In May 2014, Google introduced to the general public a $1,500 optical head-mounted display system that could be attached to eyewear. The system, named Google Glass, weighs less than most sunglasses, has an Android operating system that can utilize a series of voice commands (or through a phone application) to execute a variety of functions, including Web surfing, high-resolution photography, and video recording. Though Google elected to stop producing the original Google Glass in January 2015, the company has steadfastly indicated that they intend to offer a better version of the product at a more affordable price in the near future.
The public assembly facility industry, and arenas and stadiums in particular, have had a long and often difficult relationship with patrons utilizing technology. Though every facility has embraced the use of higher quality sound and lighting systems to deliver a better customer experience, not every facility, or facility tenant, has been pleased with the customer’s enhanced ability to readily take photos and record performances. Most facilities still reserve the right to eject patrons taking pictures or recording a performance, but most arena and stadium sport and musical performances do not expel patrons entering a facility with contraband electronic items because of the prevalence of affordable and highly efficient smartphones. Certainly, patrons carrying readily viewable “professional” recording devices that mimic something from a recording studio will be asked to vacate the premises, but the days of facilities ejecting patrons sneaking cameras or tape recorders into an event have mostly become the stories of an older generation.
However, Google Glass, or some near future more-affordable derivative, could create a new environment where facilities need to address their current recording policies. Unlike cell phones that need to be positioned by hand to record the performance, Google Glass merely attaches to eyewear, making it a highly effective method to record a performance as the patron does not need to hold anything aloft. With its small size and light weight, it is difficult for a facility to spot a Google Glass user, whether upon entering the facility or during a performance.
Though many facility managers will see the obvious potential downside to Google Glass, in today’s modern world, the initial rejection of advanced technology is usually the wrong decision. Certainly, there will be certain types of performances, such as a Disney on Ice or a Broadway show, where the tenant may have a vested interest in policing any use of recording devices due to marketing, safety, licensing, or copyright reasons, but for most sport and entertainment events at an arena or stadium, the proliferation of Google Glass can offer marketing opportunities. For example, if a facility realizes that a growing portion of its on-sight consumers are using Google Glass, they can list apps that can enhance the customer experience that are only available to Google Glass customers. For various events, the apps could provide viewable content before, during, and after the event. For instance, Google Glass users could download pregame coach’s commentary or selected “chalk talks” unavailable to viewers at home. At a baseball game, Google Glass users could have access to observe upcoming pinch hitters taking swings against the pitching machine in the previously unseen bowels of a stadium. For entertainment events such as those involving high-profile musicians, patrons could view the warmup area and see the act before entering the stage or after the performance has concluded.
Certainly, for any event, viewing the post-event press conference could be offered. This in particular could provide content that is unable to be seen currently by in-venue patrons, but is sometimes offered to the consumer at home through traditional television coverage. With one of the chief facility concerns being the need to provide an experience that cannot be duplicated from one’s living room, Google Glass content could be a critical component of driving on-sight demand. For example, a team or individual athlete could provide exclusive post-event content only to those app users who have Google Glass. In the near future, some players or coaches may mimic the recent experiment that was undertaken in Cagliari, Sardinia. An opera company had selected singers, orchestra members, and production technicians don Google Glass to provide their perspectives to the subscribing audience. With the National Basketball Association and the National Football League already having some players wear extremely lightweight microphones to provide the sounds of the game, it is not likely too far into the distant future that Google Glass subscribers could access the sights of the game, as well.
While accessing these new features, Google Glass user data could be tracked much like behavior such as concession purchases is already tracked on smartphones. Rather than sending general concession announcements through the facility video board or directed emails and text messages to onsite patrons’ smartphones, the facility could send unique marketing messages through Google Glass at strategic points of the event to spur purchase behavior. In addition, customer feedback could be solicited to gauge satisfaction with recent purchases. Google already has software that can translate a variety of languages, so utilizing Google Glass at events that attract an international audience could improve the customer experience. Such language apps have already been utilized in opera to potentially move away from performing arts centers needing to provide projectors that stream the language translation on a wall location visible to every patron.
In the short-term, the return of Google Glass or some similar new device is likely to remain cost prohibitive for the “typical’ on-sight patron. However, the facility could rent a select number of devices to provide access to an enhanced facility experience. Since this could be an opportunity to get the product into the hands of a future purchaser for the first time, Google (or its future competitors in this category space) might offer to sponsor the venue, which would enable rental rates to remain low enough to attract customers who might then become full-time adopters of the product. Even though our industry may be many years away from full usage of Google Glass, facility managers should be aware of the future technology…and the future possibilities. FM