How Service Design Changed Super Bowl Forever

As a teenager I was really passionate about two things: as surprising as it is, it wasn’t music and skateboarding or some video game, but design and sports. In fact, that’s how I got into design: I was designing a fan page for my favourite soccer team, Juventus. At that time I had no idea about what an important role design was going to play in the life of sports organisations and how service design (as well as UX design) will be crucial for them to survive and grow.

If you’re into football, you know that the Super Bowl, arguably the biggest annual sports event in the world, was just on recently with the Kansas City Chiefs winning their second-ever title in 50 years. Looking at the archive images and videos from the first Super Bowl played in 1967, I can’t help but think how different the whole experience must have been back then. Thousands of people were interested to see the clash of the world’s strongest and fastest athletes. They bought a ticket, went to the stadium, got some beers and a hot dog. After this, they went home either feeling down and disappointed or being on cloud nine. Although the core of the experience hasn’t changed, the competition grew. Nowadays sports businesses have to level up their service, so they can compete with direct and indirect competitors. There are many ones such as cinemas, theme parks, and last but not least the ever-improving television broadcasts.

What has to be changed?

Some of these sports organisations realised that in order to keep up (and increase) their revenue and relevance, they need to invest in design services. Service design, event design, UX design or as some of the researchers say, sports experience design. In his study, D.C. Funk argues that live sports events are a lot different from regular service. He also explains that you would never ever experience the same extremes of emotions whilst going to a bank as you do when your favourite team wins the ball game with a last-second field goal attempt. Those are the games I like!

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I don’t know about you but I never felt like this when visiting my bank

In this article, I’m going to collect some pain points of match-goers with suggestions on how to solve them. In order to do that, I’ll go through an imaginary and simplified customer journey of someone who attends an NFL game (just to stay relevant to the Super Bowl setting). 

Hopefully, if you’re part of an organisation dealing with sports events, (no matter if small or big, local or international, football or ultimate frisbee,) you will find something useful to help your next event become even more successful.

Two situations when great service design can help the experience of your fans

When they ask themselves “Will I even get a ticket?”

Going to such an event doesn’t happen spontaneously in most cases. Once a fan gets to know about an event, probably the most frustrating part of the process comes: getting tickets. This can already turn some customers down. 

What is more, for major events, demand easily outweighs the supply. It is not surprising that even the biggest stadiums have a limited capacity, and because of that, ticket prices will either skyrocket or they (at least part of them) will be distributed through a ticket-lottery. Most organisations use this method to keep games accessible to crowds: UEFA, Wimbledon are just two examples. super-bowl-ticketsAt this stage, a well-designed application process could guarantee that users are aware of the timeline and they don’t miss any key application dates. Additionally, they would always know the status of their application. Even though many organisations are using this method, the system might not be straightforward to everyone. 

What is the problem with the system?

Probably you, as the organiser, and the die-hard fans have gone through this process multiple times, but you mustn’t forget the less experienced fans. Having user personas is a good method to take care of any of your users. If you want to know more about user personas, check our other article about them here.
Let me stop for a second here to be the devil’s advocate: I would say that some organisations might not be really interested in optimising their application processes. It’s well known that there’s only one Super Bowl in a year, there’s only one football World Cup every four years. Owing to the fact that they have a huge demand, they are fully aware that all tickets will be sold out, even if the application process is painful and problematic for their fans. (If you want to learn more about the ticket market, check out this podcast too.) 

Not all organisations have this luxurious monopoly though: smaller events or third-party ticket resellers need to spend time and money on streamlining the ticket purchasing process to beat the competition. But what are the points where it could be improved?

“Futuristic” solutions that help to improve customer service design

Looking into the future (or pretty much the present this point) possibilities are endless. For most fans, it is important to know what and how they’ll see from their selected seating. This has already improved a lot with clickable stadium maps and static images, like the 360 view I had when I bought tickets for a NY Knicks game.seat view super bowlBut can you imagine having a VR video of a previous game of how you’ll see the field from the place you’re just about to book? That would probably make the decision on buying the tickets even more easy. Keeping accessibility and inclusivity in mind is also important: make sure to clearly display the seats which are accessible for people with disabilities.

A few things to consider

  • Test and iterate the ticket purchasing application flow of your website (companies offering website design services will help your organisation with that)
  • Be prepared to handle a lot of users visiting your website at the same time
  • Provide the required information for people with disabilities
service-design-flow
Timeline of the ticket application process on UEFA’s EURO 2020 website

When they ask themselves “How am I going to get there?”

Getting to the stadium is probably less of an issue if you go to see your local team playing in a small stadium, but as soon as you travel to a major event, getting to the venue can easily become a stressful process worrying about missing the kickoff. Fortunately, organisations that are working with service designers realised this pain point and came up with different solutions to make the process easier.

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Parking lot around Kansas City Chief’s Arrowhead stadium – Good luck finding your car!

Boston based baseball team, the Red Sox partnered up with ParkWhiz. The outcome of this cooperation is that fans who are going to the game can book and pay for their parking in advance. With this, they don’t need to stress about whether they’ll find an empty parking spot. Other event organisers are starting to include route planner functions in their apps. Tottenham Hotspur took this matter to the next level: their official app helps fans to find the nearest F&B area or toilet within their newly built stadium. Nowadays fans are expecting clubs and organisations to communicate clearly about what items are banned from the stadium, or where they can find a wheelchair-accessible entrance. 

All in all, customers’ needs and standards are increasing and sports events are not an exception.

A few things to consider

  • Partner with a company to streamline the parking process
  • Send users notifications about expected traffic conditions, waiting time at security
  • Communicate clearly about the items that are not allowed in the stadium to make the security check faster

During the game – a great service design can save your life

Faster service design!

Once in the stadium, you are very likely to hit the food and beverage area or the fan shop. When it comes to food and drinks you can see how sports events are different from many other services. Banks, restaurants, and bars have peak hours as well, but in case of a football game, most of the sales will happen before the match and in the halftime break. The reason is clear, no one wants to miss the game. Oracle’s study discovered that an average fan in the US spends 30 mins queuing during a game, and 45% of them abandoned a line in the last year. Even the feeling of slow service can make customers leave. It’s not hard to see how this could result in a serious loss of money for the organisers.

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You could be notified when your order is ready for pickup with an option to show you the directions as well

A good improvement is that several companies are working on solutions to make purchasing food and drinks less of a hassle. In China and the US, in-seat ordering is becoming more and more popular. You can make your order from your seat via a smartphone app and then just quickly pick it up once it’s ready. In the future, technology could help to provide fans with real-time information about the occupancy of toilets and concession queues, or even cleverly distributing crowds between the different facilities. 

What have to we give up for a more personalised experience?

Like most things, this comes with a trade-off as well – having clever and more efficient stadiums will require us to give up some of our privacy once more, at least in the form of anonymously collected data. But having their app on our phones can also help organisers provide us with a more personalised experience in and out of the stadium. With loyalty programs, they can give discounts to returning customers, or a jersey with your name could be ready for pickup once you arrive at the venue.

A few things to consider

  • Measure and observe: see how much your fans are queuing, when are they buying food and drinks. Only things that are properly measured can be improved.
  • Learn from other industries where customers face similar issues with stressful queuing, like at airports
  • Implementing an in-seat ordering system won’t happen overnight. Try to identify low-hanging fruits to make the process quicker. In some cases even a big enough display can help, so fans know what they want to get as soon as they reach the counter.

Know your game! – Are TV programs beating the “Stadium-experience”?

The game kicks off, the stadium booms up, fans are cheering as the receiving team brings the ball to the opponents 40-yard line. It’s clear that nothing can compete with the atmosphere of the stadium, but watching from your couch has some advantages as well: In 2018 46 of the top 50 most-watched TV programs in the US were NFL broadcasts – for a reason. Broadcast companies like ESPN, FOX or CBS provide their viewers live stories from the sideline or 3D visualisations, which were impossible to imagine 10 years ago. Viewers can also check some of the most exciting stats and facts about the game or the players. Last but not least these companies have analysts like the retired four-time Pro Bowl player, Tony Romo. Stadiums can have gigantic jumbotrons, but not even those can replace all the value a TV broadcast can provide. So what can they do to enhance the experience of their fans in the stadium?super-bowl

How to compete with TV broadcasts?

Research showed that some fans are using their phones as a second screen in the stadium or at home. Some fans are even listening to audio commentary whilst in the stadium, so they can better understand the game. If organisers were able to overcome the technical challenges of having 60.000 fans on one network, it would open huge opportunities. For instance, they could provide those exclusive content to fans in the stadium, like personalised stats and highlights about their favourite player, or even real-time betting to make games even more exciting. Some teams already leverage smartphones by having some mini-games in the venue during the breaks. However, UX designers must be delicate here: the phone should help customers to enhance their experience, not to disturb them. Check how we design apps to make this happen.

A few things to consider

  • Do field research and shadowing to understand how your fans are using their phones during a game in the stadium
  • Provide exclusive content to ticket holders in the stadium
  • Your app must have a considerate UX/UI design, so it won’t become an annoyance to your fans
user-experience
Stats of your favourite player

Pics or didn’t happen

Sharing their experience is also important for most of the fans. Attending an NFL game, a World Cup or EURO football match is not an everyday thing for most supporters. They are proud and happy to be there and they want to share it with their friends via social media (e.g. Twitter or Instagram stories). Helping customers do so can be beneficial for the organisers: seeing your friend’s IG story from the stadium might make you think that next time you should be there as well. To facilitate sharing, teams could design unique filters for the event or they, as the Dallas Cowboys did. This can go as far as setting up a photo kiosk where fans can take a photo with their favourite players. It’s becoming clear that basic services are not always enough to attract fans to stadiums. Teams must go the extra mile to make their fans stand up from their couch and cheer for their teams in the stadium.

A few things to consider

  • Design filters to motivate users to take and share pictures
  • Provide photo opportunities or photo kiosks
  • Make sharing pictures on social media easier
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AR photo kiosk in Dallas at the AT&T Stadium

After the game

Keep in touch!

The clock shows 00:00 and fans are slowly leaving their seats, either with a huge smile on their faces or rather disappointed. Either way, they are very likely to be in an intense emotional state. They might go on to discuss the events: the best moments or the key plays where it all went wrong. At this point (especially if your team won) it is a lot easier to attract fans for the next game. Offer them a limited time discount for their next tickets or build up a reward system to convert one time visitors to regular spectators in the stadium. Live sports events have the magical power to create a sense of community and togetherness. Good service design should be able to use this experience and build a strong and long-lasting relationship between the fans and the club.

One cannot underestimate the value of such a connection: customers might love their bank or hairdresser, but they are all replaceable. The sports industry is different though, phone carriers might be changed because their app is impossible to navigate, but one would never change their favourite team, even if applying for tickets is a major pain. For this reason, it’s extremely important for teams to make connections with new fans who have visited a game for the first time. 

A few things to consider

  • Develop loyalty programs which reward returning supporters
  • Consider discounts for those who apply for tickets right after the game

How to start if you want a great service design?

At this point, you hopefully see why it is important for sports businesses to invest in service and UX design projects. When designing a sports experience, a holistic approach must be used, which takes the fans whole journey into consideration with all the touch points, both offline and online.

As every design project, service design and research go hand in hand. First, you need to know more about your fans. 

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all service design process for this, but thankfully we have a lot of resources on our blog about different research methods. When understanding your visitors or supporters these research methods could be especially useful.

Surveys

Surveys could be used to measure your fans attitude and satisfaction, and interviews could be made to discover their needs and desires in more detail. 

Field research & shadowing

I’ve mentioned a couple of examples of how sports experiences are different from regular service design projects. For this reason, field research and shadowing can be extremely useful. You must see how your customers behave in a stadium environment. When it comes to designing your companion app it is also very important to keep this rather unusual context of usage in mind. 

Competitor analysis

This can include researching how other organisations are handling ticketing on their website, and also visiting different stadiums and see what those places offer to their customers.

Read more about doing competitor research

What’s going to be the first step you take? Redesigning your app or website to help your fans get tickets and find information about the next game? Doing some field research on the next match to learn more about your fans? Or maybe putting together a survey to understand how happy people are with the service in the buffet? Whatever you do, remember, a small start is a start as well. And even if sports institutions are becoming proper businesses, seeing a stadium full of happy and loyal fans will be even more rewarding than looking at the financial charts at the end of the year to see how your investment in design has benefited you.

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Bence Vitarius

Self-taught designer raised on the internet. When I'm not pushing pixels I'm either traveling, drinking coffee or taking mediocre photos.