SAP Arena: How a unique venue partnership is building the future of fan engagement

The SAP Arena is a 15,000-seater testing ground for fan engagement technology which promises to take the concept to the next level. Fadi Naoum, head of sports and entertainment at SAP, lifts the lid on the development process and discusses the sector's future.

SAP Arena: How a unique venue partnership is building the future of fan engagement

There are few secrets about where sport goes looking for innovation, especially when it comes to fan experience, and that is Germany. The Bundesliga may not be quite the same spectacle as when Europe’s soccer hipsters first flowed to the Ruhr to see Borussia Dortmund’s domestic power struggle with Bayern Munich in 2010 but that is largely because the Bavarians reasserted their financial dominance over the division.

The other side of a trend for fans flocking to Germany, especially from England, was the matchday itself, something that has become rather stale in certain Premier League stadiums. Wooed by cheap tickets, vocal support and the attraction of drinking whilst in view of the pitch, the trend became so apparent the Observer said the Bundesliga put its English counterpart ‘to shame’.

While that might be bordering on exaggeration, the German sports industry has not rested on its laurels and is leaving no stone unturned in its bid to please the customer. Mannheim’s SAP Arena is one example of a very clever sporting venue pioneering the charge.

The SAP Arena is more than just a German software company providing a title sponsorship to a venue. The home of top-flight ice-hockey outfit Adler Mannheim and elite handball side Rhein-Neckar Löwen is a 15,000-seater testing ground for the technology that will soon be in use in the Bundesliga and which promises to take fan engagement to the next level. SportsPro spoke to head of sports and entertainment at SAP, Fadi Naoum (pictured below right at the SAP Arena), to discover how they are shaping the future of fan relations right now.

How is SAP enhancing fan experience with its partnerships?

I am responsible for [technology] development but I always work directly with customers. With this area we took a different approach compared to other IT development. We are the experts in developing software but we need to sit with customers and talk with experts in sports to come to business solutions.

With Sports One [SAP’s expansive coaching tool], for example, we sat together with the coach and the customer and asked, ‘How do you do your business?’ So they could explain in their language and we could build the software hand-in-hand.

We wanted to bring innovation and focus on fan experience so three years ago we started with the ice hockey team at the SAP Arena. The SAP Arena is a multi-function arena, they have around one million visitors a year.

The challenge we were facing with fan engagement was that you could sell a ticket but you didn’t know who is in the stadium. I could go online and buy five tickets but they only have my name. They don’t know if I came with my friend or I passed the ticket to somebody else.

They said we need now to know everybody that enters the arena and - of course if they are willing - we need to know their engagement: what they are doing, where they are spending, what they’re thinking via Twitter or Facebook, all the social media.

So we produced the fan app, we built our own POS [point-of-sale] system for merchandising, for data, that now has fan engagement integrated. So when we built the app, for iOS and Android, we have single sign-on. Fans hate having to register to buy a ticket, one time you have to register to buy e-commerce, merchandising, etc. Now they register one time and it’s the same user ID.

They register for the fan app with the same user ID and when you come to arena you collect [loyalty reward] points when you buy merchandising, when you buy food. Also when you register you get a point for every goal, when the team wins they get extra points, not only at the arena but also for away games you get points.

This is how we started building fan engagement. When we launched this two years ago it was number one in the app store for sports. Many fans downloaded it and are using it.

So can you collect data to help inform business too?

We built a [monitoring] beacon and we are [currently] doing the roll-out at the SAP Arena because we want the fan to have the perfect trip. So when he gets up in the morning he says: ‘Today is a great day because in the evening I am going to the game.’ He can plan his day, he can check with his friend, he can plan his trip, check public transportation, avoid traffic jams. When he comes to the arena: which entrance does he want to use? He can also see which food outlet is full, so he says: ‘I don’t want to buy pizza, I prefer to buy a hot dog because there is no long delay.’ If he wants to go to the restroom, he can look at which one is not so full. This is all on the app.

This is not only for fan engagement. We have around 680 beacons so they can see each floor where are the crowd moving, where are most of the crowd standing? It is not only during the game, I can see all the statistics, all the historical data. The idea behind this is for advertising, so I can sell it to my customer and I can show you this corner, according to the statistics, is a bigger eye-catcher - you can see it by the heat map.

When we started building this sports and entertainment solution we said we need to make it end-to-end. In sports there are a lot of island solutions. Ticketing operates alone, concessions operate alone, merchandising operates alone. There is a lot of island industry so we said ‘no, we need one solution’ or at least different solutions but they need to be connected. That’s why we built our own ticketing solution, our own POS concessions, our own CRM [customer relationship management]. Now our customers can have end-to-end solutions that are all connected.

There is a lot of island industry so we said ‘no, we need one solution’ or at least different solutions but they need to be connected.

Will this technology be extended to other venues?

At Hoffenheim now we have started with the beacons. This is the way we do it with our co-innovation partners: we have been working with the SAP Arena now, when this stage finishes, by the end of February, at the beginning of April we will start the new project. We don’t want to do parallel projects, our idea is that we will learn from the first project and then we optimise the product, then we do the second roll-out with Hoffenheim, we learn and we extend this with our customers like Bayern Munich and so on.

SAP are planning to extend their fan engagement technology at Hoffenheim's Rhein-Neckar-Arena latest this year

SAP talks a lot about the 360-degree view of the customer. What does this mean and how can it help the sports industry?

The idea of the 360-degree customer is when I want to buy a ticket I log in with my social media account – Facebook or Twitter – I can see where my friend is sitting, if I share my information, I can see on the web shop when I’m buying. I can also inform my friend when I buy a ticket.

This data updates the CRM in back end, so they know Fadi bought tickets for this day, five tickets for the other game and Fadi now wants to buy a jersey. Using SAP e-commerce, when I log on with my user ID this will update my customer profile on the CRM.

So now they know Fadi has bought two jerseys, he has a scarf, all this other stuff and he is coming to the game. If he wants to organise his birthday [at the arena] we have all that information, too.

This is not exactly rocket science but in fan engagement it doesn’t exist.

If they want we can organise a newsletter or a marketing campaign, or a specific marketing campaign. I am sure you always get emails and other marketing campaigns from other ticket providers that you stop reading because it’s not specific to you.

Now if I know all the information about my customer, I know what they buy or what they already bought I can use that specific information. So they bought a jersey, now we have the shorts or a scarf and we have this special offer that the customer will find very interesting.

The idea is that when you’re at the stadium or in the shop and you can scan to collect your points, the cashier can start talking to you because they know you are a valuable customer. They know, without them telling them, they are a gold customer or a platinum customer.

This is not exactly rocket science but in fan engagement it doesn’t exist.

You can hear Fadi Naoum speaking at SportsPro Live which is taking place at ExCel London from 11-12 April, more information here