When I worked at the University of Oregon, I remember my time at McArthur Court fondly. Built in 1926, it was the oldest on-campus venue in the United States that was still hosting basketball teams. It held 9000 people and didn’t have concessions or bathrooms on any level other than the first. Just imagine thousands of fans all lines up to use one of the two bathrooms allocated for the entire venue. It formed quite the line. But since McArthur Court didn’t have any of the fancy bells and whistles that we expect at modern venues now, like video boards that showed you the flashy replays, it created a more intimate experience.
They’ve since replaced McArthur Court with a monstrous new venue called the Matthew Knight Arena which hold 12,500 people. It’s got video boards galore, as well was all the other amenities that modern fans want like comfortable seating and multiple venues and concessions stands on every level. In many ways, it’s an improvement on McArthur Court. But I think it lost much of the intimate feel that was held in the old venue. But it didn’t have to. In fact, I’d argue that because the in-venue experience has changed, there are now more opportunities to engage with fans in creative and original ways.
There’s a delicate balance that comes with moving into the modern age through technology. You’re trying to create an atmosphere that is still fan and family friendly, while making sure that you’re appealing to a younger generation that wants things to be loud and full of glitz. The in-venue experience is what helps convince me to leave me house with my family and to go see a sporting event. It’s knowing that even though there’s more action and loud noises at the venue, I still receive an intimate feeling through feeling like I’m a part of something bigger.
I think that the in-venue experience is something that colleges are trying to get their heads around. There’s the first level of the experience, which is being greeted by the ticket scanner when you walk through the door and getting a smile on the face of the concessions person before you sit down and watch the game. Then there’s a second level experience that allows you to pay for those concessions with your mobile device, or engage in a promotion that encourages you to tweet for a contest. I’m constantly searching for venues that make that second level engaging enough to be create something that feels intimate, but it seems that the personalization aspect needs data in order for fans to differentiate the important signal from the noise. Although there’s no replacement for human interaction when it comes to creating experiences, by taking advantage of fan data you can meet your fans in their preferred space.
I remember being at McArthur Court in 2000 when they beat the #1 ranked Arizona Wildcats in basketball, and there was nothing like that atmosphere. The fans were loud and crazy, the air was thick with cheers, and the team played great. When I look back on that memory, I notice that I didn’t care about the video screens or the lack of concession stands, because I was just lucky to be a part of history. Had they offered me a chance to renew my season tickets on the spot by sending me a personalized message on my phone as I exited the venue, I wouldn’t have hesitated to sign up. Think about how much data they could’ve collected since that time, and how they could’ve used all of that to make sure that my experience at the Matthew Knight Arena in 2016 could feel just like the one at McArthur Court in 2000.
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