Q1 Productions has partnered with blogger Dan Davis (@ATVS_PaulCrewe) from And the Valley Shook for a series of blogs leading up to and after the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference (#DSFE14). Dan will also be in attendance at the program, live tweeting from the official @Q1Sports account. We hope you enjoy this first piece!

We live in a world fraught with options. Now, more than any point in human history, is the world at our finger tips. From the comfort of my living room or bellied up to a bar or even in the second deck of a stadium, I can pull out my mobile device, communicate with citizens across the globe, quickly research the answer to a random trivia question, and let the world know my exact whereabouts… in a matter of seconds.

In 1960, even 1990, things were much simpler. Those attending a sporting event had few options. You watched the game. If the game was boring, you talked to whoever tagged along with you, or your neighboring like-minded folks. In 2014, if the game is boring, you whip out your phone and catch up on the latest headlines, scroll through Twitter, maybe even play a game. Some of this becomes unconscious, almost unthought behavior. It’s habit. It’s no longer socially unacceptable to not devote 100% attention to the matter at hand, whether that be a sporting event or the company of others. We all, unconsciously or not, understand and accept that the world is at our fingertips.

So then, what lies ahead is the challenge. For years now, sports have sought to obtain the attention of its fans beyond the game itself. It’s why you’ve seen the rise in half-time entertainment. It’s why they launch t-shirts and ask trivia questions and anything else you can imagine during the course of a single game. Their interest is engagement. The question is simple:

“How do I keep you, the fan, interested in the task at hand?”

It’s no longer simply good enough for a sports team’s owners to provide a good team to ensure fans remain engaged. Being good, even the best, is only interesting for so long. Just this season, the University of Alabama had to implore students to quit bailing early on home field blow outs. In terms of on-field product, there’s been nothing more impressive than the University of Alabama football team, who claimed three of the last five National Championships… yet, that’s not good enough for what you’d consider to be even their most faithful denizens.

It’s why you see even the most successful of sports franchises striving to build a stadium that will accommodate the modern fan. The 49ers are fresh off back-to-back-to-back conference championship appearances, including one victory and a Super Bowl berth, but executively, they’ve decided that’s simply not enough. Rather than frustrate or strip away the potential of the internet, they’re enabling it. The 49ers are forward thinking enough to realize that they can’t always compete with the vast options available to the modern fan; so they’ll win unconventionally. In a sense, it’s addition by subtraction. They’re allowing their fans to have their cake and eat it too. They are accepting the inevitability that people will show up and get bored and want to use their phones. Rather than forcing them to rely on the bogged down networks of their providers (something we’ve all experienced during game day), they’re saying, “Hey, here’s some free Wi-Fi, we hope you enjoy your experience here.”

Because that’s the end goal, right? Satisfied customers = repeat customers. The 49ers are smart enough to realize that the small segment of their fanbase which will show up regardless of rain, snow or shine, won’t value this, BUT, the larger population will. YOU may want to go and watch every single play, but your 15-year-old daughter would likely rather tag along for fun AND be able to Instagram herself eating a hot dog, tweet out her feelings AND post a Facebook status about where she is.

So then, the simple answer to the question of, “How do we engage the disengaged?” is answered by allowing them to engage. The modern fan is more in tune and knowledgeable than ever. Quit trying to make them pretend it’s 1960. Give them the freedom to engage, and you may hold their attention after all.

The Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference is scheduled for March 3-4, 2014 in Dallas, TX. Key speakers to include: Jeramie McPeek, Phoenix Suns; Greg Cosell, NFL Films; Craig Pintens, University of Oregon.