Eight Things We Learned at the 2024 National Sports Forum
Last month, we headed to Pittsburgh for the annual NSF conference, where 900 attendees gathered to map out the future of the live sports industry
Benjamin Wintle/FEVO

Eight Things We Learned at the 2024 National Sports Forum

March 11, 2024

Last week the FEVO Road Show landed in the Iron City (aka Pittsburgh) for the 2024 National Sports Forum. We had a blast exploring the city’s gorgeous sports meccas and drinking a few pints with friends old and new, but what brings us back to NSF year after year are the insightful workshops, panels and sessions that occupied our nine-to-five. Here are a few things we took away from this year’s conference …

1. The Face Card is never declined with MLB’s Go-Ahead entry

Last season, Major League Baseball launched a pilot of their Go-Ahead entry, a new first-of-its-kind ballpark entry that utilizes facial recognition technology to allow fans to enter without even breaking their stride. The first system was tested in collaboration with the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park to great success.

Fans choose to opt in to the Go-Ahead entry program within the MLB Ballpark app. From there, they take a selfie that’s analyzed, translated into data points and attached to their Ticketmaster account. When the fan arrives at the ballpark, they look for the designated lanes and simply walk right through. Fans who utilized Go-Ahead got into Phillies games 68% faster than fans who used traditional scanning. The team received over 17,000 sign-ups for their pilot program. Expect this sort of technology to be utilized in more spaces very soon.

2. For the right price, you, too, can sing the National Anthem

Today’s buyers don’t just want to attend the game, they want an experience. Standard on-court or on-ice photo opps are great, but some teams are thinking more outside the box with high-end stadium activations. For example: Is your team selling a rockstar suite experience package, including the opportunity to sing the National Anthem at the game? Because they could be!

There are probably elements of your events that you're currently paying for that you could be getting paid for. Singing the National Anthem or hosting a player’s arrival red carpet are once-in-a-lifetime experiences for your fans, and they’re also easily sellable experience packages. Don’t just sell a game — sell a lifelong memory.

3. Utilizing AI starts with humans who understand processes and needs

There are countless ways to utilize AI in the sports industry, but it begins with humans figuring out where the need is and what processes need to be put in place for AI to be most effective. AI sales agents are being used by teams today to warm up cold leads, but you need a good sales funnel in place to close those leads. Neuroscience-trained AI is ready to help you choose the perfect asset for your next campaign, but it takes a savvy human with experience to give the campaign purpose. 

(Ed. note: For further reading on the importance of bringing a “human touch” to our interactions with AI, check out our latest blog post.)

4. The name of the game is engaging fans before they even get to the arena

In today's hyperconnected world, engaging fans before they arrive at your venue is paramount. The fan experience begins long before the game starts, and savvy orgs recognize the importance of building anticipation and excitement leading up to the event. Whether it's through social media campaigns, exclusive behind-the-scenes content, or interactive fan experiences, creating a buzz beforehand not only enhances the overall atmosphere, but also strengthens fan loyalty and increases attendance.

5. The time to invest in women’s sports is NOW

With increasing visibility, support and recognition, women's sports have become powerful platforms for empowerment and inspiration. From the unparalleled success of events like the Women's World Cup to the electrifying performances of global superstars like Caitlin Clark or Simone Biles, the momentum behind women's sports is undeniable.

But investing in women's sports isn't just a matter of equality; it's smart business. Research has shown that companies with women in leadership positions perform better across every metric. By supporting women's sports, organizations not only contribute to gender equality but also tap into a lucrative market with immense potential for growth. Now is the time to bolster infrastructure, funding and support networks to ensure that women athletes have the resources they need to thrive.

6. Soccer in the U.S. is growing and we’re only starting to see its potential

With the nation set to host multiple major worldwide soccer events for the next 4-5 years (starting with this summer’s Copa América and including the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup), there's never been a better time to invest in the sport. From grassroots initiatives to professional leagues, the landscape is ripe for growth.

7. NSF attendees get access to some of the most impressive sports facilities in the country

From iconic stadiums to state-of-the-art training centers, NSF attendees are granted behind-the-scenes access to witness firsthand the innovation and infrastructure that underpins the world of sports. This year’s event included exclusive access to PNC Park (home of the Pittsburgh Pirates) as well as Acrisure Stadium (Steelers and Pitt Panthers). Whether exploring the inner workings of a professional arena or learning about the technologies that shape on-field performance, attendees gain a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of sports management and facility operations — and also walk away with some inspiration for implementing similar strategies in their own organizations.

8. If you want to improve attendance for your late afternoon panel, an open bar in the corner is highly effective

Maybe we didn’t need to attend NSF to learn this lesson, but it’s worth mentioning. Conferences can be fun, but they can also drag a bit. Nothing makes that final session fly quite like cracking open a cold one.

Eight Things We Learned at the 2024 National Sports Forum