Georgetown basketball fans to get a taste of iBeacons’ potential at Verizon Center


The fan experience at Verizon Center could take a step up thanks to iBeacons installed around the arena. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Verizon Center recently had 30 iBeacons installed around the sports arena, opening the potential of enhancing the fan experience through the micro-location technology.

Visitors who have the HOYA TIX app installed on their phones can receive promotions based on their location in the Verizon Center at Saturday morning’s game vs. Xavier. The app’s creators are awaiting approval from Apple on an iBeacon-enabled update of the app, but expect to receive it before Saturday.

(HOYA TIX)
(HOYA TIX screenshot)

HOYA TIX is a Georgetown-specific version of LetsMoveDown, an app that allows fans to upgrade their seats during games. LetsMoveDown co-founder Derek Shewmon said fans with the HOYA TIX app will be greeted by a message (a push notification in technical terms) that pops up on their iPhones as they enter Verizon Center. It will link them to the HOYA TIX app.

Those visitors with the app will also receive an offer of a discount while walking by the Georgetown University Bookstore on the first level of Verizon Center. The iBeacon sensors can detect the location of an enabled smartphone within a few inches, making it possible to deliver such exact offers.

“It really is taking an app that’s really good and making it better. It’s enabling a functionality that people already have but now it’s more available and more prominent,” said Marc Wallace, chief executive at Radius Networks, which installed the network of sensors. “Give me the offers specific to where I am. But don’t message me if I’m not there.”

LetsMoveDown  first debuted at University of Maryland basketball games during the 2012-13 season. It has since partnered with nine college basketball, NHL and NBA teams. Verizon Center is its first attempt at incorporating iBeacons, which can make the app even more useful by targeting offers to the area in the arena where a fan sits.

“If you’re in the 300 level, we don’t want to offer you 400 level upgrades,” Wallace said.

Shewmon said the notifications will only be sent during a set window Saturday that’s built around the game time. Because the iBeacon sensors detect when a user of the app is nearby, fans at home won’t be spammed with unwanted messages offering better seats at a game they aren’t attending.

Shewmon says a third of Georgetown season-ticket holders have the app. While many apps are downloaded and rarely used, the location-specific notifications are a reminder to fans of the app’s relevance.

The app's success with iBeacons will hinge on fans accepting push notifications and location-tracking. (HOYA TIX)
The app’s success with iBeacons will hinge on fans accepting push notifications and location-tracking. (HOYA TIX)

“A lot of people forget. They get app fatigue,” Wallace said. “I go to a Georgetown game, I’ve totally forgotten that I could upgrade my seats.”

There are a few hurdles to ensuring the app succeeds. In order to receive the offers visitors will have to have the HOYA TIX app installed on their iPhones. Android devices aren’t supported. Also, Bluetooth will need to be activated on a fan’s smartphone, and a user must agree to receive push notification and location-tracking from the HOYA TIX app.

“It’s probably going to be a bit of a learning curve. I’m sure some people are going to wonder what this is and what the benefits are, but hopefully as word of mouth spreads and we have success stories, it just becomes second nature and something you look forward to when you come out to a game,” Shewmon said.

Verizon Center isn’t alone in using iBeacons at sporting events. Major League Baseball recently finished installing the sensors in San Diego’s Petco Park and L.A.’s Dodger Stadium, which are among the 20 MLB stadiums expected to use iBeacons on Opening Day of this season. The Miami Dolphins also did a test at the end of the 2013 NFL season.

Georgetown University’s basketball is the testing ground before seeing if iBeacon uses could expand to Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals games and other events at Verizon Center.

“We want to see how it works and what we can actually do with it and how people like it and use it. That’s always the first step,” said Randall Boe, an executive vice president at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which manages Verizon Center. “There’s a lot of cool stuff out there. The hard part is making sure it fits and improves the fan experience.”

For now the surface is just being scratched at Verizon Center. Eventually fans in specific sections might receive offers that people sitting two sections over wouldn’t receive.  One potential use would be to notify fans of the length of lines at nearby concession stands or bathrooms.

“There are a lot of potential applications. Could we use it at the end of a period to send a stat sheet to everyone?” Boe said.  For now, iBeacon technology remains full of potential but in its early stages as entrepreneurs and businesses experiment.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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