Stadiums and venues in which to hold sporting events were originally formulated in Ancient Greece and then further popularised by the Romans. Although they have certainly changed since they were first constructed, stadiums have remained a central asset to sport and society over the centuries.
In the past, gladiators would have battled each other, through sweat, blood and broken bones in order to be claimed the victor. Although these days, what we consider as sport is considerably tamer and involves a lot less blood — but still the occasional broken bone — the core concept has not changed: entertainment for the masses.
The Evolution of the Fan Experience
Over time, what the masses want, frequently changes. Previously, the talent was kept clearly separated from fans. However, that relationship is quickly evolving, the line is blurring, and fans want more from the spectator experience as it becomes more symbiotic. Fans and players are interacting in new and different ways, on and off the field.
As technology develops, this trend is set to grow as fans demand a more immersive experience. The model for operating a venue is being flipped on its head. Fans are no longer happy with coughing up vast amounts of cash just for a season ticket; they want more. To do this, though, the stadium must champion itself as not just a place for competitive sports, but as a new technological platform, with hyper-connectivity that can facilitate new business and open the door to new revenue streams. That's not to mention the creep of growing costs and the impact of COVID-19 on matchday revenue. Staying profitable is a real challenge.
With more and more stadiums welcoming fans back after their absence due to COVID-19, it has never been a better time to look into upgrading the network infrastructures to better prepare for a post-pandemic future.
The Rising Cost Creep
To meet rising costs, upping ticket prices without improving the experience is an outdated and increasingly hard to justify solution. Rather, event space and stadium owners should consider strategic, long-term methods for driving additional business value from guests and the venue.
Greater connectivity in stadiums is fast becoming indispensable in driving spectator experience. A powerful underlying technology infrastructure should be considered as something that's not only a nice to have, but an utmost necessity. Stadiums are extremely challenging environments for providing stable and reliable Wi-Fi coverage. Not only because of the vast amount of space but also because both network and client density can be extremely high, especially during match times. With many users simultaneously uploading videos and pictures, the network can slow down to a crawl.
D-Link recently worked with the Hungarian Football Federation to provide stable and powerful wireless networks across nine clubs and stadiums in Hungary. This involved updating core switching infrastructure to keep up with peak time demand and other features that enable network managers to segment guests, provide an extra level of security for the entire network, and keep bandwidth open for mission-critical functions.
Updating infrastructure is essential to meeting the physical demands of stadiums as well as those by its users. Two key methods present themselves to help meet the rising expectations and costs of venues: technology to improve fans' experience, and secondly, the value created from data collected.
Improving the experience
The first method is using technology to smooth out customer pain points - those connectivity speed bumps that frustrate users. At this stage of the game, businesses in this space cannot afford to sit on their hands just because their current set up works okay – hyper-connected stadiums are designed to avoid pesky pain points as well as facilitate the continuous development and improvement of the spectator experience. Here are a number of innovative ways businesses can consider to adapt their approach accordingly:
Team/stadium apps that, fuelled by vast amounts of data and information, allow guests to access venue details, seat locations, insights into the team they support and other amenities.
Mobile commerce and payment solutions. Food, drinks and merchandise have high profit margins, and technology makes the purchase process seamless. The demand is there, and fans have money to spend, but often the sight of a 30 minute plus queue to buy a drink or snack can easily deter. However, in-seat ordering and delivery can grasp this previously lost opportunity.
Loyalty and reward programs are another boon for fans. With better connectivity, rolling out reward programs and offering repeat customers special promotions or unique experiences becomes easy.
Putting a price on data
Onto the second method – data holds infinite potential and to be able to capitalise on it effectively requires collaboration with third parties. Entering in partnerships can allow for increased exploration of new and creative ways to utilise the data and drive value.
With better connectivity comes the integration of more technology – IoT devices and sensors have allowed the amount of data available to multiply several-fold. At a football game, for example, there are now second-by-second statistics. When a goal is scored, recorded down to the nearest millisecond, and calculations made for 'player efficiency ratings.' Monetising this data has become increasingly popular, in fact, this extensive and in-depth data has given birth to 'in-game betting', or micro betting. Fans can make small, in-the-moment bets or other such micro-transactions using either virtual or real money.
Though the demand for digital transformation is urgent, adequate planning is of equal importance. Here are a few key considerations for network managers looking to achieve increased connectivity in stadiums as we emerge from the pandemic and see a return to live attendance at sports events:
Clearly define your goals. Establish from the outset your vision and what you hope to achieve. Only then can you adequately plan and build a connectivity network to function as your staging ground for your future initiatives.
Engage your stakeholders. Become familiar with your fans; ask them what they want, rather than guessing. Have frank discussions with your business partners, know what type of connectivity they need to facilitate their operations, and drive value for you.
Take leadership of the project. Though the traditional model for managing event space has changed, and now that more parties are having a say than ever before (developers, sponsors, advertisers etc.) they must be united. This must be done so under visionary leadership that is not afraid to take charge and guide the process.
Event spaces are evolving and so must the mentality of the business behind them. As stadiums plan their reopening following a year of pandemic induced closure, investment in improved infrastructure, connectivity and utilisation of data will really set the stage for future initiatives in sports as well as entertainment. There is another new normal on the horizon: hyper-connected stadiums and, with them, a plethora of new business opportunities and revenue streams.