How AEG Uses Technology to Create the Best Experience for Fans and Partners
When you think about sports or music events, you need to be conscious that you’re competing with the at-home experience, which is better than it’s ever been. People have higher definition TVs than ever before, Wi-Fi at home, and their smartphone in hand if they want to check out stats or see what's going on in another game. You must give people an experience in the venue that’s better than what they have at home or else they simply won’t return.
For a long time, our industry has understood that an exceptional fan experience isn’t just driven by the event they’ve come to see—it’s driven by everything that happens to them at the venue. More than just the band they’re going to see, fans care if the queues are long and the toilets are clean. But with the dawn of the digital era, the technology side of the fan experience—from great Wi-Fi to more engaging digital signage—has presented the greatest opportunity to leave fans with an event they won’t soon forget.
At AEG, our mission is to create a truly immersive experience for our fans where they don’t think for a second they could have gotten this same experience at home.
My team at AEG is very customer-focused. We concentrate on the technology that exists in our venues: Wi-Fi, digital signage, broadcast systems, and other event support technology.
The Dawn of a New Era
To understand the importance of the digital era, we need only look back at June 2007. This is the month the first iPhone was announced, kicking off a world where everyone was connected, all the time. This was also the same month The O2—our flagship entertainment venue—opened in London. When The O2 was opened, at the dawn of the mobile digital era, we recognized very quickly that we needed to start thinking about the digital side of the fan experience. Now, a new stadium can’t open without first building the underlying network. But back then, we only started to understand this.
Today, we often hear about the Internet of Things (IoT), but arenas and stadiums have been using IoT for much longer than people have talked about it. In any of our venues, there's such a variety of systems that sit on the network: everything from building management, CCTV and point of sale to customer-facing Wi-Fi and even the event itself, which might use part of our networks.
With every important technological business resting on it, the network becomes the foundation of your stadium. And while the network cost may look like a lot of money on paper, it really is a strategic investment. If your network goes down for even one single event, a significant amount of revenue will be lost. Your venue’s technological foundation is not an area where you can compromise. The network needs to be reliable and secure, because every aspect of the event relies on it.
How Cisco Is Crucial to the Fan Experience
Since we knew the digital experience was imperative to our success, we needed to work with a partner that could provide us with reliability, scalability, and the expertise that comes with years of experience in the field. An investment in the digital infrastructure of a stadium is no small cost, so we knew that we had to choose a partner that would allow us to rest easy at night with the choice we had made. That’s why we chose to partner with Cisco. On top of being a leader in the industry, one of the big benefits for me is that we can buy everything we need from one company. If you look at the alternatives in this space, often you buy the network from one company, the Wi-Fi from another, and the digital signage from yet another—and then you have to make all of this hardware work with together. This end-to-end solution approach means we’ve been able to use Cisco for the core Connected Stadium network, Cisco Vision (Dynamic Signage and IPTV) and high density Wi-Fi technology, helping us to create a truly immersive digital experience for our fans.
Plus, there are a lot of venues that have existing Cisco Connected Stadium Solutions in them. And if you go to these venues and talk to the marketing, commercial, and IT people in those buildings, you get really positive feedback about their relationship with Cisco. We knew by partnering with Cisco we were getting a solution that has a track record of excellence and can handle any requirements we have now, or in the future.
When you make a significant investment, and ask the senior management team in your venue to trust you can deliver a great digital experience for your customers, you want to have the comfort of working with a company you know can deliver it.
This is particularly important when it comes to venue Wi-Fi. If you're not in the industry, you might assume venue Wi-Fi is really easy, but it’s actually very technically challenging. You've got a lot of people densely packed in a very small area—which puts a huge load on the network. In that regard, Cisco has definitely delivered. The Cisco network we installed in 2007 is fundamentally the same core network we’re using now, which says a lot about its quality. There have been a few upgrades to some of its key bits, and on the wireless side there has been quite a lot of innovation, but the design and core infrastructure are quite similar to what was there 10 years ago.
In industries like ecommerce, businesses know a lot of information about every one of their customers—either their name or home address or email. But at a stadium, since one person may buy tickets for multiple people, we only know about a small fraction of our customers. Generally, we only have demographic information about 20% of the people attending our event. This tremendous gap in knowledge of our customers means we can’t effectively provide a unique experience at the event, or target them afterwards.
But by using Cisco technology, we can get information on more people as they sign up for in-venue WiFi. On average, we are now able to speak to 62% of customers who attend shows at The O2. This increased reach resulted in 3.5 million connections since May 2015. This means our naming rights sponsor has dramatically greater connection to the fans. When our sponsor is able to speak to three times the number of attendees as we could before, it becomes a pretty easy business case to make for the value Cisco provides.
The ability to have more dynamic digital advertising solutions and richer data about our audiences allows us to sell more effectively and in a more targeted way. The size of the audience we have coming through our venues means one size does not fit all, so partners can now target their communications based on customer insights and promote it using a variety of platforms, whether through emails, our app, or the venue’s POS.
For example, The O2 has recently added some Nestle products to the Cisco Vision screens at the point of sale. Although it’s early in terms of results, they’re expecting a 7–12% up lift on these products, which isn’t something we’d be able to offer them and other partners without Cisco.
Now that we have a solid digital foundation in our stadiums, we’ve changed the landscape of the fan experiences that we can create. We’re showing fans products that are more relevant to their interests, creating better selfie-moments during events, and providing them with the reliable Wi-Fi that they’ve come to expect. But we’re also empowering our partners and sponsors with more actionable metrics about the attendees, so they can see more value out of every event.
We’re competing with the at-home option because we truly believe that a live event is something that just can’t be matched. And when you combine that with the endless possibilities technology provides, you’ve created an experience that will have people coming back again and again.