A couple of days ago, Dallas Mavericks owner and all-around smart guy Mark Cuban blogged a passionate post about how he didn’t want smartphones at basketball games because he believes that every time you’re looking down at your device is a moment where he has failed to do his job of entertaining you. While I respect Cuban and this argument, I believe it is dead wrong and that smart teams will embrace mobile technology to enhance the sports-going experience in multiple ways.
Cuban’s main argument is actually pretty romantic, as he says that basketball owners aren’t actually selling a basketball game but they’re selling a compelling experience that they want you to remember for a lifetime. He says all the best sports memories many of us have don’t involve the score (not sure about that) but rather the people you’re with, how you feel at the event and it certainly doesn’t involve live-tweeting the game. The money quote is:
I can’t think of a bigger mistake then trying to integrate smartphones just because you can. The last thing I want is someone looking down at their phone to see a replay. The last thing I want is someone thinking that its a good idea to disconnect from the unique elements of a game to look at replays or update their fantasy standings or concentrate on trying to predict what will happen next in the game.
I don’t fault Cuban for wanting to enhance the emotional connection at the game, he’s clearly a very savvy tech business man and the Mavericks destroyed my Lakers en route to its first title last year, so he also seems to know a thing or two about running a team. But it’s a fundamentally flawed argument to say that smartphones and mobile technology are the enemies of creating a stronger emotional connection for multiple reasons.
The first and most important reason is that people are already bringing smartphones to the games in droves. Cuban likes to say that he’s selling an escape from the real world but it doesn’t work like that anymore because people don’t want to be fully disconnecting while at a sporting event. How do I know? I was at the Warriors, Knicks game last night and nearly everyone around me had and used a smartphone during some part of the game for various purposes.
Whether it’s texting your friends to tell them you’re at the game, messaging your friend in the beer line to tell him what to get, snapping pictures or checking in on Foursquare, mobile phones are a crucial part of the experience at a game. Cuban talks about remembering the experience with the people who are there and that’s definitely something that owners should strive for but I was having a pretty good text message conversation with a die-hard Knicks fan friend who was watching the same game from out of state.
Also, what’s more emotional than a family capturing a photo together at the game with one of the stellar cameras in a modern phone? Owners should be encouraging them to share those pictures on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks because that’s what the consumer wants to do nowadays. This can also lead to more buzz and revenue for the team, which I know Cuban cares about: the Mavs’ arena has advertisements built into the freaking mirrors in the bathroom.
Communication and conversation about the game shouldn’t stop at the arena’s doors.
I also think that Cuban has an old-school view of this issue, which is surprising considering that he owns the Mavericks because of his success with Internet companies. It seems likes a “we entertain, you watch” approach and this is quickly becoming outdated in an age where many sports-goers want and demand more. For example, he talks about not wanting people to look at their phones for replays but I would absolutely love that ability.
Yes, there’s something to the baited breath of the collective arena waiting for the main scoreboard to show it but what’s the harm in offering a replay from other angles on the phone? Additionally, many teams won’t show replays of spectacular plays if it comes from the opposition and some of us really want to see that even if the 360 dunk wasn’t from a player on the home team.
This non-smartphone approach also shows a lack of imagination with what we can do with these devices and apps. We’ve already seen how convenient and appealing mobile ticketing can be for games and there are multiple other aspects of a game which are crying out for innovative apps. Create a free app which really lets the sections participate to win in-game prizes or push out some really cool augmented reality apps to entertain adults and kids during the down times. I don’t care how good the entertainment is during the non-basketball moments, there will always be a minute or two here and there where the user will want to look at their phone and teams can be a part of that experience.
If you really want to enhance the in-game experience, do something radical like bringing food and beer ordering to my fingertips with an app. The absolute worst part of a game is having to wait in line for overpriced beer and food that’s not very good, so give me the ability to pay a premium with an app to have it hand-delivered to my seat. I know it costs more than just the stands but this is something which is ripe for disruption and I know there are multiple app companies trying to crack this nut.
I’ll agree with Cuban that the NBA is a bit of a different beast than other sports and I don’t think that this would lend itself to renting out tablets like MLB teams are testing, but it’s short-sighted to not try to include mobile technology to enhance the in-game experience, no matter how passionate or romantic the reasoning is.
Oh yeah, go Lakers.
[Via Blog Maverick]