Virtual Fans Want to Buy Tickets
When the general public universally accepted smartphones and 4G between 2010 and 2015, the sports industry was the first to take advantage of it in order to grow its fanbase.
Chatbots are the great advance that will completely change life as we know it, along with Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) that will become widespread thanks to 5G. It is simply an interface allowing humans and technology to interact using voice, text and even gestures. Its use is already widespread in customer service, but much further development is still expected in the short term.
According to Research and Markets, the size of the global market of artificial intelligence conversational systems is estimated to go from $ 4.8 billion in 2019 to $ 13.9 billion in 2025. Chatbots will specifically go from $ 1.2 billion in 2018 to $ 7.5 billion in 2024. Gartner experts argue that 70% of administrative workers will interact with conversational platforms in 2022 on a daily basis. Forbes has also remarked its good reception among the new generations. 60% of millennials have already used this type of technology, and 70% of them assured that it had been a great experience, while more than half of those who had not interacted with it claimed to be interested in doing so. There are even experts such as Rebecca Hinds from Inc, who already predict that, in the coming years, it will be normal for people to chat more with bots than with their partners.
A chatbot’s function is to save today’s most coveted good: time. It gets rid of search thanks to direct questions, and its answers are faster than the ones a human assistant can give. In addition to this, computers can deal with thousands of users at the same time or in a short period of time. They are, therefore, tailor-made tools for mass events. They are useful for parking when you arrive at the stadium or finding out your daily timetable, the team statistics, the ticket prices, etc. A chatbot is a super-assistant that serves as a guide to move among tens of thousands of people.
Artificial intelligence works in the background as clubs make sure that their answers are always up-to-date and relevant by training bots. Questions such as where is there a chemist to buy medication that one has left behind at home have been registered. If it is a product that the club can facilitate, the chatbot can instantly implement the purchase option. Everything that previously could make a live match an odyssey for the fan and the city, now with the help of this technology it can be circumvented.
One of the most interesting case studies is Cherrybot, AFC Bournemouth assistant, created in collaboration with Microsoft. It is a chatbot capable of modifying its responses according to the fans’ mood. In order to know, it is provided with AI that was trained with spectator selfies so that it can analyse emotions by gestures and facial grimaces. Cherrybot is able to identify anger, contempt, disgust, fear, happiness, indifference, sadness and surprise. In the United States, the fans’ emotional experience is important when developing bots because they have gone as far as implementing options such as compensating frustration after a game with gifts or discounts, if applicable. There are already robots like “Pepper”, from SoftBank Robotics, that provide customer service by modulating the responses of their interaction thanks to their ability to read emotions.
Nevertheless, organisational options are only the most basic functions that can be expected from these technologies, although for now they account for an average of 95% of the registered interactions. By the time the San Francisco 49ers president Al Guido carried out the historic renovation of their stadium (making it the most advanced in the world), his obsession was to enrich the fan experience. The NFL had calculated that the time spent from the spectator leaving his home until he comes back, is between four and six hours of which only 28 minutes are played. Its goal was to facilitate the arrival and departure from the stadium. On the other hand, he intended to fill the rest of the breaks with everything a fan demands, such as statistics and repetitions, as well as entertainment options including video games or quizzes.
Following this trend, the Atlanta Braves implemented “virtual assistants” with the New York company Satisfi Labs, in which MLB has invested. It is a bot integrated into the league’s Ballpark application, and it is designed to answer questions posed by fans from near the stadium. In a 2019 test, before the pandemic, the application answered more than 5000 questions per game. A flow of information that serves to learn from viewers and give the most precise and personalised response to their demand.
Each client who signs up for one of these services provides new data that helps artificial intelligence learn. As it is used, its effectiveness exponentially grows. However, if you have the proper authorisation, the data collected from a person’s daily conversations reveals a large amount of information about their personality, such as their views, feelings and preferences. All this can feed back the conversational bot’s AI for greater training and engagement with the user.
Satisfi Labs also works for the rest of the traditional American sports, such as the NBA, NFL or NHL. Its artificial intelligence network collects all the information about the spectators’ needs, but especially what makes them happy and what frustrates them. Don White, CEO of the company, considers this dynamic to be “like having your best employee talking to customers about the experience of each game”. By working with different leagues, clubs share information that Satisfi centralises for everyone. In the case of the MLB Braves and the NFL Falcons, both from Atlanta, they can each share info and details of the personality of the city’s fans. For example, the Braves had to change their restaurant menus after accessing data on fans’ food allergies from the Satisfi bot.
The optimal development of bots is measured in their ability to answer subjective questions, something that can only be assessed according to the user’s profile. In that sense, bots have three dimensions: customer care and service, marketing and a recommendation engine. In the same way, if there are brands sponsoring the club (for example, a beer company), the assistant will be able to recommend it or accompany its response with the logo.
These applications can be downloaded or accessed directly by Facebook, WhatsApp or Alexa. Dave Coplin from Microsoft predicts that, in the stadiums of the future, there will be a terminal such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri in each location. According to the consulting firm Canalys, “smart speaker” technology has an adoption rate among consumers that is even higher than that of smartphones in the past decade.
Its way of presentation and relationship with the user can also undergo a great development. The bot of the aforementioned Braves is called Ask Arthur in reference to the owner of the team, Arthur Blank, and it is a cartoon of him with a moustache standing out. In Germany, Oliver Kahn made news by incarnating a Tipico chatbot, one of the most important bookmakers in the country for the 2018 World Cup. Until October 2020, when the former goalkeeper dissociated himself from the sponsorship to focus on his role with Bayern Munich’s board of directors, Bundesliga bets could be placed in a conversational chat with the legendary national team goalkeeper.
In addition to optimising comfort, they provide information such as historical statistics or real-time data about the game. It has already been reported that while baseball reached its lowest level of followers among the millennial generation, these new applications have attracted the highly interested and data-prone Gen Z, and the average number of fans has increased again. However, the information that can be provided through these devices will always depend on the capacity of the facilities. In the case of Atlanta, the Mercedes Benz Stadium is one of the leaders in the United States.
Nevertheless, these strategies are essential to increase or retain fans in stadiums, which according to Forbes, such places were experiencing a decline in spectators in traditional sports before the pandemic. In the 2020 study Exploring the Role of Social Media Communications in the Success of Professional Sports Leagues: An Emerging Market Perspective, the experience of using chatbots in the United States through Facebook Messenger is analysed, a trend that began with the NBA in 2016. Such study concludes that they encourage greater fan participation and interaction with the game, which is reflected in attendance at stadiums. Within the facilities, sophisticating the response to fan demand offers new revenue opportunities, but more importantly, the best influencer conceivable for promoting a stadium and a club since they are well-connected fans with an active experience during a game.
These new developments for the future are really promising. Unlike what it may seem, the relationship with a bot can connect us more with friends since they can serve as a platform to comment on the game all together wherever they are. A great advantage, is instant access to data during the experience, both those generated in real time as well as historical. If a fan specialises in specific aspects of the game, they will want to compare and access numbers, but from a more playful point of view, the bot can also contribute with comments about a player according to the user’s preferences and taste. In fact, the connectivity can get to the point where the bot selects and sifts the broadcasts of the media and experts in order to give the user the comments most in line with their interests and preferences, as if they just wanted to hear jokes about what happens in pitch. The exclusivity of the data provided and the quality of the comments may be a differential factor that allows clubs to get the most out for the fan as well as new revenue streams using these tools.