Now that the team had decided to use a blimp as an interaction platform (in addition to fan smartphones and occasionally the Jumbotron), the next step was to decide what those interactions would be. In order to do that, we first had to decide on a sport on which to focus. After extensive research into various spectator sports, we decided to design our interactions to be implemented at hockey games, for the following reasons:
- Hockey is an indoor sport, so the blimp would not have to contend with wind.
- Hockey relies more on local fan engagement than basketball (America’s other favorite indoor sport), because hockey teams generally don’t make money from international advertising deals. Therefore, it is extremely important to motivate fans to come to the games.
- A hockey game always has two long spans of downtime in between periods of play. These provide enough time to bring the blimp into the stadium, have audience interaction, and put the blimp away, without actually interrupting the game.
- Additionally, within that scheduled downtime, a portion is reserved for Zambonis to get on the rink and smooth out the ice. During this time, nothing else can take place on the rink. Our platform, the blimp, is uniquely qualified to provide entertainment during this time, since it is airborne.
Having decided to design for hockey, we brainstormed several ways to engage fans. In the end, we narrowed our focus down to two interactions, both of which we hope to prototype.
- Play Collection – While the game is being played, fans can collect cards after each play, which describe what the play was (for instance: a goal, or a penalty). Each card will only be available for a limited time after the play is complete, so fans will have to pay close attention to the game and act fast if they want to collect the cards. Once a fan has collected several cards, they will be able to play a game with them – perhaps poker, or set. The most successful audience members will receive acknowledgement from the blimp during the next period of downtime.
- Crowd Simon – During downtime, we can bring out the blimp and turn the arena into a huge Simon board. Each quarter of the audience will represent a single color. The blimp will flash colors in a certain pattern, illuminating the separate quarters of the audience as it does so. Then, the audience will have to recreate that pattern, by interacting with their phones whenever their quater’s color is supposed to appear. Patterns will be matched with audio cues, such as songs or cheers, so the audience knows exactly when their colors will be expected. If the audience succeeds at recreating the pattern, the blimp will add another color to the pattern. As soon as a certain percentage of the audience fails, the entire audience loses. Audiences could try to compete against audiences from previous games, to see how long they can maintain the pattern.
Once these interactions were chosen, the team went to work on initial prototypes. Our programmers began to experiment with a Raspberry Pi, to get it to communicate with an “operator’s” computer. They also started creating an Android app to run the audience participation portion of our interactions. Designers worked on initial prototypes of the app UI, and our artist worked on our project branding materials, such as our half-sheet and logo.
Additionally, on Thursday we visited the PPG Paints arena, and talked at length with the head of technology, Erik Watts. During our visit, we learned that there may be elements of professional hockey that would prevent our chosen interactions from working as intended. For example, the blimp would have a limited flying zone, so it couldn’t get close to certain portions of the audience for a satisfying interaction. Also, fans tend to leave their seats during downtime to get food or go to the bathroom, which means they won’t be around to play Crowd Simon. For the time being, we have decided to move forward with our interactions, anyway. We will reach out to minor-league teams in the coming week to see how minor-league games differ from NHL games.