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The Fan and Spectator Experience - More Important Than Ever

Football crowd

Events are back... and now more than ever it's time to get serious about the spectator experience. In a crowded market, coupled with a cost of living challenge where people are prioritising how to spend their money, events organisers must prove their value to customers. Going to a football match isn't just about turning up five minutes before kick off any more, it's about the pre-game experience, the big screen, the sports presentation, and ensuring fans have a good time (even if their team doesn't win).

The International Canoe Federation define Sport Presentation as:

“The showcasing of the sport of Canoe Slalom to spectators. It is what spectators and Athletes see, hear and feel that builds an exhilarating and exciting atmosphere at, and around, the event”. (Int Canoe Federation)

Sport Presentation is all about capturing the spirit of the event and showcasing this to your audience, either in person or for the fans at home. This can be achieved in a number of ways, like with giveaways, big screens, a stage, a presenter, and depending on the sport or event, a commentator to give that extra insight. Gone are the days of an in-stadium screen just showing a replay of the action. As audiences expect more for their money, with sporting venues and events competing against each other for the customer’s pound, the bar is being raised continuously. What you might see one week is often replicated and surpassed the next, with new tools in their grasp to help ensure the ultimate fan experience.

From an event organiser perspective, when costs are increasing within the wider supply chain, traditionally one of the first costs to be cut has been the bells and whistles at events. What I’ve seen recently is a shift, with organisers taking greater steps to innovate and bring in Sport Presentation into the core fan experience at events, and to go that extra mile. This helps organisers sell their event, and gives audiences and participants something to talk about and remember. The planning of the experience is paramount, thinking about what your customers want or expect, how to supply that, and then innovating continuously to go beyond those norms.

Looking across the industry there are many ways in which event organisers are engaging with fans both in the stadium or venue and with the fans watching at home. In this blog post I wanted to share a couple of my personal experiences and favourites, as well as looking at how organisers plan and deliver these experiences at major events.

World Athletics - Track mapping (link here) This one for me is always a stand-out. Given it was back in 2019 shows how much I admire the innovation, and how impressed I was with how the early adoption of metaverse style technology. In a world-first, the events team projected video onto the track, using it as a screen, really immersing fans in the stadium and those watching at home in the build up to the races. Having worked on a world championships event back in 2017, I knew how much work goes into these events and felt we’d set the bar high for the next organising committee when it came to sport presentation and engagement, and the Doha event really did meet that mark with its innovative use of new technology.

Digital twin stadium

New tools including 3D digital twins, which perfectly map out venues, can help events teams add that wow-factor that’s crucial at such large-scale events. Major events such as the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games can now achieve the level of precision that’s required at these global athletics meets, ensuring safe and outstanding experiences for all.

The Great Run Company - On-course entertainment / Sponsor Engagement

As part of its 2022 event series the Great Run Company invested in four on-course activations, building music zones which were themed - Beats Boost, Pump it up, Peoples Playlist and Power Thru. They used OnePlan’s digital mapping and planning technologies to make sure each zone was located just where a runner would need it most. Not only was this additional zone fun, allowing participants to get involved by suggesting songs for each zone, but each section had branded archways and barriers. In what is a competitive market with free events such as ParkRun taking place weekly, it’s important that organisers have unique and stand out activations to excite participants and spectators, and give advertisers welcome and distinctive branding space.

Great North Run digital map

The Boat Race - Fan Parks

The 2023 Boat Race, with its iconic route from Putney to Mortlake, sees Oxford take on Cambridge. In a tradition approaching two hundred years, it’s an event that has evolved with the times. Bishop Park and Furnival Gardens each host a Fan Park with big screens, entertainment, and a place to enjoy the whole race. These were free-to-attend, and provided a great experience for fans on the day despite the unseasonal weather.

Silverstone - Lap of Lights (link here)

When you think of Silverstone you might think of F1 races and Grand Prix, or corporate events and track days. But in recent years Silverstone has begun bringing the track to life each Winter with the “Lap of Lights”, a Christmas themed event that takes you on a tour of the track.

It’s designed to take you around the world on the very trip that Santa does every year, featuring light displays, ice rinks, 440,000 festive lights and actors, all designed to bring festive cheer and a new perspective to the iconic track. We’ve worked with Silverstone in recent years, and watching them experiment in this way, bringing in new and younger audiences using our technology and others like what3words has been fascinating to see.

All of these activations, sport presentations and events in general require detailed planning to enable plans to be shared and collaborated with other stakeholders, you can’t just rock up and install a big screen as it could be in the way of a broadcast camera for example. More and more event planners and venues are starting to see the power of tools like OnePlan, where organisers can collaborate easily to bring new levels of fan experiences to their customers. These and other technologies can keep fans engaged while purses are being tightened, and deepen the bond between fans and teams. Planning with the latest technologies can save organising teams money and time, freeing up time for more creative ideas that capture the imaginations of audiences, ultimately leading to a better experience for all.

By Joe Milner, Sports & Events Customisation Manager of OnePlan.

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