AT&T’s massive makeover of the former Cowboys Stadium came within six inches of disaster, or at least that’s how it felt to Gregg Heard, the company’s VP of brand identity and design. Among the many challenges in turning the Arlington, Tex.-based venue into a completely immersive brand experience was signage for the top of the dome, which slides open and closed, depending on weather.
“We had trucked in the letters, which are 60 feet high, for the top of the stadium. Each one needed its own tractor-trailer. And the globe logo was 90 feet high. That’s when we found out that the clearance for opening the dome was six inches.”
Speaking at the 4A’s CreateTech event in Cambridge, Mass., on Thursday, Heard, along with Joel Beckerman, founder of Man Made Music, and Travis Threlkel, founder of Obscura Digital, addressed both the goals, challenges and sleepless nights spent creating that brand identity, not just within the stadium, but also re-engineering the experience for 70,000 fans attending games, and the millions more who just wish they could be there.
As part of its “Mobilizing your world” brand positioning, the team wanted to find new and exciting ways to use mobile throughout the project. “We knew that 73% of fans say they are very likely to use their mobile phones during games, and during the last Super Bowl, there was something like 12,000 tweets per second in the final moments. Mobile interactivity is the new mass expectation,” he says, “and our goal was to elevate and augment this experience. We set out to bring fans closer to the sport and team they love.”
Forbes has ranked the Cowboys the most valuable team in the league for three years running, and ESPN has reported that AT&T is reportedly paying between $17 million and $19 million per year.
A key element was a 130-foot louvered display, a robotic behemoth engineered by Obscura Digital. “It weighs 80,000 pounds, and at one point, we realized it needed to be able to withstand 105 mph winds,” says Threlkel. AT&T columns throughout the stadium offer more private, intimate experiences, including video content only available at the stadium.
And its stadium app is both practical (helping fans find their seats and order nachos, for example) and experiential. Near-field communications alert fans about Cowboy history and memorabilia as soon as they enter the stadium.
But the big idea is finding new ways to use mobile to unite fans: All 70,000, for example, will get text messages when it’s time to cheer, creating its own kind of fan choir. And in the 90-second spot it runs each game, AT&T uses videos submitted by Cowboy fans around the world, singing its signature song. Throughout the game, fans answer trivia questions, and then compare their results to the Cowboys IQ of other fans in attendance.
Managing sound within the arena was also complex. “We were very conscious of heritage, and so much about football is generational, so we do a lot of mashups,” says Beckerman. But the acoustics are challenging: “If you make a sound, it takes eight seconds for all the reverberations to die down. It is very easy to make it a horrible experience,” he says.
Nor are they done innovating. At some point, for example, they hope to put haptic wearable devices on the football players, “so when your quarterback gets sacked, you actually feel it,” says Threlkel. And maybe a huddlecam. And all three like the idea of 70,000 phones in speaker mode, simultaneously. Adds Heard: “It will create a whole new aural experience.”