Whether it's shooting T-shirts into the crowd or laser beams throughout the arena, entertaining with a mascot or informing with a smartphone app, the approaches run the gamut.
And while some added options provide the opportunity to generate additional revenue, team executives need to know when to dial it down and keep the focus on the game.
Just ask Chicago Bulls executive Jeff Wohlschlaeger, who has spent 15 years directing in-game entertainment at the perennially sold-out United Center. Each season demands new ways to enhance the fan experience, from up in the rafters to down at courtside.
"Fans are smart," Wohlschlaeger said. "We can't create fake energy and fans aren't going to cheer for no reason."
For teams, improving the in-game experience not only demonstrates value to fans, but it also provides opportunities to increase revenue. The trick is knowing when enough is enough.
"You can wallpaper the game presentation with sponsors' specific reads, but you can go over the edge," said Tom O'Grady, president of Gameplan Creative and in-game executive producer and consultant for the Chicago Fire and the Chicago Blackhawks.
"You want to sell everything you can but you want something that hooks the fans in," O'Grady said. "Teams are doing more of that than before, and off the shelf is not good enough anymore. It's about creating ideas that will stick."
So intertwined is the in-game fan experience and revenue that the Tampa Bay Rays now make it a policy to include game presentation staff on corporate sales calls, creating a seamless strategy between in-game presentation and sponsorship inventory.
Yet, at the same time, the Rays refuse to roll out a sponsored promotion during the middle of the eighth inning in order to preserve the feeling that the game belongs to the fans.
"Our fan experience department generates ideas that are put into sales pitches so they will be integrated from the beginning, but we are not going to do something that sacrifices the experience at the ballpark," said Brian Auld, senior vice president of business operations for the Rays. "We made the decision to protect that moment of the game that is exciting."
In the NBA, which has long pushed its in-game approach to new entertainment heights, some teams are moving away from an overly scripted strategy to ward off any in-game sponsorship overload.
"The in-game experience has gone from being overproduced to finding a balance between the basketball and entertainment," said Shelly Driggers, director of event presentation for the Orlando Magic. "We have scaled back on the number of fan prompts, while the number of replays shown on the scoreboard has gone far beyond what we have done in the past. We let the game be the game."
NBA Entertainment logs every timeout of every NBA game and makes a video reel available for all teams. If a promotion or new entertainment element plays well in Portland, for example, teams in other markets will quickly adopt it.
In addition, the NBA assigns a game presentation manager to each of its 30 teams to assist and evaluate their in-game efforts through regular customer surveys. Every summer, the NBA holds a workshop for all in-game managers where new and best practices are discussed.
Currently, NBA teams are following a league mandate to increase player interaction inside arenas.
"Player imaging has been one of the focus points,"
Wohlschlaeger said. "We try to be creative in using players in our in-game and have them visible."
Baseball, Mannion said, is moving toward more sophisticated fan engagement between innings. He said baseball teams spend anywhere from $600,000 to $2 million on in-game operations for each 81-game home season.
But not all clubs share the "newer is better" opinion when it comes to in-game entertainment. Advances in technology bring a bigger price tag and more sponsorship revenue opportunities, but ill-timed execution can have a dampening effect on the fan experience.
Tim Beach, vice president of game operations and events for the New York Islanders, said the club previously launched a Zamboni race video game that was powered by text messages. Beach said the game was slow and complicated, and few fans actually engaged with it.
"During a TV timeout, you have 90 seconds to capture the fans, and if you spend the first 30 seconds explaining how a game is going to work, they are gone," Beach said.
Not all teams favor grassroots entertainment like the Islanders. The Los Angeles Kings start each game by beaming a laser light show across the arena as the players step out of a castle-shaped structure onto the ice. A light projection system beams televised movie clips and logos onto the ice.
According to Chris McGowan, chief operating officer for the Kings, both the laser system and projectors represent significant six-figure purchases for the club.
"Los Angeles is the creative capital of the world. We need to have a game presentation that is above the rest," McGowan said. "It is a significant expense, but people are paying good money to come to the arena, and we feel it is what people expect nowadays."Full article is here...