I love college football. The passion, the pageantry, the roar of the crowd. Few things come close to the excitement reserved for Saturday afternoons in the fall.
Growing up in Central Florida, I was a Gator football fan before I knew how to tie my shoes. When I became a student at the University of Florida, I spent every weekend at The Swamp chanting, cheering on the team and chugging water to offset the heat. I never missed a game.
These days, I prefer to watch from the comfort of my couch. It’s slightly calmer, food prices are more reasonable and it is no less a tradition in our household. Same game, two different experiences. Similar to hybrid events.
Football, along with other live events, came to a halt when the world paused in 2020. But like other sports, it returned and thrived.
How were sports uniquely positioned to adapt so quickly, allowing their audiences the opportunity to get back to enjoying their favorite players and teams once again? The key was a long history of running successful hybrid experiences.
Live Sports Were the Original Hybrid Experiences
Some would say 1939 was a turning point for live spots. That October, the first pro football game was televised using two cameras, eight staffers and broadcasting to a worldwide audience of 1,000 viewers.
Fast forward 81 years. Super Bowl LV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers averaged 102.1 million viewers. It was the 13th most-watched program of all time.
Football, and sports in general, have exploded in popularity since evolving from in-person-only to an all-inclusive, hybrid experience.
By offering fans unable to attend live an opportunity to be a part of the action, events like the Super Bowl, World Cup and March Madness have become institutions. We look forward to them with the same anticipation as we do national holidays.
None of this would have been possible without gradual, targeted innovation — and human ingenuity.
People around the globe wanted to take part in the most exciting sporting events, so modes of delivery were optimized to give unique, memorable experiences no matter where they were located.
Hybrid Events Drive Innovation
Did you know that if you’ve ever attended or watched a professional or collegiate sporting event, you’ve likely been part of a hybrid event experience?
Over the years, leagues have steadily enhanced remote and in-person experiences with new and improved features for fans, attendees and participants. To name a few:
- Live, on-site studios where hosts, panelists and experts discuss the game, offer unique insights and entertain the virtual audience.
- High-quality video production including music, graphics, animation and video packages — just to keep you engaged.
- On-the-field journalists and interviews providing in-depth access to key players, coaches and other team personnel.
- Massive digital screens so that you never miss a play, no matter where you’re seated.
- The ability to watch, record, rewind and review key plays in-person (instant replay) or from home (DVR).
Sports’ transformation into a hybrid experience has helped improve the quality of games themselves, too.
Consider film study. Teams and players use coaches’ tape — recordings of previous games — to evaluate performance, scout talent and prepare for future opponents. As a result, the game itself is more competitive, innovative and enjoyable today than ever before.
Perhaps no future state for the meetings and events is more exciting than the prospect of continuous improvement and growth, an industry where successes and failures come together to create seamless experiences that combine the best of in-person and digital events.
The Future of Hybrid Experiences in the Meetings and Events Industry
Hybrid meetings and events are still in their infancy. It’s like the early days of sports television.
Forward-thinking brands and organizations have already realized that by developing immersive hybrid environments — utilizing live studio sets, high-quality digital production and virtual hosts — they are able to access a wider audience with rich content that enhances the overall event experience.
Look no further than Marriott’s Teleporter as an example of a one-day physical experience that was amplified into millions of media hits.
With a return to meeting safely on the horizon, there are two popular narratives often floated about the future of the industry. One says the future is virtual. The other says that virtual events are a poor substitute for in-person events, and people will abandon them as soon as it is safe to do so. I think both are wrong.
If sports has taught us anything, it's that hybrid experiences will continue to improve as more events take place. Technology’s growth combined with the power of human connection and ingenuity will create a future that features incredible blended physical and virtual events that captivate, engage and educate attendees near and far.
Sports has also taught us that there are two types of people. There are those who won’t miss a game. They have season tickets, they show up and it doesn’t matter if the game is available on TV or online because they are face-to-face fans. And then there are others who prefer to watch from home. They aren’t traveling to the game regardless of how many emails you send them. But they’ll spend money to watch, they’ll buy swag and they’ll support the team.
That’s two sources of revenue, two ways to attend and countless ways to engage. In that scenario, everybody wins. That’s the beauty of a hybrid event.