Monday morning and I’m up at 4.30am to fly from Miami to Denver, Colorado for tonight’s Denver Broncos game at Sports Authority Field. After an airport blueberry bagel breakfast I’m on my way for a four hour flight over the USA and into rocky mountain country. I quickly dump my bags at my airport hotel and catch the shuttle back to the airport to get the train to the game. I’ve chosen airport hotels on this trip as a smart decision given my tight schedules and free airport shuttle buses that they usually offer meaning I can save time over the nine days.
I take the for $9USD Denver W train from the airport which gives me an all day pass on the city’s transportation network and alight at Union Station and to my surprise see Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies MLB team is a short walk away. It was pretty cool to see the stadium in the flesh having recently written an article on stadium technology and the fan experience for Australasian Leisure Management Magazine which touches on the stadium’s use of biometric fingerprint scanning.
I find a local bar called Falling Rock Tap House which turns out to be THE craft beer bar in Denver and sample a few delicious Colorado beers before hitting the pavement back to Union Station where I catch a short 10 minute light rail ride out to Sports Authority Field-Mile High Stadium station. As I’m walking from the station to the stadium I strike up a conversation with a few Denver fans who supply me with a cold can of BudLight in the Denver Broncos colours. I think these cans look so good and would be a great idea from a major brewer in Australia to do for fans. I continue walking and soak up the walk to the ground while pedicab riders ferry fans to and from the stadium. I pass the ‘Burrito Daddy’, ‘Carl the funky drummer’ and two homeless guys selling beers who are all unofficial vendors or entertainers who it seems rock up in their car or bicycle and unload eskies of drinks and food to cook and sell from their vehicle. Outside selling and profiting from the event is obviously out of the control of the stadium in this back street but I think I’ll pass anyway on a backseat burrito from The Burrito Daddy.
I don’t have to walk far before the first activation pops out as fans gather round to line up and have their picture taken at the Broncos Fever sign. What I found interesting about this is that the sponsor didn’t just slap up the sign but actually stationed a person here who was in charge of taking the pictures for fans. In other situations like where this is used there’s not been a person to help so fans have to wait and ask another fan to take their photo which can be hit and miss sometimes unless a 10 year old is taking the picture!
Continuing the walk around the stadium is taking it’s time as there’s just so much on from left to right here. The senses are running wild with excitement but I can’t imagine a fan actually being able to do every single activation in only 3-4 hours because while I arrived at 3pm and ended up racing through 20 odd activations, even I wasn’t able to complete everything. It’s truly such an impressive sight and by this stage I’ve only walked around 10% of the stadium. I notice that the stadium has a bicycle valet service before checking out the Buick test where I and other fans eagerly sign up our personal data in an iPad survey and receive a free Broncos shirt which is the first of about 20 free items I end up picking up tonight in what turns out to be my Broncos showbag of sorts. Leaving this stand I walk 10 metres and receive a clear bag with a Broncos logo on it from a local hospital who are handing out thousands of these tonight and which is a clever giveaway given the amount of stuff people are accumulating and the fact you can’t take any bags into the stadium apart from these clear bags.
At this stage I’m at the back of the stadium and start to see the orange buzz of the fan zone appearing in the distance. The fan zone is pumping when I make my way into the dedicated section that features around 15 or so Broncos coloured tents where each sponsor has activities and giveaways going down while being surrounded by bars and gourmet food options.
I participate in the Macca’s pong game at their stand and score a pair of McDonalds football gloves, some stickers, free burger vouchers to use in Denver stores and a pair of sunglasses. While I’m waiting to do another data collection activity I’m approached to do a survey and score a free Broncos hat before returning to the line and grabbing another pair of Broncos sunnies, Broncos lip balm and some very smartly designed Broncos koozies in the shape of a cowboy boot.
The Broncos Fever stand, sponsored by a health care company, was a very clever idea where they were curing fans who may have symptoms of ‘Bronco Fever’. The staff acting as Broncos doctors and nurses would take a picture of the fans and supply them with free goodies.
Photo opportunities are abundant with the Super Bowl 50 cut out, Bronco Fever, giant Bud Light Broncos can, player cut out’s and more all scattered around the venue for fans to capture that memorable moment and upload it to social. There’s a huge Broncos Buick truck and another free t-shirt sign up tent in one corner while numerous fun and easy skills drills are scattered around the fan zone that feature throwing and kicking activities with every fan walking away with prizes.
Around 90 minutes from kick off I catch up with Glenn Hines from the Broncos who is the club’s fan manager and we discuss fan engagement at the Broncos and the importance of putting fans first, always trying to innovate the fan experience and discussing his role on game day. The game day role he tells me is very much about talking to fans and helping them get the most out of their time at the stadium so they leave feeling as though they are a big part of this family and are valued as fans. We discuss the importance of staff providing exceptional customer service in every possible way and why this focus and culture of superb customer service has contributed to the team being able to have consecutive sell out’s since 1970. This big focus on going the extra mile with customer service stood out on a few occasions for me as while just walking around the venue I had different fan relations staff members come up to me on level 1 and 5 who asked me on a personal level how I was going, what I needed, could they help me with anything, to have a great day and ‘Go Broncos’. This is not hard to do from any business let alone sports but it just makes you feel appreciated and valued as a loyal customer or fan and fans that feel that way are always going to invest in the club for years to come.
Having told Glenn what I’d accomplished so far on my fan experience at the stadium he points out that I’ve actually missed the miniature 1/8th size replica concrete stadium in the car park on the other side of the stadium. Sorry what? A replica stadium? Seriously American stadiums and teams can you just ease up on the crazy awesome stuff just for a season to let everyone else catch up to you!
I thank Glenn for the hospitality and head round to check out this replica stadium which is a homage to their former Mile High stadium. The space takes up 200 car parks and can seat close to 200 fans in tiered seating who are treated to marching band performances, live screen highlights and analysis and tailgate food options. This was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in all my stadium visits over the years and I think my girlfriend is going to have a hard time convincing me that I can’t replicate this idea for our backyard one day.
Before making my way inside the venue I sample a local BBQ sauce retailer’s southern style sauce on some delicious chicken wings and pick up a sample to take home. These US stadiums at time’s truly feel like you’re at an expo or trade show such is the showcase of interesting local products and services and this stuff is all open free to the public as fans without tickets can participate in all of this action for free.
It’s 6pm and I line up at gate 8 where the pat down, scan and metal detector walk through takes place. The ticketing crew scan my phone for my ticket and I’m in. I’m handed a free 100+ page program and a couple of stickers and proceed up the escalators to level 5. I shell out $8USD for a ‘regular’ (really 2L or thereabouts) souvenir Broncos cup of Coke Zero that I can barely wrap one hand around before taking my seat up high in the last row of section 538 before turning around.
Look at this view! No words. What a stadium.
The digital in game stadium activations included a few of the usual things like fan cams (Bronco Fever), military appreciation moments and ‘Know Your Broncos’ where the players share stories about their teammates. Further fan engagement included the ‘Kick Off Kid’ who took the tee back to the sideline, the ‘Coin Toss Kid’ and the continuous screen prompts for the crowd to ‘Make Some Noise’, ‘Get Loud’, ‘LOUDER!’ and the decibel readers which saw this fan cheer get up to around 112dB which comes close to the 114dB I heard at the 49ers last year. There was also a cool giant helmet VR experience taking place as well in the concourse from sponsor Verizon.
The concession stands offered a multitude of options and incentives or giveaways and included mega Broncos hot dogs, big pizza pie, supreme massive nachos and other delightful and out there food items that were easy to get food from.
Overall the Broncos fan experience really showcased the best in customer service, fan zones and sponsor activations. A highly enjoyable experience made even better by the Broncos getting the win and this mountain of giveaways which I walked away with for friends back home.
Sadly on the night a fan died at this game and I’d just like to acknowledge that as being such a horrific thing to happen to a family and a fan that no one should ever have to go through.