With more than half the U.S. population fully vaccinated, life is beginning to return to normal. Restrictions are lifting. The country is opening back up. And people are excited. Most Americans are planning to travel this summer, to take the vacation they missed in 2020. Sports fans are thrilled to see their favorite teams in-person again. Everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Snoop Dogg is going back on tour.
Everybody is asking: what will concerts and sports games look like now?
What remains of 2021 will be spent figuring this out. But one trend we can definitely expect to see is an increased role for mobile devices at live events.
COVID-19 Changed the Role of Smartphones
Smartphone usage exploded in 2020. In one global survey, 70% of Internet users reported increasing their mobile screen time in early March. One payment processor reported a 10x increase in contactless payments, with a 30% increase in mobile food ordering during the first week of lockdowns, and an 82% increase the following week.
Social distancing and remote working required more mobile screen time. Smartphones facilitated replacing face-to-face interactions with virtual ones. To limit surface touching, businesses scrambled to offer contactless transactions. Restaurants moved to mobile ordering and QR code menus. At all levels, businesses transitioned to touch-free payments. And customers adapted.
Most people have grown accustomed to checking their phones more frequently when out in public. They scan QR codes, order via app, and pay with Apple Pay. Smartphones are essential in travel, from buying plane tickets to displaying mobile boarding passes at security. Hotels offer contactless check-in and digital room keys. Patrons no longer even need a physical key to open their hotel room doors.
Today, when you attend a soccer game, the entire experience depends on your phone. You buy tickets online (probably with your smartphone). You use a mobile parking pass and a mobile ticket to enter the stadium. And you no longer receive a physical program. Your mobile program has everything the old physical programs used to have: a map so you can find your seats, information on the players, concession prices, and COVID-19 mask policies. If you want a beer or a hot dog, you scan a QR code to pull up the concession menu. Then you can order online to beat the line. Vendors no longer walk up and down hawking soda and fries. The vendor is an app on your phone.
Concert venues, music festivals, and even lectures are embracing smartphones. Instead of a wristband, your mobile device becomes your token for entering the concert, navigating the venue, and even buying alcohol.
Before the pandemic, spectators already used smartphones to share live experiences with distant friends. While some people find phones distracting at concerts, younger fans overwhelmingly use their devices during events. In a 2019 Australian Music Fans Report, 79% of Gen Z respondents admitted to posting on social media during concerts. Concert venues will need to balance the ambivalence of older fans with the habits of younger fans going forward.
Smartphone use is less distracting at sporting events. Fewer people complain about their fellow fans’ phone use during games than during concerts and lectures. Which is why sporting events are likely to be the heaviest adopters of an increased role for smartphones, and the least likely to ban digital devices. Especially in sports, smartphones enhance fan experience.
This Trend is Not Likely to Go Away
While many people are eager to lose their masks and see their friends in person, the increased societal role for digital devices is not likely to end after the pandemic. Most people have adapted to using their phone for everything from ordering beer at a bar to calling an Uber for a ride home. People like using their phones for contactless payments, and even picking up prescriptions. It makes life easier. Which is why it will not go away.
Smartphones now have an integral role in life. It is no longer strange or rude to use your phone in public, whether at a restaurant or a football game. In fact, it is encouraged.
Now that customers and businesses have adopted this trend, they do not want to go back. QR code menus and tickets cut down on wasteful paper printing. This is better for the environment. It is cheaper for businesses. Not only that but it makes cleanup much easier for stadiums and concert venues by getting rid of the paper programs and tickets that litter the seats after the fans leave.
Mobile ordering reduces wait times. It makes the customer experience seamless. Mobile apps have even made buying groceries easier. Now that smartphones have enhanced their shopping, dining, and sporting experiences, users do not want to return to the old way of doing things.
At home or in person, post-COVID fan experience will include more screen time. The most successful event organizers will be the ones who use this to create the best fan experiences. This trend has the possibility to make interactions seamless, while increasing fan enjoyment. Smartphones reduce hassle. Everything from obtaining tickets to entering a stadium to paying for food is frictionless.
The integration of digital devices into the fan experience opens up new possibilities for brands, venues, teams, and performers. With fans already using their phones more, advertisers, artists, and athletes have new opportunities to connect with them. Venues can promote their next event. Teams and musicians have new ways to engage with fans. Event sponsors have a new platform to advertise to fans and offer them coupons or discounts.
Increased smartphone use throughout daily life is the future. It is a more seamless, frictionless future. In this future, events of all types have an opportunity to use smartphones to improve audience experience, which will make audiences want to keep coming back.