Software firm keeping fans in the game

A small Ottawa enterprise software firm had a major presence at one of the country’s biggest youth sporting events recently, with the company’s technology keeping thousands of fans up to date at the Canada Winter Games.

Drupal-based content management developers OPIN provided the mobile website and support for the 2015 Games, which ran from Feb. 13 to March 1 in Prince George, B.C.

The goal was to create a mobile experience “that’s easy to use, that access to information is fast, and that people don’t get lost,” said Adrian Rylski, the firm’s web designer. “It’s supposed to ease your life when you’re seeing the sports or even just getting around the town.”

The Games drew about 15,000 visitors to Prince George, a city of 72,000 in northern British Columbia.

Statistics from previous Canada Games and general trends in mobile communications encouraged this year’s organizers to “broaden the opportunity for people to be in touch with the Games,” said the event’s spokesperson Alyson Gourley-Cramer.

The mobile site garnered roughly 10,000 hits a day, about a quarter of the number the desktop version received. That was a better result than the 2013 Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que., the first and only edition to have a full-on mobile app, she said.

The smartphone-integrated user experience is part of what many IT professionals have deemed the “race to digitize” for sporting teams and venues. According to TechRepublic, owners and event organizers are constantly looking to boost visitor connectivity and digital interactivity in order to appeal to tech-savvy millennials, compete with big-screen TVs at home and drive up revenues.

Mr. Rylski said that for his purposes, it was all about ease of experience. He designed the mobile site at Canadagames2015.ca to look and behave like an app, including an option to quickly download a website shortcut onto a smartphone’s home screen.

He also created an app called Illuminate the North, a digitally animated depiction of the Northern Lights for visitors to hold up like a lighter during the opening ceremonies.

But the firm says it’s been getting the most attention for creating a software system that could blow up all the web content from just five inches to 52 inches on the many display screens scattered about town. The venue-specific digital signage was well-received by the older crowd, among whom adoption of the mobile website was much lower, said Ms. Gourley-Cramer.

OPIN’s infrastructure allowed a single person at the event’s head office to control what was on each of the 80 flat screens throughout Prince George by pulling real-time data such as medal counts and event results right from the website.  

It was a fresh alternative to what might now seem like an archaic process of manually loading each TV with files from a USB stick, a common practice that companies such as Tim Hortons use for products and promotions, explained OPIN chief executive Chris Smith.

“That’s where the Games wanted to start … and we pulled their hair out. It was the worst thing in the world. So we came up with this other solution,” he said. 

“Now all of a sudden you can just build a template for your website that works on large displays.”

OPIN is currently exploring the possibility of expanding that system into a new product line of its own. The firm has also been in talks about becoming a national sponsor of the Games and hopes to continue to work with the event.

“We’re a Canadian company. Sport is something that all of us are so interested in, so we’re really proud to be part of the Canada Games,” said Mr. Smith.