As in-person events come back in full-swing, a Fort Worth-based startup is looking to engage fans at event venues while making an impact outside of the stadium, too.
Digital Seat Media, a platform aimed at connecting fans to brands and their favorite teams and artists, is seeking to raise a $5 million funding round to help the company accelerate its growth into more venues across the country, in addition to testing out new use cases for its tech.
“We’re shifting now to a more holistic approach to technology in general,” Cameron Fowler, co-founder and CEO, told Dallas Innovates. “Originally we went after sports and said, ‘This is an industry that makes a lot of sense for this platform.’ We’re really looking at Digital Seat now as a technology platform that is anywhere that you want engagement with a customer or with a fan. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to go out and expand on these other verticals.”
‘The world has opened back up’
For fans, Digital Seat Media’s technology works fairly simply. By scanning a QR code attached to their seat with the phone, fans can access digital programming about the event, report incidents, order food on-demand, and engage with promotional material from event advertisers, which helps brands target specific demographics like season ticket holders and track the success of their campaigns during the event.
Through an exclusive, multi-year partnership that it landed in 2019 with Learfield IMG College, a Plano-based collegiate athletics-focused media and tech firm, much of Digital Seat Media’s past work has focused on college sports. The company’s technology has been deployed at venues like Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University.
Adding NBA teams and PGA events
Fowler said the company has since expanded into professional sports, with its first deals in the space including the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz. The company has also recently added professional golf to its verticals, with its technology being used at the Veritex Bank Championships in Arlington last month, where users were able to use the QR tags to check out things like the leadership board and course map.
“We’re getting a lot of inbound requests now from sports teams, entertainment venues, and different brand partners from a technology perspective that see the value of what we’re doing,” Fowler said. “Last year it was, ‘Well, we don’t necessarily know what (live events are) going to look like.’ Now it’s, ‘The world has opened back up for the most part. We’re ready to start spending some sponsorship dollars or to see if (Digital Seat Media’s technology) is something that could work for our brand.’”
Application expansion to concerts
Fowler said the company is also getting into the concert space. Digital Seat Media is working with experiential marketing firm Red Peg to implement a mobile wallet feature for ticketholders on Imagine Dragon’s current tour.
Student suicide prevention and more
However, one of the areas Fowler said he is particularly excited to see his tech deployed is through an initiative the company is calling Digital Student, which it’s developed in partnership with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. As with the tech’s use at venues, the platform would allow high school and college students to scan a QR code in their dorm or to their student ID to seek help for mental health crises, along with doing things like reporting harassment or finding a lost item.
“We think that what we built drives value in a lot of things, not just necessarily sports,” Fowler said.
Pandemic pivot to platform expansion
Digital Seat Media launched in 2018. The pandemic initially slowed business, forcing the company’s then 18-person team to take salary cuts and focus some efforts on contact tracing. However, Fowler now says the company is seeing a number of inbound requests from sports teams and entertainment venues, in part due to the company no longer needing to explain QR technology, due to its rapid adoption at places like restaurants during the pandemic. That’s translated to more than 1 million of Digital Seat Media’s tags being deployed across more than 40 venues nationwide and the company working with big-name brands like Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and Google through its platform.
“We’re really seeing a lot of microtargeting, which is trending,” Fowler said. “Brands and teams are going, ‘I’ve got to find a better way to communicate with that fan on a one-to-one level, than just a one-size-meets-all approach.”
Fueling growth with new funding
Now with a team of around 35, Digital Seat Media is looking to grow with its $5 million fundraising effort, which Fowler said he expects to wrap up within the next 60 to 90 days. The company has already secured $1.5 million for the raise, which will bring Digital Seat Media’s total funding to nearly $11 million from existing backer Half Acre Capital.
“We also have some other funds that we’re talking to in different areas that we think are really going to help grow the business, not just from a capital perspective, but from a reach perspective,” Fowler said.
With the expected new funding, Fowler said the company aims to grow its team to between 45 and 50 employees, largely focusing on sales positions. Digital Seat Media will then seek to further its expansion into the sports and entertainment space both in the U.S. and internationally, along with eyeing moves into adjacent spaces like non-fungible tokens that give fans access to exclusive content and events and using the platform to enable sports betting at events.
‘An all-in-one solution’
“We really see that future as an all-in-one solution,” Fowler said. “There’s going to be a role where you’re starting to introduce a lot of other data points of ticket sales, parking data, and other things into one data lake—so you really have a good eye for what that end-to-end consumer journey is from the time they buy their ticket to when they’re in the stadium and when they leave.”
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