College sports fans blame carriers for poor connectivity at stadiums

Posted July 3rd, 2012 by Pat Coyle   •   1 Comment   

Want to get your wireless partner to pay for connectivity upgrades at your stadium? Show them this…

….Ninety-nine percent of smart phone owners have experienced trouble calling or connecting at sports stadiums, and (as a result) sixty-eight percent of these fans think less positively about their wireless carriers. That’s right, fans don’t blame the team or the stadium when their smart phones can’t connect at games. They blame their carriers.

OK. I’m not really suggesting you extort your wireless carrier, but if you’re not working to develop a solution to poor wireless connectivity in your venue, you may be on a trajectory to lose loyal fans. If that happens, you’ll only have yourself to blame.

Where do these data come from?

As part of our ongoing “Social Sports Poll,” we recently surveyed social media fans and followers of six major U.S. university athletic departments. In total we collected more than 1,700 completed surveys.

Interestingly, 75% of our total respondents own smart phones, 25% do not own smart phones. These (smart phone ownership) figures alone are impressive since just 50% of the general population owns smart phones. Clearly sports fans are ahead of the adoption curve. The problem, illustrated by the table below, is that pretty much every smart phone owner has had trouble connecting at sports events.

It’s no secret that stadiums have connectivity issues.

What’s new here is how fans feel about it, and what they’ll do about it.

We were curious to know how poor connectivity at stadiums might be impacting fans’ experiences, and we wanted to learn what fans might do in the future as a result. Turns out most fans won’t blame the team, and they’ll keep buying tickets (for now), but a significant percentage (67.5%) agree with the following statement:

Because I experienced difficulty using my smart phone at a sports event, I think less positively about my wireless carrier. Table below shows all results.

It is interesting to see how consistently fans reacted to this particular question. Across the board, college sports fans blamed their carriers for bad connectivity at stadiums, even when the issue was a bandwidth problem rather than a wireless network issue.

Notes to consider:

- We love to hate our carriers, so we blame them every chance we get. Makes sense that fans blame carriers even though the carrier may or may not be the problem.

- Fans seem to have low (mobile) expectations at stadiums. Connectivity is bad. It has always been bad, so bad connectivity doesn’t surprise them (they’re trapped). Makes sense that a low percentage would react strongly to their bad experiences; but how will fans react in the future as they come to expect to be connected everywhere and at all times?

- 17% of fans say they are more likely to post negative comments about their experiences. These are social fans, so they are connected to many more fans via social media. When they share negative opinions the news will spread. If these are influential fans, this 17% could be a very big number, and cause for concern.

- Among all age groups, 25-34 year-olds are most likely to make negative comments, and less likely than average to recommend the sports event to friends in the future.

- Men & Twitter users are more likely than average to react negatively in every response category. These seem to be fans who have the highest expectations for wireless connectivity. They’re also the core, avid sports fans and deserve special attention.

Which is more important? Big Screens, or mobile connectivity?

Providing reliable connectivity for all fans at large stadiums is not a simple thing to deliver. Most fans just want to text their friends. That shouldn’t be too tough. But other fans want video or other bandwidth hogging content. Adding enough hardware to cover the present and future demand for mobile connectivity is an expensive proposition, often running into the millions.

So why do we keep encouraging fans to consume mobile video in venue?

Interesting that most stadiums have less trouble budgeting money for large displays than for connectivity. In theory, the big screens enhance fan experiences. In reality, they are big sources of revenue, and that’s why they’re more easily affordable. Mobile connectivity might cost as much as a mega-vision scoreboard, but as of yet the revenue model to pay for this connectivity doesn’t exist; so the investment in mobile gets harder to justify.

Some leagues, like the NFL, have come out and stated they will fix the connectivity issues in all of its stadiums. This is a good move made easier by the fact that the NFL is the richest sport in the land. It can afford the price tag, and with millions of potential lost revenue at stake if fans don’t buy tickets, it can’t afford to let mobile impact the fan experience negatively.

Still, I wonder if every NFL team has the right perspective when it comes to how fans want to use mobile in stadiums. Enabling fans to watch replays on their phones seems like a logical goal if you’re fighting against the home TV experience, but it does not seem to be the number one priority for (most) fans who attend live games. According to our research, fans want to connect with other fans, and they want to use their phones to do it. If we’re looking to improve fan experiences, we should solve problems for fans. In my opinion, allowing fans to communicate fluidly (rather than consume passively) should be the first order of business.

Want to know more about the Social Sports Poll?

In addition to the question about “connectivity,” we also asked several others focused on things like: demographics, smart phone usage and social-sharing behavior. I’m digging through the data now, analyzing cross-tabs to tease out insights. I’m finding results vary significantly between various segments of the respondents (e.g. age, affiliation to the university and gender).

Results of my analysis are only available to clients, but if you’re interested in receiving the executive summary of the results, or if you’d like to engage Coyle in research for your sports property, please make your request here: Request Summary

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One Response

  1. Alex james says:

    This trouble or need of social fans in stadiums can be an opportunity for carriers and sports property owners to create new product or service to cater their fans need. Thus a new source of revenue from a new customer need.

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