If you were to ask my neighbors who the biggest sports fans are on our block, I wouldn’t even make the list. Now…if you were to ask my neighbors who, on our street, knew football and baseball, America’s favorite past times…yeah, I wouldn’t make the list either. I watch Obscure Sports…on the OCHO! Seriously, I have always been into non-mainstream sports: Martial Arts, Soccer, Diving, Gymnastics, BMX, Rock Climbing, and even Ping Pong. These are types of sports not normally shown at your neighborhood bar & grill. And that’s OK. That’s why I have cable. And so I found it extremely interesting that in the last couple of years, I’ve somehow attached myself to the world of mainstream professional sports with clients like the KC Chiefs, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, KC Royals, Sporting KC and more. And in those connections, I’v’e been tasked with designing interactive games for the big screen or on mobile devices. And I’m talking the BIG screens. I mean, the ones that loom over stadiums and arenas and show scores, replays, and anything that can help get the audience hyped up. These are the fillers between the game or event they came to really see!
If you’re new to designing multimedia for stadiums, and we’re not talking the thin LED screens that surround the arena or stadium with looped messaging and animations, the most important thing to remember is the attention span of the audience. Like with TV, you’re trying to grab them at very short clips. LEDs, the scoreboards and even the great visuals that dangle precariously over indoor courts, are like banner and window ads on a website. They just become the white noise on the page. When focus isn’t directed at the event, it’s to talking, finding your coat, keeping kids in line, and anything other than barrage of sponsor ads that grace anything that emits light. In my experience, designing for these venues boils down to two things:
1) How does the crowd get to interact with what’s on the board and how quickly can they do it?
2) What is the incentive for the crowd?
First, let’s talk about WHY you’re engaging the crowd. Pretty simple. It’s really not to keep them hyped. It’s about getting names. Data is the holy grail. Know who they are so that you can stay in contact with them. Sponsors EAT UP anything that lets them get back in touch with the crowd. Brand awareness is another reason. The guys with the money want you to associate this awesome event with THEIR brand. The more you see it, the more association you have with it. Fond event? Fond memories of the people who paid to put it on.
Second, let’s talk about WHEN you’ll be showing your awesome work.
It all begins with the time before a game starts. As would be expected, if there’s no action on the field/court, the attention turns to activities available on the boards or throughout the stands. It’s at this time that you should, with your eye-catching graphics and inventive campaign, get much of your interaction. One campaign I worked on incorporated text messaging to the board where audience members texted their messages to a shortcode and, after admins approved the messages, would appear on the board. The message: Text your message to 80802. Simple request for action. Immediate response. It’s the age old vanity of concept of “HEY! I WROTE THAT!”
After the game starts, you’ll be shooting for those moments during the event or game where the audience is basically waiting for the action to start back up. Time outs, inning changes, blah blah blah. They’re short. In baseball, you’re looking at a max of 45 seconds unless a timeout calls for more time. Yes, it’s longer than some commercials, but you’re talking about games, interactivity, and audience members that take their sweet time just to notice that your amazingly awesome interactive feature is even on the board. Not to fear. Most venues do a great job to prep the audience beforehand. But wants you’ve got their attention, get into it. Get the interaction started.
With another team, we developed the first ever Wii game played on the largest screen in the MLB. It was breakthrough! But it took a lot of prep. Imagine starting the clock on your 45 seconds and you’re trying to get the remote out and explain the game to an audience member who may or may not even know what your “Wii” is. Luckily, the stadium crew does a good job of prepping members BEFORE it’s time to play. Often, they’ll have the camera crew and contestant ready to play at the next timeout or break. With the contestant prepped, they truly have about 30 seconds to interact with your game. 10-15 seconds of explanation for the rest of the stadium and a solid 20-30 seconds of game play. So your multimedia elements, whether a 3-card monte, Family Feud, or any other game that requires audience participation, should be easy to understand, easy to play, and quick to execute.
Finally, let’s talk incentive. Most games that simply fill the void are sold as sponsorships. A company buys a game spot, puts their logo at the start and end of a game, and the audience member goes away with a prize if they win. For the audience member, the prize is the thing. For the sponsor, again, it’s either brand awareness or data gathering. So the more times you can incorporate some kind of information gathering on the attendees, the more mouthwatering your interactive sponsorship will appear!