Super Bowl 51 is Poised to be the Most Connected Game Yet

Scott Cutler, StubHub President

As the Big Game approaches, StubHub’s president takes a look at how technology is reshaping live experiences, from searching for the perfect seat to interactive in-game entertainment.

Editor's Note:  This article was originally published on Recode.  

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend Super Bowl 50 and watch thousands of fans pour into Levi's Stadium to see the Denver Broncos take on the Carolina Panthers. The energy was contagious: Everywhere I turned, crowds buzzed with excitement, uniting in this bucket-list moment. As the StubHub team and I fulfilled ticket orders for thousands of customers before the game, I was struck with a sudden realization. Almost every attendee we met carried a phone and was snapping selfies and recording videos — many had even purchased their tickets through their phones — but the Super Bowl tickets themselves were still hard-copy paper tickets requiring in-person verification and distribution.

 Technology is having a significant impact on live events, changing the game (so to speak) before, during and after the actual performance.

While live experiences, including the Super Bowl, have historically been analog events, that’s beginning to change. In this truly digital age, technology is having a significant impact on live events, changing the game (so to speak) before, during and after the actual performance. The spontaneity, ubiquity and immediacy that technology now affords us means we can make split-second decisions to see historic moments more easily than ever before. I’m still blown away by the fact that in the final hours before the start of Game 7 of last year’s World Series, millions of dollars of transactions went through StubHub’s mobile platform, as people decided last-minute to see the Cubs’ curse broken.

Some might worry that this is disconnecting us from the emotion of life, as people are more attached to their digital devices than ever before. But technology also makes it easier to discover new events and improve the ways in which people can get out and live life live. From making a purchase on mobile, to previewing a seat view through virtual reality, to sharing and planning for upcoming events on social, technology heightens all phases of the fan experience — and ultimately contributes to the emotion and memories of once-in-a-lifetime experiences like the Super Bowl. 

When I think about how technology has shaped the live event landscape, I’m reminded of the first Super Bowl in 1967. It’s the only one where a full recording of the original broadcast doesn’t exist — or, at the very least, hasn’t been made available to the public — which is hard to imagine in this day and age of always-on technology. At this year’s game, fans in attendance will have high-powered cameras and video capabilities right in their pockets, allowing them to share their personal stories and memories beyond the walls of the stadium.

In fact, Super Bowl 51 is poised to be the most connected game yet. Attendees will enhance their experience through social media, mobile and immersive technologies in record numbers, with fans using devices to engage with each other before, during, and after kickoff. Companies like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon have already increased their network capacities with temporary cell towers in the Houston area so that fans can share their experiences online and connect with friends and family back home.

This is just the beginning. From my work at StubHub, I’ve already seen how technology and innovation will continue to enhance every aspect of live events, whether it’s the Super Bowl or a performance on Broadway. For example, we’ve started to see AI technologies being leveraged for chat integrations that provide instant recommendations on events to attend. And before a show, concert or game even begins, new integrations with social networks could be used to streamline group planning. 

At StubHub, we turned on virtual view for NRG Stadium in Houston several weeks ago, to give consumers a realistic, 360-degree view from the section where they were searching for Super Bowl tickets.

I’m sure we’ll begin to see even more virtual reality being used to augment experiences by virtually taking fans backstage to see an artist practice vocal warmups, or bringing them to the sidelines to watch players during their pregame practice. At StubHub, we turned on virtual view for NRG Stadium in Houston several weeks ago, to give consumers a realistic, 360-degree view from the section where they were searching for Super Bowl tickets. I was naturally interested to hear that Fox is broadcasting parts of Super Bowl 51 in VR, and I’m confident that virtual and augmented reality will only become more mainstream in the years ahead.

The possibilities are endless. I’m looking forward to seeing how technology will continue to evolve in this space, giving fans unprecedented access to the artists, athletes and performers they love. Personally, I’d love to point my smartphone at a player, actor or musician and instantly trigger bio information, stats or other details. I’m also fascinated by the increased use of drones at live events — they’re already starting to replace T-shirt cannons, dropping concert tees to excited fans below. In the future, maybe we’ll see drones function as multi-angle cameras to help audience members in the mezzanine see what the stage looks like from center orchestra. 

One thing will never change — fans will always want to connect with the experiences that inspire them. Last year, I attended nearly 50 live events, many of which will go down as some of the most memorable in history: Peyton’s final win, the uber-talented field at The Master’s, LeBron’s dominance in the NBA Finals Game 7, Slash and Axel rocking AT&T Park, a red carpet with J-Lo, Kobe’s last game, Broadway and London’s West End — “being the customer” is one of the best parts of the job. 

Still, my favorite memories are when I got to share these experiences with my wife, kids, family and friends — seeing the confetti fall around us after an L.A. Galaxy win is the kind of memory I treasure most. Without a doubt, technology helped me buy our tickets and tweet out our photos — but tapping into the emotion of these experiences was, and will always be, the best part.  

We’re a part of an ever-growing experience economy, in which live events have become one of the most fulfilling ways to enrich our lives. While technology is making it easier to access and attend live events, it’s important that we never let it detract from the overall experience. Instead, these new, innovative technologies can be used to enhance — not replace — the bucket-list moments that people crave.