Mobile Technology and the Fan Experience

Sporting events present the perfect opportunity for a smart phone to be your best friend – particularly golf tournaments.  You are in an arena (or on a golf course) where you probably don’t spend a great deal of time with action happening all around you, although not necessarily in front of you.  And with lots of downtime in the action – between plays, during half time, waiting for the next group on the tee – there is ample time to fill.  You want scores, breaking news, access to special offers, and even food, so what better way to get it all than through the phone in your hand?  This is a driving factor behind sports leagues, teams, and arenas starting to offer more and more “on site” functionality for their mobile users – but it doesn’t come without challenges.

There are some great examples of early movers who have leveraged mobile technology to fundamentally augment and enhance the fan experience while attending an event – MLB At Bat, Levi’s Stadium, the U.S. Open (USTA), just to name a few.  From exclusive on site highlights, to ordering food, to navigating the arena, to even finding the shortest bathroom lines, these apps offer both utility and entertainment that help to make the fan experience while at an event the best it can be.  With that in mind, we are very excited to now be counted among those who are using mobile as a means for elevating the onsite experience for fans at our events.

The TOUR’s stance on cell phone usage at tournaments has evolved significantly in the last five years – prior to 2011, phones were strictly forbidden onsite.  In the time since, they have become welcomed and even encouraged.  As part of our efforts to continually improve the experience while attending PGA TOUR events, we are now working to position the fan’s phone as the most effective way to customize and optimize time spent at tournaments by using the PGA TOUR app.

While we are early in the process of defining and building out all of the features that go into making this a reality, we have taken the first step by enabling location awareness in the PGA TOUR apps and leveraging a user’s position, after opt-in, onsite at select events to activate targeted content and messaging.

We first started experimenting with proximity technologies in the summer of 2014, where we deployed Bluetooth beacons at three events and used them to notify users of upgrade opportunities while onsite.  While the experiment was considered successful and warranted further exploration of the technology, we were faced with some challenges that required a shift in our approach.  The nomadic nature of our sport – packing up and moving on to a new venue week after week – puts us at a disadvantage as compared to our friends in the team sports world where they generally compete in fixed stadiums and arenas.  The deployment and management of physical beacons as the sole means for targeting user location at tournaments just wasn’t going to be a scalable solution if we wanted to ultimately extend the technology across the PGA TOUR.

As a response to the challenges identified with a strictly beacon-based implementation, we used the four events of the 2015 FedExCup Playoffs as an opportunity to test geo-fencing as a more scalable and flexible alternative.  We partnered with Gimbal, a leader in the proximity space, to provide the underlying location-awareness platform that allowed us to leverage both geo-fences and beacons together in one seamless proximity network.  The Gimbal solution, along with the Urban Airship messaging platform, provided a robust set of tools that enabled a wide variety of proximity triggered messages and features through the PGA TOUR app.

With the flexibility afforded by geo-fencing, we were able to welcome fans with a push notification as they entered parking lots and link them to web pages detailing what should be left in the car; as fans walked through the front gate of the course, they were greeted with a push notification welcoming them to the tournament and linking them to valuable information such as schedules for the day and tee times.  While navigating the grounds of the tournament, fans would be met with push notifications as they entered other geo-fences, offering useful information relevant to their location on the golf course.  And as fans opened the PGA TOUR app, they were presented with a unique “Event Guide” landing page, available only to users at the tournament, with easy access to find their favorite player on the golf course, check the upcoming tee times, and, at select events, order and pay for food.

Based on the success of the 2015 trial, both in the functionality of the platforms tested and the number of fans reached, we decided to broaden the scope of our proximity efforts in the app and extend the program to include 22 events during the 2015-2016 season.  We are partnering with TOUR events from around the country throughout the year to enable these features onsite and continue our learning process so that we can figure out how to ultimately improve the fan experience.

In addition to expanding the number of tournaments where this functionality is being offered, we’re also excited about testing new features at select events during the year, including the addition of video alerts showcasing memorable shots from around the course during past tournaments.

Peering a little further into the future, we see a great opportunity to leverage ShotLink data with user location to deliver alerts based on players who may be approaching your position, and to notify fans onsite when their favorite players are signing autographs or warming up at the range.  We also envision the ability to provide utility to fans as they are coming and going to an event, alerting to potential traffic issues and helping to plan a better route in or out.

With over 40,000 fans reached so far this year, we’re off to a good start and are looking forward to connecting with even more tournament attendees as the season rolls ahead.

Mobile App event guide page available only to fans at events