Cleveland Cavaliers Use Beacons to Provide Interactive Team Experience

By Claire Swedberg

The NBA team employs the Bluetooth devices to provide fans with video, information and promotional content during games, based on their location within the arena.

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Since the Cleveland Cavaliers installed Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons in October 2014, the basketball team’s fans have received video content, promotional offers and other information via more than 82,000 individual beacon transmissions. The system is designed to make the game more fun for fans, by enabling them to use their Cleveland Cavaliers mobile app to receive content customized for a given location, time and day.

The system employs approximately 50 Gimbal beacons—installed at key locations within the team’s home stadium, the Quicken Loans Arena—each of which transmits its unique ID number. To take advantage of the technology, a visitor needs to download and install the Cleveland Cavaliers smartphone app from the iTunes or Google Play website, and opt into the BLE function. The Cavaliers smartphone app was developed by YinzCam, which used Gimbal’s software development kit (SDK) to enable the app to link to location-based data.

When a fan’s smartphone detects a beacon, the Cavaliers app displays videos, promotional content and other information, based on the user’s location.

This is just one of several sports venues that are, or will be, using the solution from YinzCam and Gimbal, says Brian Dunphy, Gimbal’s senior VP of business development and partner relations. YinzCam has been integrating the Gimbal software platform and beacons into its apps for teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL) and National Hockey League (NHL), as well as the Australian National Rugby League (NRL), since the companies partnered in June 2014.

Before the 2014-2015 season began, the Cleveland Cavaliers had already offered its fans an app that provided content about the team and upcoming games, including game times. The team wanted to use the app to deliver information and promotional offers tailored to a particular user’s location within the Quicken Loans Arena, says Mike Conley, the Cavaliers’ VP of digital and Web services, and began working with YinzCam to create a beacon-based system. The team had looked into adopting a location-based solution utilizing a smartphone’s built-in GPS technology, but the arena’s concrete shell blocked the phones’ ability to receive signals transmitted by GPS satellites. That, he says, “led us down a path to find a better way.” Conley says he found research into beacon technology intriguing, adding, “Our end goal is delivering contextual messaging to our fans at the right places and times.”

Gimbal’s Brian Dunphy

Gimbal’s Series 20 beacons are either mounted on walls or placed in the ceiling throughout the arena, at locations chosen to yield the best transmission to phones and have the least likelihood of a beacon becoming damaged. A beacon’s four AA batteries typically last for about 18 months, Dunphy says. Transmission range is usually up to 50 meters (164 feet), he adds, though if the use case requires, the beacons can be configured to transmit only at very short range (within a few inches).

The Cavaliers’ system was taken live for the first game of the season on Oct. 30, with beacons installed at all entrances, as well as at select concession areas, premium lounges and some points of court access. In the future, some beacons may also be installed in areas where the Cavaliers’ partner companies sell products to incentivize fans to stop at those locations to make purchases.

Once a user installs the app and opts in to receive beacon-based content, the phone listens for beacon transmissions. If the handset detects a beacon, the app accesses a YinzCam-hosted content-management system that delivers content to the phone, based on the ID number being transmitted by that beacon.

The content begins with a welcome message delivered by the team’s owner, Dan Gilbert, when fans arrive and walk near a beacon installed at the entrance. They can then view videos about the team, including what is called the “1976 Miracle of Richfield”—highlights of the Cavaliers’ win against the Washington Bullets. Such content is triggered when a visitor walks near a beacon mounted at the display that includes a piece of original hardwood classic court from the Richfield Coliseum.

As app users walk past other beacons, they learn of giveaways, raffle tickets and other promotional offers. In addition, they can receive reminders of game times, to make sure they don’t miss any court action.

The Cavaliers’ Mike Conley

The messages are customized for each game, and these customized messages are what fans may find the most interesting. They include videos and other content about players, coaches or celebrities in attendance for that game. “We send quirky, funny messages to our fans in ‘Loudville’ [the stadium’s upper-level seating section],” Conley states, “encouraging them to be loud and proud throughout the game.” That may include video footage of Mel Gibson’s pre-battle freedom speech in Braveheart, or a screaming goat. “The idea is to create a sense of ‘What crazy content will the Cavs push out next?'” Conley says.

Once fans become accustomed to the system, the teams hopes that they will physically go to specific areas where beacons are installed, in order to receive additional content.

The benefits are still being measured, Conley says, adding that the team expects to achieve a return on investment from any technological solution it purchases. That ROI, he notes, can be defined by operational efficiency, fan experience and revenue through new partnerships, such as concessions providers. “Gimbal and YinzCam’s technology allows us to check off most, if not all, of those boxes,” he says, “and [we] have been happy to date with both the investment and the ROI associated with it.”

To date, Dunphy reports, Gimbal’s beacons have been deployed at more than 50 professional sports and entertainment venues. What’s more, they have been used during eight championship events across five professional leagues.