The Ultimate Guide To QR Codes In Sports Stadiums (Based On Real Testing)

I sound old sometimes and say “Back in my day, we didn’t have QR codes.” when I talk about how QR codes can help drive engagement & conversion in your stadiums.

At SQWAD we specialize in crafting digital experiences that help sponsors stand out and engage with fans on game day. Our goal is to help your sponsor brands make a lasting impact and leave a memorable impression on your target audience.

We’ve been doing it since 2018.

When we started, we added a short link onto the scoreboard for fans to type into their browser to play. This may sound crazy today…but it worked.

Then…came the QR codes. How exciting. Fans can simply point their camera at a code and instantly get access to a website.

The problem…marketers kill everything.

Now we see QR codes popping up everywhere. It’s a sea of pixelated black & white boxes thrust into our faces begging to be scanned.

And to make matters worse, it seems like our strategy today is “If we put a QR Code in front of fans…they will scan.” At first, this wasn’t an issue. It was new, novel, and exciting even to scan that box and see what lies behind it.

But as more QR codes showed up, the less they stood out.

We got curious as a company. Just like any advertisement, could we optimize how we present the QR Code to make sure that we are getting more scans?

This question led to a series of tests we did across 7 stadiums with clients to see what tweaks could optimize to ensure we are getting the most number of scans.

Below is what we found. I have broken it down into two groups, the Nuts & Bolts & The Psychology, to dive into some tweaks your team (or brand) can make to ensure fans are playing your game.

The Nuts & Bolts

The first thing we wanted to test is the nuts & bolts of a QR code.

Are there key things with how we present the actual QR code that will increase scans?

Does it start with your creative and the layout of your scoreboard ad?

The short answer…yes. We found two key items in the structure of how you promote it that affects the number of scans you get.

The 14-second rule

The biggest problem that we hypothesized on QR codes is there wasn’t enough love given to the time the QR code was on the scoreboard.

This makes sense. Think about the cognitive analysis and physical steps that come with seeing a QR code.

  1. First, the fan has to decide whether they want to scan it. Is it worth their attention and time?
  2. Then they have to get their phone out of their pocket, open their camera, and scan it.

How long does that take?

Well, in our study…the answer is 14 seconds.

We did a wide range of tests on the number of seconds a QR code was shown on the scoreboard ranging from 10 seconds to 45 seconds.

When the QR code was shown for less than 14 seconds, we saw a 67% decrease in scans.

Qualitatively, this takes into account the decision time it takes to decide if they want to scan.

Taking your phone out to scan takes about 5 seconds (yes, we tested this too. The average was 3.87 seconds…but let’s call it 5 seconds to be safe).

This means it takes about 9 seconds for a fan to notice the QR code and decide if they want to scan it.

When you look at the data, there is no HUGE benefit to keeping it up longer.

With almost all of our tests, we saw a surge at around the 14-15 second mark then a trickle-in of fans after that. I think the best way to decide how long after 14 seconds you want to keep it up for really depends on how long you want to give those slower fans to decide and scan.

So, the first rule for QR codes…post them for at least 14 seconds on your scoreboards. Anything less and you start at a disadvantage.

Timing is everything

If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Scientifically, of course. Sound waves are created even if there are no ears to take those waves in to analyze & process them into a recognizable noise in our brains.

But…how do we know?

Ok, enough of the philosophical metaphor. The second most valuable insight we found was WHEN you post the QR code is just as important as what you post.

This really revolves around fan migration patterns on game day. It ranges from sports to sport and fan base to fan base…but there are times when fans are simply not in their seats.

The results below might surprise you…but this is one of the biggest key insights we found for the success of a QR codes scan.

Best time: End of the 1st Q, end of the 3rd Q, TV timeouts during quarters.
Worst time: Pre-game, halftime, end of game.

Best time: TV timeouts during the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd periods.
Worst time: Pre-game, End of periods, end of game.

Best time: End of the 1st Q, end of the 3rd Q, TV timeouts during quarters.
Worst time: Pre-game, halftime, end of game.

Best time: Inning changes between the 3rd and 6th inning.
Worst time: Pre-game, before the 3rd inning, after the 6th inning.

Best time: Pre-game right before kickoff. The end of halftime.
Worst time: Early pre-game. Early halftime, the end of the game.

When we pulled this data in, we saw such a pattern that we had to dive in deeper. Qualitatively, how could it be that Basketball and Football were so close on the best times to post?

So I went to an NBA game…and it became clear as to why. Fans have migration patterns on game day. The result; these times have empty seats.

In our stadiums, when we post things on the scoreboard we bet on one thing; the majority of our fans will be in their seats.

Sometimes, we have the incorrect idea that no matter when I post a sponsorship ad (and QR codes) fans will simply be in their seats to consume and engage with it.

This is not the actual case.

Fans move. When the quarter ends they head to the restroom, or to food, or to get a drink. At halftime, they go meet friends. Pre-game, they are not in their seats yet. Maybe looking to find parking and stuck outside the arena.

In all of these situations, they are not in their seats.

So to go back to my metaphor with the trees…if a QR code is up on the scoreboard…but no one is there to scan it…was it ever even there?

Yes, but the results and value are nowhere to be found.

The Blowout Effect

We also found that the safest time to post is earlier in the game at those breaks above. Why? The blowout effect.

If your team is blowing out an opponent, or getting blown out…fans leave. This means you have less of an audience that sees your QR code.

We saw some big outliers in the data for 3rd & 4th quarter/end of the game posts. We were baffled…then we looked at the scores. They were very lopsided.

The Soccer Conundrum

Soccer was an interesting case to look at. In soccer (football everywhere else in the world) there are really only 2 stoppages in the game that can be planned; pregame & halftime.

In both instances, with other sports and with soccer, fans are trickling into the stadium and not in their seats for pre-game…head for the concourse for halftime.

This became an art more than science.

With QR code promotion the best time was a timing within those windows of pre-game and halftime.

  1. For pre-game, it was as close to the first kick as possible. That is when most fans were in their seats before gameplay.
  2. For halftime, it was toward the end. While in other sports the data says don’t do any halftime promotion…soccer fans seemed to be the best sport at getting back in their seats before the gameplay resumed.

Can you post the QR code during stoppages in play? Kind of.

It becomes extremely difficult to get to that 14-second mark in these windows.

And from a ‘respect’ aspect…I don’t think your club wants to throw up a promotion during the longer stoppages, which usually means injury.

With all of the above said the soccer games in our tests had some of the highest scan rates. Passion definitely makes a difference (more on that below) but overall soccer is more of an art than a science compared to the other sports.

So second rule of QR codes. Post them earlier in the game at TV timeouts or intermission breaks in the middle of the game.

Avoid halftime and pre-game (in hockey avoid the end of periods) unless you are a soccer team/club.

What didn’t matter that surprised us…QR code size.

To put some bias out there in this study, I was totally convinced we would find that the QR code size would increase scans. I was hoping to find the optimal ratio to give to you all.

But, the data is the data, we found no significant increase in scans based on QR code size that stood out.

As a practical rule of thumb, make sure it is scannable.

Obviously, if fans in the nose bleeds can’t scan due to size then you will see that number drop.

But again, from what we could find, as long as it was scannable…making the code HUGE did little to increase scans.

The Psychology Side

The above were the nuts and bolts…but they aren’t the end all be all.

We found some key items that will boost the likelihood that a fan will scan and participate in your activations on game day.

They all make psychological sense for convincing a fan to scan, so we broke them down with that distinction in mind.

Again, the nuts and bolts are the foundation. They play into the simple practicality of getting a fan to scan (how long to post, when to post, etc.. These should be used to boost your numbers when low scans are occurring…or if you absolutely have to post a QR code during a time that differs from the optimal ones above.

Promote the Prize / WHY

When we looked more closely at the promotions that performed the best at off-peak times, we found that in the creative there was an extra emphasis on promoting the prize.

Psychologically, this makes a ton of sense. We have to remember that we first have to convince the fan to pull their phone out to scan. If we can cut down on the amount of time this takes, there is a higher likelihood that we capture more fans.

More so than the experience that lies behind the QR code, the prize is what really boosted numbers. A clear definition of what the fan can win if they play.

One aspect that we are still analyzing is the “value” of that prize. Does it create more scan demand if you can win a car over a free sandwich? We are diving into that now…but overall if the advertising focuses on the prize the fan can win…the number of scans goes up.

This may be a duh type of statement…but we did see a lot of promotions in our study focus on the code and game mechanics OVER the prize.

Those campaigns saw a significant decrease in scans compared to the creative that focused on the tangible prize the fan could win if they took the time to scan.

The prize doesn’t have to be a big expensive one. It can be as simple as a buy one get one hot dog. One of our promotions at SQWAD sends out over 90,000 per night with one team.

But just having someone scan to play without promoting the prize will ensure that the campaign falls flat. It was one of the biggest tweaks in messaging we saw that increased scans.

Consistency is Key

One of the biggest things from this study was the consistency of posting.

The campaigns that only posted an activation through QR code for one game saw much lower scan numbers than those that were posted for multiple games in a row.

As we looked deeper, we started to see a big uptick at around game 3 of posting to fans. Some took longer than that, but consistently posting the same campaign for fans greatly increased the scan rate.

From a psychological standpoint, this also makes sense. Familiarity builds curiosity. The first time I see an advertisement my brain does a fight or flight calculation. Usually, it is flight, which in this case means seeing it but not scanning it.

But as we see it more regularly in our game day experience, we as humans get more familiar with it. It seems less scary.

We’ve seen this manifest with sports betting in the U.S. With every commercial and league-approved broadcast insert we see, we see sports betting as commonplace and therefore are more willing to take a chance on the experience.

The same is true for our QR codes and campaigns tied to them. The more we see it game to game, the more comfortable we are with it. This increases the likelihood that we scan it.

So the main point here is don’t judge a campaign on one game. To really see results, be consistent in your promotion through a QR code. Fans need to get familiar with it.

Fan passion makes a difference

This is sort of an intangible, but fan passion definitely affects scan rates.

As I mentioned earlier, a blowout can cause your stadium to be empty at the time the QR code is posted. No fans, no scans.

But additionally, if the general passion of your fan base is low

The biggest place we saw this in our study was where a ‘smaller’ team in stadium size actually got more scans overall than a much larger stadium. Same timing in the post. Same general messaging and promotion setup. Same prize ‘value’ to the fan.

There was nothing to justify the large discrepancy in scans. So we went to games at both.

The fans at the smaller team were just more into the game experience. They were more bought in, more attentive at breaks.

So the intangible here is your stadium culture. Have you created a place where fans trust the activations and QRcodes you put up? If not, you can make all the adjustments and still fall flat.

This obviously is a bigger discussion within your organization to lift the excitement in your stadium. The trust in your team. If you don’t have this foundation, you will struggle to get scans.

If your fans truly trust your team, you will get more participation.

So, that’s our QR Code breakdown

As I close this out, I wanted to make something clear.

These are small tweaks you can make to increase the success of your QR code experiences. BUT you should be constantly testing yourself to see what works in your stadium.

It will take some work, but the results are worth it.

Think of it like a landing page for ticketing. You are trying to create something that gets the most conversions. This means tweaks in messaging, layout, and experience for the visitor.

Once you nail this though, document it and follow it with discipline.

If you can get more scans, you get more participation. More participation, more leads. More leads, more value to your team and sponsors. More revenue for your team.

If you’ve made it this far, I hope this article has convinced you to do one main thing; not just post a QR code up on your scoreboard and expect results.

Small tweaks can drastically increase scans. Follow a few of the above and you will see those increase.



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