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Getting inside the development of the Miami Heat mobile fan app

What do sports fans want in a mobile app? Work by the Miami Heat on their own mobile offering is revealing which features users want and which they can do without.

For their upcoming season, the Miami Heat basketball organization has recruited a different kind of talent to draw fans to games: one that specializes in creating a game-changing mobile fan app.

There have been a number of mobile applications designed to enhance the sports fan's experience; applications designed for Brooklyn Nets fans at Barclay's Center, for example, launched in 2013, and Wimbledon launched its own fan app last year. Leaders of the Heat organization hope that by creating their own mobile fan app, they can give fans an incentive to come to the stadium and make the experience of those who already attend regularly even better.

Nikki Barua is CEO of BeyondCurious Inc., a technology consulting agency and distributor that has partnered with the digital transformation service provider Built.io to create the mobile fan app for the Heat. In this Q&A, Barua was able to shed some light into what the development process is like for this application, how they are deciding on features and why fans tend to gravitate toward what she calls "convenience" features versus "experiential" ones.

Nikki Barua, CEO, BeyondCurious Inc.Nikki Barua

What are you and the Heat trying to accomplish with the mobile fan app?

Nikki Barua: When we look at the whole category overall as far as sports franchises and venues, the biggest challenge that most of them are facing is that fans, you know, people in general, have more and more reason to stay at home and watch the game.

You know, the living room has now become this highly connected, high-tech experience. And what stadiums and arenas are really dealing with is venue attendance can be challenging when you have to work so much harder to draw fans to the stadiums. So, the real competition is the living room.

So, how do you get people out of the comfort of their home, away from their massive HDTV experience, and back into the venue? That's the overarching sort of business challenge that every sports franchise is really facing.

And for the Miami Heat, the approach and the core principle that we're focused on is creating valuable experiences that cannot be replicated at home [and] this very unique fan experience that keeps the fans coming back for … this highly personalized experience in the arena.

What has been your development approach?

Barua: So, the approach that we're taking is sort of three steps. The first is really stepping into the shoes of the fans through a research approach that takes not only a qualitative but also a quantitative view of what drives the best fan experience. So, our research teams are working with fans.

From there, we're using two-week sprints and a very rapid design methodology that allows us to produce functional prototypes. That prototype then becomes the basis with which we test the concepts further. Those prototypes allow the Miami Heat team to then socialize those ideas, get buy-in and make decisions with stakeholders quickly.

So, taking this overall Agile approach has allowed us to test a variety of features and concepts, and ideas, all designed toward driving loyalty, offering very unique conveniences that are in the venue and creating personalized content that we believe will create deeper engagement and excitement for the fans.

When will the mobile fan app be available, and what devices will it run on?

Barua: It'll be a native app on iOS and Android. And at this stage, we've developed a prototype. We're going through various testing and expect that app to be available before next season.

How do you decide which features make the final cut?

What we don't want to do is put a hundred features into the app, take a big-bang approach, roll it out there and find that only 40% of [the features] get adopted.
Nikki BaruaCEO, BeyondCurious Inc.

Barua: We're not just taking, sort of, the best of features set and throwing it in the app. We're really looking at what's unique to this fan base; what do they value the most? Along with standard conveniences, such as mobile wallet or mobile ticketing, [we're also looking at] getting merchandise or food and beverage from the vendors and also looking at [creating] unique, data-driven and customized offers.

The game flow feature is another one that allows the fan to watch the game on their mobile device, [and allows] them to rewind or fast forward during the game right from their seat. So, being able to see the stat sheet fill up or track a particular, you know, feature during the game. It basically allows the fan to experience the convenience of things that they can get at home on the television set, coupled with the excitement of watching the game live in the arena.

So, as we're conceiving and exploring these ideas, we're building them out, testing them and then seeing what the adoption is and how it's being received by the fans.

What we don't want to do is put a hundred features into the app, take a big-bang approach, roll it out there and find that only 40% of [the features] get adopted.

What features do fans want?

Barua: So far, one of the big discoveries that we've had is that fans are leaning more toward convenience features versus experiential features.

In general, experiential features could be something very visually immersive. It could be watching some game replay or something of that sort. A convenience feature could [include] ordering from your seat or mobile ticketing. So, one is more convenience-driven [and the other] is just about experiencing the game.

So, the things that get in the way of going to the venue tend to be obstacles such as waiting in line or having to wait for your food. So, being able to provide the conveniences that overcome those obstacles are really what we're discovering that fans are interested in. Then you add to that the experiential features [that] make it even more compelling and provide an experience that you cannot replicate at home.

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This was last published in June 2017

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