TSG Hoffenheim Revolutionise the Matchday with Beacon Technology

Hoffenheim have seen an astonishing rise in German football. Their technological development off the pitch has them prepared for a bright future, too.

The club from Sinsheim had only established itself in the Bundesliga in 2008, but never looked back since. This season was their first in the Champions League under the guidance of manager Julian Nagelsmann. The TSG play attractive, forward-thinking football. Yet, even off the pitch they are similarly forward-looking as the they can be regarded as early adopters of technological and sustainable developments. Cooperating with a waste management company or introducing a Research Lab with the Mannheim Business School is impressive work – but their installation of roughly 700 iBeacons really changes the way fans experience football at their arena now. Expectedly, there’s more to come from such an innovative club.

Our DNA is to go where the future things are going to be – not where they have been,

comments Ralf Pressler, TSG’s Head of Digital Performance & Marketing. We interviewed him to understand how the club use beacon technology to merge the raw live football experience with the supporters’ digital demands nowadays.

TSG Hoffenheim the first Bundesliga club to embrace iBeacons

Not too long ago, they were a quite small club, certainly not on football fans’ minds in Germany, let alone known in Europe: the TSG Hoffenheim. But things have changed. Continuous success in the Bundesliga has led to European football and to acceptance and respect. At first, some were reluctant to like what the club were doing as Dietmar Hopp – Co-founder of SAP which remains main sponsor for the TSG – played his part by investing heavily in the club. Yet, Hoffenheim’s story is not one of sudden investment hoping to reap rewards straight away. Rather, the club has been developed for a long-lasting presence in the football ecosystem – and it seems to work. A main reason may be the great work on the pitch, but off it there’s so much happening that’s worth mentioning.

For example, the former Rhein-Necker Arena has recently been renamed PreZero Arena. That’s because their new parter, which is specialised in recycling management, will help the club become more sustainable. TSG Managing Director Dr. Peter Görlich said:

We want to work together to make our stadium a forward-looking arena which sets an example for sustainability and resource efficiency. As a successful team in one of Europe’s top leagues, we are conscious of the way people look up to us as role models beyond the football pitch. Along with our partners at PreZero, we are aiming to save resources and take a firm stance in favour of sustainable development.

PreZero Arena from TSG Hoffenheim in Sinsheim
The TSG now play in the PreZero Arena, © TSG Hoffenheim

In addition, TSG Hoffenheim do know about the importance of technological realms. As one can see on their onlince presence, they have implemented a helpful digital wall for all visitors of their website.

TSG Hoffenheim’s social wall on their website
TSG Hoffenheim’s social wall on their website, © TSG Hoffenheim

Furthermore, the club has partnerships in place to leverage posts on Social Media such as Twitter. Substitutions, goals etc. are presented by MediaMarkt on that very platform, for example.

Meanwhile, there has been a first-of-its-kind development at the now called PreZero Arena. For together with Favendo, the TSG Hoffenheim have realised the biggest installation of iBeacons in German sports – and the first of that kind in the Bundesliga.

With partners Favendo, the club can use their “Commander” Software Development Kit in order to track positioning, help fans with navigation and notifications based on beacon and zone proximity and gain insights on devices and analytics. The SDK is integrated in the club app. TSG Managing Director Frank Briel promised to make “the stadium experience an extraordinary one for our visitors”.

However, we wanted to learn more about such an innovative approach. For beacons certainly have their place at the Levi’s Stadium in San Fracisco and Tottenham Hotspurs’ new arena, but are relatively novel to German stadiums; and not yet established in the football ecosystem either. Although that might change sooner rather than later, as Ralf Pressler explains. Here are his exciting insights concerning the project. Additionally, he gave us a hint to what else can be expected at the PreZero Arena in the future.

The interview with Ralf Pressler

Spielmacher: The TSG Hoffenheim have teamed up with Favendo to install hundreds of beacons in the PreZero Arena. Is this technology going to find its way to all stadiums eventually?

Ralf Pressler: We installed round about 700 iBeacons in our stadium, which is outstanding in the German Bundesliga. In my opinion the technology will become more and more important in the next 5 years in all stadiums because of its added value.

Ralf Pressler, Chief of Digital Performance & Marketing, TSG Hoffenheim
Ralf Pressler, Head of Digital Performance & Marketing, TSG Hoffenheim, © Ralf Pressler

The TSG have been early adopters. Have there been positive examples that have been followed, like the Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco? What was the main motivator for the club?

Ralf Pressler: We had some good talks with our partner Favendo and were fully convinced to implement the technology. Our main target is to provide people with data/notifications in the right moment, at the right place and the best message.

Fans can already enjoy interactive communication and navigation inside the stadium. What are the next steps enabled by the technology?

Ralf Pressler: The next big steps will be a “Perfect Trip“ implementation. With the help of this feature the visitors will receive a notification on matchday which tells them when they should leave for the stadium, to arrive on time without any traffic problems.

Are push notifications planned? Will they rather consist of offers or even contain highlight clips or statistics from the game?

Ralf Pressler: This is something that we are already using! We send push notifications whenever a guest enters the stadium as well as different messages in the business area. After a game we also send push notifications to all leaving guests.

Talking of push notifications, have there been tests to underline the potential of these to grow matchday revenue?

Ralf Pressler: After 2 months of fully integrated systems, we are collecting data to determine all the effects they could have in the future. We analyse heatmaps around the stadium to get better insights of what is the need of our fans.

Will push notifications enable visitors to order drinks or food from underway or from their places?

Ralf Pressler: It is definitely something interesting to implement in the future. There are many needs to put in an overall strategy with much people to involve.

Do you see any contradiction in the explicit focus on digital experiences and the traditional football reception in the stadium itself?

Ralf Pressler: We should focus on the advantages that come with an improving digital experience. It will be much easier in the future to buy and receive a drink at halftime, to see free parking slot available on your mobile phone or to receive advices to leave home for the best arrival time.

With beacons all around, will all fans be happy to share their data? How are GDPR rules secured, via the app guidelines?

Ralf Pressler: The beacon technology is not taking personal data. We only “collect“ the location and the device (iPhone X for example). For sure, we are not going contrary to the GDPR.

Could the collected data be re-used for further marketing operations?

Ralf Pressler: As I answered in the question before, we do not collect demographic data or something like that with our loacation based services. But for sure after analysing all the data we should be wiser to decide where and if we need more food & beverage along the stadium or maybe more fanshops or toilets.

With so much digital implementation, will the PreZero Arena be cashless soon?

Ralf Pressler: We already started this process as we accept all creditcards in the stadium. In addition to that we have a cooperation with the Sparkasse to pay wireless! For the future we also think about different possibilities to pay with your phone through our app.

Could there be additional marketing inventory in push notifications?

Ralf Pressler: We are already sending push notifications with special merchandising offers to our visitors in order to get customer in our local fanshop on matchday.

With TSG Hoffenheim being pioneers in the digitalisation of sports venues in Germany, are there clues what can be expected next from the club?

Ralf Pressler: Stay tuned! More is about to come. Our DNA is to go where the future things are going to be – not where they have been. We are always in motion trying to find the best solutions for our fans on matchday.

Finally, is it easier to realise such developments if your main sponsor is a tech company like SAP?

Ralf Pressler: For sure, it is such a pleasure to have a partner with us, who is a leading technology company in the world and can provide us with interesting insights.

Thanks so much for the interview, Ralf. We are certainly better informed about the interesting developments at TSG Hoffenheim now. Eventually, any club could model themselves on this progressive approach – which should pay off even more in the long term.

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