The University of Wisconsin Madison kicked off beacon technology at its football stadium this fall.
The university’s athletic department added 60 beacons to its 80,000-foot Camp Randall Stadium to work with its Badger Gameday app. Beacons are small pieces of hardware that the athletic department can place anywhere on its property. The beacons pinpoint the location of a fan’s smartphone that has the Badger Gameday app. Beacons use Bluetooth Low Energy wireless networking technology, common on all newer smartphones. Beacons can trigger the app to send a message to fans based on their location, for example notifying a fan that the nacho concession stand is only a few feet away. To work, fans must have downloaded the app, opted in to push notifications and have Bluetooth turned on. Push notifications are alerts that appear on the lock screen of a consumer’s smartphone.
The Badger Gameday app has been downloaded 104,400 times, with roughly 60% from iPhones and 40% from Android, says Benjamin Fraser, director of external engagement for University of Wisconsin athletics. 85% of iOS fans opted in to push notifications and 94% of Android fans.
The athletic department’s in-house IT department built the app four years ago, but the department decided to relaunch it this season to incorporate newer technology now available, such as beacons. The department selected mobile app vendor YinzCam Inc. to redesign the app. YinzCam uses beacon hardware provider Gimbal Inc. The app costs the university $50,000 annually and an additional $15,000 annually to integrate the beacon technology with it.
The athletic department signed the deal in June, and the athletic department’s IT worked with YinzCam and Gimbal to get the app ready by the first game in September, Fraser says. For fans who already had downloaded the app, they were sent a message to update the app. This way, they didn’t have to search for the new app, he says.
During Wisconsin’s first two home games the service sent about 1,000 location-based messages per game and fans clicked on 40% of those messages to open the app, Fraser says. Data from the university’s third home game is not yet available.
“We want to be on the forefront of college athletics,” Fraser says. “We didn’t want to be catching up, we want to be leading the way.”
The beacon can be adjusted to communicate with smartphones up to 150 feet away. But in some cases the athletic department programs a beacon to send a signal only a few feet, depending on the message, Fraser says. A beacon at the concession stand, for example, has a five-foot range and sends a link to the concession map so fans can find where specialty concession items are sold, such as mini-doughnuts, Fraser says.
One beacon has a 150-foot range, and is placed on a ramp to the upper seating deck. The message reminds fans that they can pay to upgrade their seat. The beacon saw a great response during the second home game, Fraser says, and the stadium sold through 83% of its seat upgrades for that game through the alert.
Since a fan moves around the same areas during a football game—such as a few trips to the restroom and concession stand and then back to his seats—the athletic department put a limit on the number of messages a fan can receive. A fan can only receive one message per hour from each beacon. Even though the stadium has 60 beacons, only a small percentage were enabled for these first few games to see how fans reacted to them.
“The goal is to, at a max, get a couple of message so they are not like, ‘My phone is blowing up.’” Fraser says. “We really want to be careful with that when we started to launch.”
The athletic department also geofenced, or put a digital locator, around the football stadium, so it knows when fans with the Badger Gameday app enter the stadium. When a fan with the app enters, the geofence sends an alert to those fans, with a welcome message from a specific football player. 1,300 fans clicked on that message, Fraser says.
The athletic department is letting fans know about the Badger Gameday app and the beacon messaging through social media, ads on its website, direct emails to season ticket holders and messaging on the TVs throughout the stadium. On the first home game, Sept. 12, the gameday app had 766 downloads, which is a 185% increase for last year’s first home game, Fraser says.
Also in the app, fans can watch a replay of a play that just happened but from any camera angle they choose. For example, if a fan is sitting on the 50-yard line, he can watch the same play on his smartphone from the end zone camera. This feature only works when the smartphone is connected to the stadium’s Wi-Fi, so fans with the app can’t stream the game for free at home.
One key thing Fraser had to factor in when deciding to deploy beacons in the stadium was whether they could withstand Wisconsin’s cold weather? Luckily the answer was yes, so the athletic department can leave the beacons up year round. Still, the athletic department can move the beacons, which are about as the size of a deck of cards, around the stadium if they want to change the messaging. The beacons attach to surfaces with double-sided tape, Fraser says.
The athletic department is still piloting the beacons and figuring out which messages fans find the most useful, Fraser says. Overall the department is pleased with the number of fans interacting with it, he says. The athletic department also outfitted the 17,000-foot hockey and basketball arena, the Kohl Center, with 40 beacons, and will begin to use those this year. The football team has seven home games and there are 70 events in the Kohl Center throughout the year.
The next step will be finding partners for the app, so beacon messages can be sponsored. For example, a University of Wisconsin merchandise retailer could sponsor a message or send a coupon through the beacon. As the season progresses, the athletic department will measure its return on investment based on the deals it can secure with corporate sponsors, Fraser says. The beacons also provide fans with a better experience and will keep fans wanting to return to Wisconsin Badger venues, Fraser says.
“We felt beacons were an upcoming trend in technology that we wanted to get in front of,” Fraser says.Favorite