The College Football Hall of Fame (CFBHALL) relocated to Atlanta in 2015, and has been wowing visitors by enhancing historic college football artefacts with cutting edge, interactive multimedia exhibits and state-of-the-art RFID technology to create a personalised, hands-on experience.
John Christie (left), currently Interim President of the CFBHALL, spoke to Blooloop.
A career in college sports
Christie has been in college sports for his entire career, beginning at his Alma Mater, the University of Arizona, where he obtained both his undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in Sports Administration. Beginning as an intern, he remained for seven years in the Athletic Department before being offered a job with the Collegiate Licensing Company, where he worked his way up to Vice President.
He went on to work for Collegiate Images and Xox before being contacted by the College Football Hall of Fame, where he began as Vice President of Marketing, then replaced his COO who left to go back into baseball with a major league team.
He was responsible for overseeing the Hall of Fame’s relocation to Atlanta, bringing the project home on time and within budget. The doors opened in August 2015.
“Fortunately for us, we finished it about a month early and under budget – and we prepared for opening.”
In November 2015, Christie became Interim President of the Hall of Fame, taking on the mantle of the CFBHALL’s founding CEO, John Stephenson Jr., who left to become Director of Strategic Partnerships and Special Projects for Chick-fil-A Inc.
Not just for “über-fans”
Initially, it was assumed that the primary visitors were going to be college football fans :
“…that’s our core competency: we’re called the College Football Hall of Fame, we marketed for the lion’s share of our first year specifically to what we called über-fans. “
They quickly realised that when non-fans came – perhaps reluctantly –accompanying college football fan friends or partners, they had a great time, and took to social media and TripAdvisor to give rave reviews, having found the experience to be more about a fun period of time to spend in the afternoon with friends or family, rather than exclusively for college football fans.
Visitors, it turns out, cover the whole spectrum, ranging from young kids keen to get out onto the 45 yard long indoor football field and try to kick a field goal, through both young and older men who are college football fans:
“… and there are a lot of female college football fans, too – a fortunate part of being in the South here in Atlanta Georgia. And we have many elderly visitors, because there’s a history component to it, so we’ve really been very fortunate to run the whole gamut. We started marketing to one segment, and we changed our marketing strategy and now focus on everyone, based on the time of the year. If it’s hot we have a campaign for Moms to bring the kids down and Beat the Heat, because the air conditioning is good and the kids can run around and play: it’s a safe environment and they’ll have a lot of fun.
So we’ve kind of changed our marketing strategy accordingly to accommodate a far wider spectrum of visitors than initially anticipated.”
A different experience with every visit
Repeatability is a factor with any attraction.
Christie explains, “What we wanted to design, and I think we’ve accomplished it, was something unique, that allowed guests to have an experience one way when they come, then, when they come back a second time, they have a different experience: the same interactive can serve up so many different types of experiences and types of content, and we update them literally on a daily basis.”
He adds, “We just had a family that came in and spent six hours inside the Hall, and the next day they came back. To spend six hours one day and then to come back the next because you’ve had so much fun is amazing. If you’re an adult and the admission is $20, and you can entertain your kids for six hours, you’re getting good value.”
The CFBHALL team worked with a professional educational company to develop an educational strategy, which includes lesson plans for teachers. “Based on age, there are different sets of lesson plans. Teachers can go to the website and download lesson plans and use them in the classroom regardless of whether they take a field trip to the Hall of Fame.”
But the idea is that they use the lesson plans in class during the week, and the culmination is a visit to the College Football Hall of Fame, where they actually put the period at the end of the sentence: they can translate what they’ve been looking at in the classroom for the entire week with a visit to the Hall. The final part of the lesson plan is sending them around the Hall to find various bits of information.”
He adds, “The group that we worked with did a fantastic job of developing it for us and we’ve had a really good response from teachers and educators.”
RFID technology: a personalised experience
Speaking about the new interactive multimedia exhibits, and how they enhance the visitor experience, Christie says, “We’re different. We decided that we wanted to use RFID technology for our visitors. There are two types of RFID: the type of RFID where you touch your ticket and then it reacts, and the type that’s an ultra-high frequency and you just walk into an area and the antenna picks you up that way and reacts accordingly.
And we thought that would be a great part of our visitor experience if we have these interactives and you register when you come in the door.”
The RFID technology that drives the customised Hall of Fame experience is based on a ticket, or credential, containing an RFID chip. The visitor sets up the credential’s ID number at a kiosk or by phone, registering his or her name, email address and favourite college football team.
From that point on, the experience is personalised.
“When the visitor comes in the front doors, they register who they are, and they walk into the Hall and the first thing they see is this massive helmet wall with over 800 helmets, 770 or so of them from college football playing institutions and some helmets that are blanks.
“So I went to the University of Arizona; I walk through the door – I want to light up Arizona. I go over to the all-access pass registration station and punch in who I am, provide my email address, and I connect to the helmet wall. A light on the helmet will start blinking, then it will turn blue, and it lets me know that someone from Arizona is in the building. It stays lit all day, so through the day you can see which various schools are represented.”
The ‘Why We Love College Football’ display is a 52-foot long, multi-touch interactive canvas that reacts to each visitor’s RFID identity, delivering a personalized experience through a browsable variety of media, and playing footage relevant to his or her favourite team is displayed.
Activities include the ability for visitors to create a video of themselves in a newsroom, announcing their team’s win against a rival. In this case, once the guest has entered the rival team’s name, a script is generated specific to a game between the two opposing teams, with appropriate video displayed. Upon returning home, he or she can access the video—and share it via social media.
Another interactive allows visitors to play Fight Song Karaoke, singing their favourite team’s song, creating a video of the performance which can be accessed from home and, again, shared.
Christie expands on this: “By providing my information – my email address – the system knows who I am as I go through the rest of the visit, so it recognises me and will greet me by name, whichever the interactive is, it’ll know what my school is, what my name is – it’ll serve up content that is specific to my school, so it makes it very relevant. It serves up rivalries if there’s a rivalry relevant to the school that I’ve registered.
“So what started out as this interesting concept, and something which in terms of technology we didn’t spend a tremendous amount of money on, turned out to be one of the most significant pay-offs we’ve had from our guests and for our guests since we’ve been open.”
There were a number of companies involved in the creation of the experience. “You go from concept to software to design structure, tactically pulling it all together. It’s incredibly complicated.
“Cortina did the media production; and the interactives; the software that drove everything. Museum Planning and Exhibit Design was by Gallagher & Associates; The AV Hardware Systems were by BBI Engineering; RFID Technology by Stark RFID. Cortina and Stark had to collaborate on everything. Exhibit Fabrication was by Pacific Studios; Lighting Design & Programming was by Available Light., and Obscura Digital created the centerpiece exhibit, an interactive media wall.”
He adds, “TopTix is our ticketing vendor, and they have become integral to helping us fulfil our business and customer service goals. They handle all our ticketing point-of-sale, and they communicate with our other system that collects all the information, centralising all customer information into one user record.”
The TopTix SRO4 (Standing Room Only) platform was chosen to provide ticketing and point-of-sale. With a widely diverse customer base a ticketing system that is fast and adaptable was a primary requirement. The CFBHALL’s data management and reporting requirements needed to be within its capabilities, as well as the software integration necessary to dovetail with the StarkRFID’s digital and RFID technology.
An incredible success story
So what makes the CFBHALL special?
“Of course, that depends on the kind of visitor you are. The best of the best players and coaches are enshrined there; it’s a very high-tech, interactive experience, and it also has a referential feel to it. I think that we were the first to do this RFID concept successfully, by using ultra high-frequency RFID and creating a customised experience that changes for each visitor and is different for each visitor – I think that’s what makes it special – and the fact that we can do that and have our guests create audio files, pictures and videos that are then sent to them so they can share, which extends their experience with the Hall of Fame.”
Originally, we realised that if we could get 20% of the people who came in the doors to register, providing their email address, pick a school, etc, we’d be in great shape. We’re actually doing about 96%. They’re not worried about providing their information. There is a pay-off. They get to light up the helmet, they get a customised experience, they get these personalised files, photos, videos and so on that are sent to them so they can share them, so there’s a pay-off for providing that registration information.”
The Hall is scrupulous about its use of the information provided by visitors.
“I’ll give you an example of how we’ve used it. Ohio State University football coach Urban Meyer was coming in to accept a national championship trophy; we had a nice event for him down on the football field, we wanted to make sure that Ohio State fans knew – we reached out to the local Alumni chapter, but we also went into our system and we generated a file with all the names and email addresses of everybody that registered as an Ohio State fan, that had been to the Hall, and we invited them back, and we had about 700 people show up that day just for the Ohio State event to see Coach Urban Meyer. So we use it sparingly, but at the same time it’s a huge success for us, being able to get 96% of people to register.”
An unexpected challenge the College Football Hall of Fame has faced in the eighteen months that it has been open is its popularity as a venue for third-party events. In the pre-opening period, it was anticipated that there would be in the region of fifty of these per year.
“We don’t have a dedicated event space, as such. We have our playing field, which is our low-tech, interactive punt-pass-kick etc, that converts into a nice banquet space, and fits 650 people or so for a seated dinner, we have our quad which is our lobby that can seat 250. We have the Hall of Fame which is a room in the building that can be used for a cocktail reception, but we don’t have a dedicated space that if we’re open we can have an event. So we modelled 50 events.”
As it transpired, the CFBHALL was an incredibly popular event venue, with guests choosing to go through the exhibit experience as part of their event.
“They just like the environment of being on a football field with a 36 foot high definition video board hanging right there and a goalpost down at the other end.”
There were, in fact, 250 events in the first year.
“We’ve out-achieved our goal by five times, which is great.”
But it has meant massive adjustments. Initially, the intention was that the attraction would operate from 10:00am to 5:00pm on weekdays, and from 09:00am to 6:00pm on Saturdays. It turned out to be an 18-hour day facility, and drastic changes had to be made from a staffing perspective. The CFBHALL operates for its normal opening hours, then closes briefly, until a private event with perhaps 2000 people comes in.
Christie concludes, “We had to make sure we had the staff and we had the capacity. We had, as an example, 32 events in 31 days in October. That’s been our biggest challenge, but it’s also been our biggest success story.
It’s been incredible. It really has.”