Headquartered in Fort Worth, Digital Seat Media is a real-time fan engagement technology platform connecting fans to brands, sports teams, and artists. It works by allowing fans at entertainment venues to scan Digital Seat’s uniquely encoded QR code “from low bandwidth environments regardless of phone carrier or brand, and without the need to download an app.”
Digital Seat’s QR codes, or tags, are installed on venue seats, armrests, and bleachers. When scanned, fans enter a digital portal where they can do things such as access team scores and stats, find coupons, order concessions from their seats, report incidents, enter sweepstakes, browse social media filters, and locate event information.
Digital Seat was launched in 2018, created by co-founders Cameron Fowler and Matt Sullivan. By early 2020 it was prominent in university stadiums, including the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and SMU.
Digital Seat tags are currently available in over 40 venues, with over 1 million QR codes “providing enhanced experiences across the country.” Some of those locations include the Playstation Fiesta Bowl, Baylor University, TCU, and restaurants such as Chick-fil-A and Whataburger inside arenas. Digital Seat is on track to be deployed in more than 50 venues by the end of 2022.
Fowler grew up in Weatherford, a little bit west of Fort Worth. He told The Dallas Express that he and Sullivan came up with the idea for Digital Seat in 2013 while working on a project centered around Near-Field communication technology. Before that, the two worked together for almost 13 years on projects from facial recognition with Intel and smart-TV software for Samsung to digital lead generation for General Motors.
“Growing up in Texas, I attended a lot of sporting events,” Fowler said. “And it was frustrating to me that I would download a team app on my phone, and it didn’t work half the time. And also that sponsorships really hadn’t changed in 30, 40, 50 years. If Mercedes Benz wanted to advertise to fans, they ran it on the Jumbotron and just assumed that everybody had seen it.”
“Lastly, that I had to stand up and wait in the line for 15 minutes to get a hotdog,” Fowler added. “So we knew that we could do something unique and program things down to the seat level and allow people to order food or engage with sponsors or look at games stats or look at content that was unique to them. And so that’s what we set out to do in 2013.”
However, Fowler and Sullivan’s idea may have been ahead of its time in 2013. QR code scanning was not embedded into smartphones then, and people had to download third-party apps specifically to scan QR codes.
“So we sat back and continued with our day jobs, and then whenever Apple finally unlocked it (QR Code scanning) and embedded it into iOS, then I called Matt and said, ‘Okay, now. Now we gotta go make something out of this,'” Fowler said.
Initially, the concept behind Digital Seat was meant to be solely for advertisements. When fans saw an ad for a company pop up on a jumbotron, they would scan their Digital Seat tag, and it would bring them to a page with content only about the advertising company. Fowler says the company evolved from there into a true fan-engagement platform.
“As we got more into it, we started to understand, and I started to look at it and go, ‘Well, what do I want? I mean, I go to sports games all the time. What do I want? I want stats; I want rosters, I want free stuff, I want to be able to get that coupon and go get a free coke because I scan that tag, I want to play trivia and see my name on the leaderboard.'”
“So that’s when it really started to evolve,” Fowler continued. “And now we’re looking at using it for E-commerce, we have in-house augmented reality engineers, we have entire teams of people that I just never imagined that we would have because of how much the platform’s evolved.”
Fowler and Sullivan’s platform was successful from the perspective of fan engagement from the start. In the first event with Digital Seat tags deployed, 25-30% of the fans in attendance scanned their QR code at a time when the company had no collateral backing.
“It was people just scanning it, and then you’d see somebody go, oh, this is cool, and nudge the person sitting beside them to tell them to scan it,” said Fowler.
However, from the business perspective, Fowler and Sullivan had to work hard to get Digital Seat on the course to success, as anyone introducing a new technology must.
“Anything that is new, and it’s not an incumbent, is hard to get people to adopt new technologies,” said Fowler. “A lot of times, people have a bad taste in their mouth about things that they’ve tried in the past and didn’t work, and so that aspect of it was difficult; telling people, ‘This is why this is going to work for you. This is why it’s better for your organization. This is how we’re going to help you make more money: we’re going to help you learn who’s inside your venue that you might not know. This is how we’re going to help you bring on additional sponsors.'”
“That was a hard sell,” Fowler continued. “But once we really started getting data in and once you get the Coca Colas and Starbucks and Googles and Alaska Airlines of the world using the platform — which we have — then that makes the conversations a little bit easier.”
Digital Seat currently has 35 employees between part-time and full-time, but Fowler says he foresees that number reaching between 45 and 50 by the end of this year. He also expects it to continue growing in the future.
As for the platform itself, Fowler wants to keep expanding in the sports world and go down some new avenues.
“Obviously, we want to keep expanding in sports. We have some professional teams now that are partners; we have a lot of brands using the platform. We want to keep heading in that direction in sports,” he said. “We want to introduce things [like a] more augmented-reality-based experience for fans. NFTs is another big market we’re heading into, sports gambling as well.”
Digital Seat also has a Digital Student Initiative — the goal is to get QR codes on college student IDs and dorm room beds.
“So that students can scan them and chat with mental health specialists to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,” Fowler said. “But they can also do things like order food to their dorm or vote for prom king. So that’s an initiative that we haven’t deployed yet, but that we’re really passionate about and that we’re trying to get out there.”
Fowler also envisions Digital Seat tags becoming prominent among rideshare vehicles. Someone could get in an Uber and scan a QR code that would show them deals at restaurants and discounts for sporting events.
Beyond that is the hope Digital Seat’s platform could reach hospitals, so people at the hospital could scan a tag either on the door or their bed and provide feedback or order food to their room.
“So we’re really looking at expanding these other verticals, now that we have the core technology built for our platform,” Fowler said.
Digital Seat Media tags will be present at the upcoming Dallas Fuel event at the eSports Stadium Arlington from June 2-5. This is part of Digital Seat’s expansion beyond traditional sports and venues.