Sports Stadium Market Becoming Prime Real Estate For Solution Providers

Stadiums are home to the biggest sports teams in the world and solution providers are discovering that the opportunity to add value in the market has never been greater.

In order to get fans into stadium seats and off the couch, large venues are spending serious dollars to enhance the fan experience through new technologies. And channel partners are playing a critical role in, according to ShoreTel CEO Don Joos, who provides unified communications solutions for stadiums that host some of the biggest teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB.

"ShoreTel is an innovator of technology, but what the partner creates is the face for us," said Joos, in an interview with CRN at Fenway Park on Tuesday, the home of the Boston Red Sox - a new ShoreTel customer. "[Stadium owners] like it local. Partners have a local presence on site and provide local support. They are the ones working more intimately with the organization to customize the solution. But it doesn’t stop with implementation."

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A key ingredient for ShoreTel landing the Red Sox deal was the Telecom company's channel partner, Harbor Networks, a Framingham, Mass.-based solution provider.

Greg Bertschmann, president and CEO of Harbor, said a stadium project isn't very different from an enterprise deployment, but the benefits can be much richer.

"The marketing benefits are huge," said Bertschmann, who also works with ShoreTel to provide solutions for the NBA's Boston Celtics. "They're big names, big brands and people will make the correlation that -- if these guys are capable of holding that account, they're probably a good partner. We use that when we talk to potential customers … Someone with the status of the Red Sox elevates the status of Harbor Networks automatically."

In order to win the Red Sox deal in 2015, Harbor had to mold ShoreTel's solutions to suit the organization – which not only included historic Fenway Park, but the company's minor league stadiums and spring training camp in Florida.

It took roughly six months for Harbor to fully implement ShoreTel inside Fenway Park in order to be ready for opening day in April.

"We provide the project management, the coordination, the engineers to come out and do the programming and physical installation and the training," said Bertschmann. "After that, we do all day-two support. We are their first point of contact as the partner for any services issues."

On game day, Harbor typically doesn't have staff on-site unless requested, but is constantly monitoring the ShoreTel solutions and is alerted to any issue.

In regards to solution provider profitability, Bertschmann said stadium accounts are similar to enterprise accounts, although the price can be higher for stadiums. "It might be more expensive to do a stadium because you have to make sure you've got phones and systems that work in places like bullpens," he said.

Both Bertschmann and Joos see revenue opportunities in the stadium market continue to increase for the foreseeable future.

To keep paying customers filling the stadium instead of them watching from the comfort of their home or on their mobile phones, stadium owners are spending on technology with the goal of making fans feel like they're getting a "VIP experience at the game," said Joos.

"What the stadium owners are looking for is, 'I want to gather as much data as I can about these users and then present to them what the most relevant thing is for that person at that moment in time,'" said Joos.

Stadiums will continue to evolve to anticipate what fans' needs are inside the stadium – such as when the line is short at your favorite concession stand, the waiting time for the restroom or a merchandise sale on a similar shirt you previously bought.

Solution providers will be key to achieving success as stadiums look locally for channel partners to provide implementation, product updates or refreshes, constant system monitoring and ongoing services.

"Partners are there from a support mechanism perspective as [stadiums] need help or want to expand. Then the partner works with them to continue to evolve the solution to fit their ongoing business needs," said Joos. "They evolve with the organization as their business needs change."