. That enables us to go out and send information to that to understand who is in the building. Having that registration enables us to go out and understand who is in the building not just who is buying the ticket. If the average ticket buyer is buying almost three tickets, that means there?s two thirds of the people who we have no idea who they are. 

That?s not to mean we go out sending them more emailing or more messaging. It?s just to understand the aggregate profile of who is in the building. That helps us to make decisions related to food offerings. What we can expect as far as bathrooms. 

There are events where you might want to convert some women?s bathrooms into men?s rooms and open that up for a boxing event where it is heavily male. If we can understand from the hard data perspective who is in our building, we can optimize the experience. We?re investigating other enhancements to that app that will be very aggressive. 

What figures illustrate your success with mobile to date?

With AmpThink, the company we work with for the WiFi log-in, we?ll get half the people who are completing the registration for WiFi ? probably closer to 60 percent ? and half of those are opting in to receive email communications from us. 

From there, that?s 70 percent of those are new to our database. Which is fantastic. Just using those numbers, we?re able to grow our database and really want to nurture those relationships with those people. So they will get an email thanking them and from there we can ask them to build out their profile so we can understand them and communicate with them more intelligently going forward.

Final Take

Michael Barris is staff reporter with Mobile Marketer, New York.