VenueNext: Enhancing Live Event Experiences

VenueNext has scored big bucks from venture capital after a successful season helping fans of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers acclimate to home games at the team’s new state of the art Levi’s Stadium. The company’s app aims to enhance live event experiences by assisting with everything from transferring tickets to finding a parking place to knowing which bathrooms and beer stands have the shortest l

Now the app maker has drafted some major players, led by Causeway Media Partners and including Live Nation Entertainment, Twitter Ventures, and Aruba Networks, as investors in a $9 million Series A funding round in order to take its platform on the road to other sports venues and beyond.
Tech veteran John Paul, founder/CEO of VenueNext, discussed the company’s operations and its plans with OMM’s Robert Gray.

OMM: How does VenueNext improve the fan experience?
Paul: This is the mission I was given (by the 49ers): we have to make a live event as compelling as possible. There are certain reasons you go to a game—it’s great to be in a stadium, but it’s hard to get there, parking’s a pain, lines are long.
Our strategy is to help people get there, move around inside, feed and entertain them, and help them get home.
What we’re doing is using the smartphone, network, and integrating them with service to take away that pain so you can have a hot dog and a beer in the seat. You paid all that money and you don’t have your back to the action.

OMM: What dynamic functionality does the app have?
Paul: It will know you’re there, which game it is, if it’s before, during, or after the game. The home page changes intuitively to show you what you will need at that time, parking before the game, the way to get food or beer and to your seat once it’s closer to kickoff. It shows what you probably need at that time first. Plus live replays (from the game) four seconds after a play ends.

OMM: What was the uptake at 49ers games last year?
Paul: 30 percent of about 70,000 fans at 49ers home games used the app. 70 percent of those using the app used iOS.

OMM: As a mobile-based business how do you overcome weak Wi-Fi infrastructure?
Paul: That is one of our challenges, Aruba Networks is an investor, they’re a networking company. Every venue understands now because of the smartphone, and fans tell them they want to use it, they know they need to improve their infrastructure but the problem is it’s a pretty big investment. They invest in Wi-Fi, put our platform on top of it, and now monetize the fans that come by lowering costs and the rising revenue.

OMM: What happens for people whose phones die?
Paul: We try to minimize battery drain for the services we do. At Levi’s Stadium, if you walk around there are (device) charging stations from (sponsor) Verizon. We may do a service where we deliver fans a battery pack. People have to learn to manage their battery life, it’s a weakness of the phone approach, but the technology will get better. If your battery gets down to 20 percent, we could get a runner to go down and ask if you want to use a battery, turn it in to a kiosk on your way out, at no charge. Otherwise we’d bill you $15 (for the cost of the battery).

OMM: What’s the reception to VenueNext in the marketplace?
Paul: The market is ready. We’ve not had to make a cold call ever. Everywhere is contemplating this (service). Nobody has told us, ‘This is a bad idea.’ It’s a more a question of when, how can they afford it, and how can they get their network upgraded.

OMM: How is the data being used by venues/teams?
Paul: By using the app, we know who you are. You can change upper deck seats to lower deck for games that don’t sell out. We did it for a WWE match.
(Teams and venue owners) all want to know who’s in the building or park. The 49ers went from 17,000 fans in their database to more than 200,000 people once they started using VenueNext.

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