In the UK, Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion may not have enjoyed a season for their fans to remember in 2013/14 but they have at least reduced the time they have to wait for a beer by introducing new food and drink-ordering mobile phone applications to their stadiums.

Newcastle trialled VenueMenu, imported from the US, while West Brom has been testing UK-focused Q App. Both services allow registered users to pre-order and pay for food and drink from well before kick-off up until half-time. VenueMenu delivers the order to the customer’s seat while Q App provides a code they take to a dedicated kiosk to collect.

Q App claims its system reduces queuing times by 75% and has achieved 100% repeated use during its trial in the East Stand at The Hawthorns, an area that is predominantly populated by season ticket holders. Anecdotally, the company also reports generating new purchasing by spectators who were previously discouraged from buying by the waits involved. Mintel’s Football UK 2013 report shows single match ticket buyers being more likely than season ticket holders to purchase food and drink at the stadium.

Length of queue could be a factor in these decisions – occasional spectators may be more willing to put up with waiting to get something they see as part of their day-out experience, while regulars may get tired of standing in line every week.

The Internet comes to the match

The arrival of these types of in-stadium app is being enabled by mobile Internet connectivity being brought to English football grounds. In May 2014, Aston Villa completed the 18-month installation of a 4G network in its stadium in partnership with Vodafone, bringing “broadband speed connectivity” to fans using the company’s network, although this may be opened up to other operators in future.

The previous month, Manchester City became the first Premier League club to roll out high-density wifi throughout its stadium, working with O2 and Cisco to enable up to 30Mb download speeds to support the use of a range of recently launched club apps and new IPTV and EPOS systems.

Mintel’s Football UK 2013 report shows that 30% of smartphone owners aged 16-24 who attend live football would be interested in using matchday apps inside the stadium – or at least those that deliver content related to the action taking place on the field.

Can club apps beat social media platforms? Or should they join them?

The food and drink-ordering apps trialled at Newcastle and West Brom are part of a first wave of mobile offers with a focus on immediate revenue-generating activities. That may be essential to help pay down the cost of expensive network installations, but an alternative strand of mobile strategy could prove more valuable over the long run by engaging and empowering the next generation of fans. These consumers are increasingly getting their news from social media and football is no exception to that trend, with 38% of all internet users aged 16-34 following the game in this way.

Drilling down further, among social media users who attend football matches, interaction via these channels leaps again, so that around three-quarters of these match-goers discuss the game through them. The connected generation of today’s teens (and even younger) is both digital by default and primarily peer-influenced in its choices of online activity and destinations. That means clubs should focus on giving young fans fast access to the full suite of social and digital media they use in other leisure settings and creating content that complements these platforms rather than attempts to replace them.

These types of application could include geo-tagging and photo-sharing from within the stadium bowl; live match stats with embedded options to tweet or post elsewhere; live, customisable streams of game-related activity across multiple social networks; and match-related prediction games in the style of Roulette Cricket or Heineken’s UEFA Champions League gaming app.

Direct revenue opportunities may be fewer here but longer-term potential is significant in repeat ticket purchasing and the ability to harvest the fan data that will drive effective, personalised marketing for years to come.

For more information, see Mintel’s Football UK 2013 report here.

David has more than 15 years’ experience in the sport and leisure industry as an analyst, journalist and author. He has been working with Mintel since 2003 and has now written more than 50 reports for the company, specialising in spectator and participation sport, and gambling. David previously worked for the BBC, Independent News & Media, and the SportBusiness Group.

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