With myriad media options available for fans to experience their favorite sporting events, the competition for viewers' attention is starting to rival the competition on the field. From online social media campaigns driving awareness to facility enhancements aimed at luring fans back into the seats, athletic organizations are focusing more attention and resources on what's happening off the court to help them gain a greater understanding of their audience.

How much more? In February, the University of Oklahoma issued an RFP seeking a firm to perform fan-engagement and student-athlete recruitment and development consulting. Included in the fan research objectives:

• Conduct market research on the OU fan base to better understand the profiles, behavior and opinions of OU fans

• Structure research so that it provides insights into key areas across all OU sports: fan engagement, attendance and in-venue experience

• Present findings to OU in a format that is actionable and will assist in the creation of branding and marketing strategies across all OU sports

Just how might a company go about gaining this type of information? As technology has progressed to offer fans a greater range of options, so has it increased the available tools for tracking just how fans engage, going beyond simply tracking how many "likes" a team-related post received on Facebook or how a certain hashtag was used on Twitter.

One such tool that more athletic programs might use in the future, developed by scientists at New York University's Movement Lab, are cameras equipped with software that can be used to process fans' facial expressions and movements. This means knowing when they're looking at a video board or their phones, and what emotions they're exhibiting when they do, allowing facility operators to time advertisements and engagement promotions to appear when they'll have the most effect. As for concerns about privacy, the software isn't designed to record individual features or behavior but to collect information and analyze it to identify overarching patterns.

This article originally appeared in the April issue of Athletic Business.

Emily Attwood is Managing Editor of Athletic Business.