Stadiums are no longer just a place to come and enjoy a sporting spectacle. Fans want more from the experience than to just take their seats and sit through 90 minutes, 12 rounds or 50 overs.
They now demand more than the bells and whistles and, as technology evolves and improves for those watching from their living rooms, stadiums are battling to keep pace and get people through the turnstiles.
In a bid to grasp how teams and stadium owners are embracing sweeping technological advances, Sportsmail spoke to three organisations about three vital aspects of modern stadiums to see how the future match-day experience will look.
Tottenham’s £1billion lavish new stadium is the latest to be constructed in the Premier League
How stadiums of the future could look thanks to technology shaking up the fan experience
The future of fan experience
Smartphones have the capability to completely alter match-days for fans but the real game changer will be 5G, the next generation of mobile connectivity.
EE was the first UK carrier to launch 5G, switching it on in six cities last month, and by now you have probably seen the adverts with Manchester City and Watford fans watching last month’s FA Cup final using virtual reality.
Vodafone will also launch 5G soon while O2 and Three are planning on utilising it sooner rather than later. Once it becomes available to the masses, all manner of possibilities are available to fans.
Picture this: you’re at a football match and someone has just smashed the ball into the top corner from 30 yards. Within seconds you can watch replays from multiple angles, flick through player statistics in real-time and even upload a video to Instagram without the abysmal connection a packed stadium usually offers.
This sort of technology is already being embraced across the Atlantic. Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center is a sophisticated hub that takes fan experience to the next level.
EE was the first UK carrier to launch 5G but it will become widely available in the near future
Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center takes fan experience to the next level using technology
The Sacramento Kings mobile app allows fans to make the most of various technical benefits
Apps on their network enable fans to find the shortest queue on the concourse, pay for parking, and even vote for a change in the temperature of their seating sections.
AT&T are trialling 5G at the home of the Dallas Cowboys while Verizon have a two-year partnership with the NFL to implement the technology on a wider scale. It is slowly coming to Europe too and Barcelona announced in February that the Nou Camp was the first football stadium in Europe to have dedicated 5G coverage.
Using 360 degree cameras around the Nou Camp and Virtual Reality glasses, fans will be able to watch a match from the directors’ box, behind a goal, by the dugout or from any viewpoint at any given time.
The club claim that once this technology is fully operative, people will be able to watch and listen to the game as if they were on the pitch.
‘We did a survey at the start of the year and 94 per cent of European operators plan to trial 5G within sports and e-sports venues by the end of 2020,’ Yogen Patel, head of product and solutions marketing at Amdocs, told Sportsmail.
AT&T are trialling 5G at the home of the Dallas Cowboys and concourses will massively change
Using 360 degree cameras around the Nou Camp, Barcelona will soon implement VR for fans
Virtual reality headsets allow fans to take part in an immersive version of sporting events
‘There are really two technical challenges that need to be solved. One is putting up the antennas in locations around the stadium that can deliver the network and the second is ensuring you have the right amount of fibre and backhaul so the data can then be transmitted across the network and deliver the services.’
There will be reservations from traditional sports fans who are more than happy with the current offering but those doubts are cast aside by industry insiders who only see the benefits of the progress being made.
Patel added: ‘I am a big ice hockey fan and went to watch the San Jose Sharks recently in the cheap seats. I am a traditionalist sports fan. I go for the experience, enjoyment, the energy but if I could watch the game, have the data concurrently and watch a quick replay of a goal that I couldn’t see then it would make my experience much better.
‘I don’t think there is any concern of backlash from traditional fans because you are still going to have your experiences. Whether it is going for a few drinks with your friends or whatever you’ll still have that but for the tech savvy among us this is only going to make it better.’
Getting stadiums connected
While the possibilities with 5G seem endless, stadiums and clubs must be prepared to implement the technology in the arena and surrounding area first.
Cobham Wireless have served on projects as complex as Wembley, the Emirates Stadium and also the entire London 2012 Olympic Village and their work has become vital to keeping stadiums in touch with technological trends.
‘Stadiums require such large capacity because people usually want to keep in touch with their family or generate over-proportionate traffic when sharing photos or videos. The user behaviour is very different to that of a standard city,’ says Ingo Flomer, vice president of technology at Cobham Wireless.
‘That is why it is so difficult to cover a stadium. The footprint of a stadium needs the same system as a city of 500,000 or 1,000,000 people in order to cope.’
Mobile traffic in stadiums continues to double year-on-year and equipment needs to be upgraded roughly every three years to cope. The substantial rise is put down to the desperation to upload images and video to social media stories rather than simply browse the web like people would elsewhere.
A stadium like Wembley needs the mobile network of a city of 500,000 or 1,000,000 people
Mobile traffic continues to double year-on-year at stadiums as fans produce more content
‘As well as the main bowl of the stadium you also have the areas in the bowels of the stadium, VIP suites, restaurants and even sometimes a shopping centre so you have to consider that too,’ added Flomer.
‘We have new technology coming up like 5G and that needs to be added to existing infrastructure.
‘Wi-Fi is available in every stadium but it simply doesn’t work very well and that is why customers use their mobile data to connect. Data service is becoming more and more important because stadium owners are constantly looking for new ways to make money and this means the amount of data will grow.
‘In the US, the obligation is on the stadium owner to provide excellent coverage which is why they are ahead, whereas in the UK the onus often falls on the mobile operators themselves. Investment in connectivity is a win-win for both the stadium and mobile operators.’
Security on match day
Attention on security at major venues has increased significantly since the early 2000s due to incidents like the 7/7 bombings in London, the Paris attacks of 2015 and the suicide explosion at Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester in 2017.
Threats from terrorism remain high across the globe and stadiums are having to look towards new technology to protect the fans but not interfere or intrude on their experience at the same time.
Methods of maintaining safety at a stadium’s point of entry has not changed massively but new high footfall screenings give security services the ability to scan 10,000 individuals per hour.
Stephen Cooper OBE, director of operational solutions and integration at Apstec Systems, said: ‘There was no practical way of screening large numbers of people so we fell back on traditional measures of pat-downs, searches and metal detectors.
‘I went to Wembley in the 1980s and generally speaking the screening methods have not changed at all. Hooliganism is largely under under control, we have some challenges still to control but we have migrated in terms of threat to terrorism.
High footfall screenings give security services the ability to scan for threats on a large scale
‘For a long time there has been challenges in terms of screening large numbers and this can create secondary queues which can become targets in their own right, as well as creating unnecessary tension which affects the fan experience. They also slow down fan access to the stadium which has commercial consequences.
‘The idea of this screening is to screen large numbers of people at the same time for threats of terrorism. It makes it practical to screen people before they get to the venue and when they arrive. They are looking for more high impact threats and enhancing the fan experience by getting rid of the intrusive pat-down search.
‘Standing around 2.5 metres wide and with two pillars, fans walk through a system easily. There is no need to take coats off or anything and it basically detects threats and alerts responders who single individuals out from the crowd and remove them for secondary screening.
‘You can also incorporate facial recognition into the system which would mean you can spot a person who is already on a banned list and have them removed.’
Biometric ticket scanning in future could also put paid to touts fleecing fans outside stadiums
Hooliganism is once again becoming a major problem for the authorities with a number of recent incidents in British football. Tools to prevent fans from carrying knives and flares is also being looked into while biometric ticket scanning could also put paid to touts fleecing fans.
‘Stadiums are looking at technology that can deal with the most serious threat items and act as a deterrent, but also things such as flares and knives,’ Cooper added.
‘Different events and stadiums have different requirements based on their size and technologies and procedures need to work in harmony with each other.
‘Facial recognition and biometric technologies have a way to go before they can be implemented, but in future could be used by stadiums for various use cases, such as to identify banned fans trying to enter with someone else’s ticket.’
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