Image of a Wilson basketball with a slogan that reads "March Madness."

It’s March Madness: Are Your Sporting Events Inclusive?

March Madness is underway once again with audiences around the country invested and glued to the games. Over 650,000 people have attended to watch the tournament since 2007, not to mention the thousands of viewers watching remotely.

Hosting these games and streaming them to audiences isn’t new. However, one element which is rising to the surface is whether the attendee and viewer experiences are truly inclusive. Can everyone from your institution’s diverse community and alumni base attend or watch the games with equity? The answer is likely not.

While so much goes into planning, hosting and streaming these events, less attention has historically been paid to ensuring sports games are inclusive and accessible to all. While many accessibility decisions are up to the networks to handle, institutions themselves can and should do more to ensure their sporting events can engage all viewers and fans with equity.

“Accessibility is incredibly important. Beyond meeting guidelines, it’s important for everyone to make your events as accessible as possible so that students and others attending can understand what’s going on,” said James MacPherson, Inside Sales Manager at VITAC, the company responsible for captioning events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics.

March Madness presents the perfect high-profile event to get these conversations flowing so that inclusion and accessibility begin to be considered across every level of the institution instead of just inside classrooms and Zoom rooms.

Close up image of a basketball net and basketball flying in the air.

Why inclusion in athletic events matters

Making sporting events inclusive will help your institution account for the needs of thousands of fans who have disabilities. 30% of them currently report feeling unable to attend sports games because of poor or limited access.

MacPherson of VITAC, which is owned by the same parent company as Automatic Sync Technologies, noted the impact that making events inclusive can have on all attendees aside from those with disabilities. Particularly, he noted international students and fans who are often watching in their non-native language can benefit from inclusive practices as well.

For example, captioning the games and clips as they stream on your social media handles can provide a more accessible viewing experience for fans who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Captioning the screens in-person is also essential to deliver stadium announcements, commercials, and athlete names effectively to them as they’re said aloud during games. Audio description is another tool which AST offers which can help to provide context to those enjoying the games who are Blind or low vision.

The stakes are higher for institutions to keep fans with disabilities in mind and connected by acting with social responsibility and considering their needs proactively rather than when it’s too late and the game is already happening.

“When fans feel included from the get-go, they’re more likely to enjoy their experience and come back to an event later in the season,” said Macpherson.

Image of a basketball game in real-time. Three players are on the court and one is trying to score a goal while the opposite team player is defending.

Delivering a more inclusive experience to everyone

While technologies like captioning for athletic events can help create an accessible experience for fans with disabilities, it also makes your stadium environment more inclusive and engaging for all audience members.

“It’s not just something that’s being used by those that absolutely need it. Most people use captions now,” said MacPherson, echoing the 80% of viewers, who aren’t Deaf or hard of hearing, that choose to consume with captions.

Viewers who are tuning in virtually and watching the game in-person both benefit from captions. For example, stadium announcements can be difficult to decipher in a loud stadium environment. When details like song lyrics and player and scoring information are captioned, fans can benefit from additional visual aids rather than miss important information.

Captioning is one step your institution can take now in its journey to offer a more inclusive sporting experience. AST’s team can offer institutions multiple ways to consume captions, such as on a ribbon board, via a mobile device or through a team’s mobile app, if the school has one.

“We have the option of putting the captions on people’s mobile devices, both through a link or on the app. Having that conveniently at the touch of a button on your cell phone is very useful,” said Deborah Restall, Vice President of Sales at VITAC who also works hand-in-hand with Automatic Sync Technologies.

Image of a basketball stadium.

Shifting accessibility considerations from classrooms to arenas

When it comes to inclusion, university leaders are doing much much better jobs at supporting students in the classroom with key accommodations. However, legal benchmarks for accessibilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, can apply to public events like college sports games.

The University of Maryland at College Park, for example, was subject to an accessibility lawsuit because of a lack of captions in their stadium.

“Athletic events are tremendously popular for the general public to attend, and this is true also for deaf and hard of hearing fans,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, Chief Executive Officer of the NAD in an official statement. “All professional and collegiate sports teams need to recognize that many fans, not just those who are deaf or hard of hearing, need captioning in sports stadiums and arenas to understand what is being announced.”

To not only do the right thing, but avoid potential bad press and lawsuits, inclusion needs to be considered for sports and extracurricular events being offered to students and the public. Ticking the box to make classrooms accessible is simply no longer enough.

Image of a basketball stadium with audience members sitting around it.

Create a memorable sporting event with tech partners

In today’s climate, offering inclusive sporting events is non-negotiable. Simply put, “accessibility improves the fan experience for everybody,” as said by Restall.

Here’s to an amazing 2022 March Madness tournament and a little inspiration to begin working with a partner like AST who specializes in live captioning and audio description for greater accessibility.

Contact us to learn how to improve your team’s fan experiences with inclusive captioning technologies and how we’re providing live captioning to universities such as the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Washington and James Madison University.

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