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Future Stadiums: How Technology Is Revolutionizing The In-Stadium Fan Experience
Here’s a recent article I wrote for Australasian Leisure Management Magazine
In a stadium near you right now the battle for the fan is on in the sports world to improve and enhance the fan experience. With stadiums across the globe racing each other to become the most technologically advanced theatre for live sports, an arms race is on to get fans out from their home sports caves and back into the stadium. From bio-metric finger print security screening, AI ticketing and vibrating seats to rest room app’s, virtual reality streaming and in-seat food ordering, global stadiums are continuing to innovate through technology in an effort to create exciting and immersive experiences off the field for fans to drive revenue and create long lasting memories and added value for sports fans.
Through looking at the recent global developments in stadium innovations into the fan experience, the following journey through the stadium of the future will look at and highlight the key stadium innovations that are revolutionizing the revenue options for stadiums and enhancing the fan experience for sports fans around the world.
With the stadium fan experience starting long before the actual event takes place, ticketing is often the first point of call for fans with the innovations taking place in this area being heavily influenced by mobile technology. While resale ticketing firm StubHub and Washington’s National’s Park Stadium allows fans to don a virtual reality headset to check out the view of their seats before buying them, Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium features ‘loaded tickets’ where fans can pre-load money onto their tickets which can then be used for food, drink and merchandise. Elsewhere the Dallas Mavericks listened to their fans and launched a new app that features the ability to view a 360º angle of the seats as well as purchase tickets seamlessly via the app while ticketing platform ReplyBuy is brining artificial intelligence to the fan ticket buying experience by allowing fans the opportunity to purchase tickets by sending a ‘buy’ test message to the service and having chatbots respond with questions asking how many tickets the fan is after.
A constant gripe amongst sports fans has been the costs and hassle associated with getting to and from the stadium on game day be that from traffic congestion to parking, however now some stadiums are using creative inducements to inspire fans to more easily get out to the venue. At Florida’s Hard Rock Stadium, the Miami Dolphins have partnered with Uber to create a hassle free tailgate experience with a dedicated pick up and drop off point and the ability to book a ride to the game and have a private tailgate section complete with game day supplies. Across to the west coast and the 49ers are working with Amazon’s PrimeNow service to offer fans the fast delivery of game day tailgate items like hot dog buns, and ice which are then shipped to the fans in the Levi’s Stadium tailgate for only $8.
As a result of Daesh having stated their intention to target global stadiums as well as the recent bomb explosions at France’s Stade de France and a Baghdad soccer stadium it is clear that there is a growing terrorism challenge for major sporting events and stadiums. However while teams and venues are always looking for cutting-edge technology to enhance safety they also have to ensure an exceptional first class fan experience. With this in mind the Colorado Rockies Coors Field has deployed CLEAR fast access technology that enables fans to gain faster access to the stadium by having their finger scanned by a biometric fingerprint reader at designated entry lanes. With stadiums like AT&T Stadium in Dallas and Yankee Stadium in New York doing away with PDF tickets, mobile technology is also increasing stadium security and eliminating fraud as tickets are now increasingly being linked to the identity and mobile device of the person entering the stadium which means security agencies can cross check watch lists and see who is coming into the stadium.
Having made your way inside the stadium, the next step is to find your seat and while some stadiums have incorporated cushioned seats and cup holders the new Atlanta Falcons Mercedes Benz Stadium has stepped it up a notch with vibrating seats that enable fans to feel the impacts of each big hit. Not to be outdone the Jacksonville Jaguars Everbank Field have swimming pools overlooking the field but which come at a cost of 12K per game whereas Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium recently installed ‘smart seats’ which feature pop up HD TV’s into some of their seating. It’s clear that stadiums are looking to offer more and more of these unique seating and viewing options as a way of enticing fans into the ground as well as generating revenue from new premium seating solutions.
Finding your way around both the outside and inside concourses of the stadium is also an area that stadiums are revolutionizing with tournaments like Wimbledon developing an app that enables fans to plan their visit which enhances the individual fan experience while Canada’s New Mosaic Stadium has developed an interactive map to help fans get around the venue. Perth’s nib Stadium has also undergone a make over which has provided a distinctive visual environment for fan circulation that has included electronic touch screen maps of the venue’s concession stands and toilets.
A major upgrade that stadiums such as Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans and Globe Life Park in Texas are undertaking has been to install sophisticated energy saving LED lighting systems that can instantly be turned on and off as well as create a vibrant fan experience that enhances visibility around the venue for players, fans and broadcasters while also improving the entertainment offering.
Ensuring that the fan experience is a comfortable one, stadium architecture design is an exciting area in the sports business with venues now having interesting design aspects like cross-laminated timber and undulating fiberglass roofing that amplifies the noise for fans at Olympique Lyonnais to size convertible structures like West Ham’s take over of the Olympic Stadium. The brand new US Bank Stadium in Minnesota installed giant pivoting glass doors and used a special plastic called ETFE that opens the field to natural light while providing protection from the snow, rain and winter weather.
Food and Drink
Grabbing some stadium grub on game day has not often been a pleasant experience with food and drink options being limited in terms of variety, quality and quantity. However many stadiums are now hearing fans concerns by offering creative and delicious dishes which are giving fans more reason to attend. Multiple stadiums like Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium and Melbourne’s MCG have lowered food prices to remove the back pocket sting from a day out while Levi’s Stadium in California has an app that allows in-seat ordering so fans never have to leave their seat to grab a bite to eat. I road tested this in 2015 and from app download to hot dog delivery the total time was only 16 minutes. On the beverage front, New Zealand’s Westpac Stadium has recently partnered with a local independent Wellington brewer to have craft beer on tap during A-League matches while the Minnesota Twins Target Park offers self serve beer machines and Dodger Stadium has a frozen beer foam that sits on top of beer cups keeping fans beers colder for longer.
Highlighting the fact that no area is off limits for stadium innovation, rest rooms throughout venues are now being upgraded to enhance the amenity experience for fans as well as provide sponsors with a new way to drive brand awareness. In California, the Levis Stadium app features a function that allows fans to see which toilets have the shortest queues while sensing an opportunity to improve the rest room experience, the Tailgating Sports Marketing Group have deployed toilet trailers that feature HD monitors that include interactive gaming and sponsored content.
Venues are increasingly updating their audio-visual infrastructure by incorporating cutting edge technology into their screens and sound systems as a way of improving the fan experience for the senses. New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium has installed huge programming boards that act as a delivery service for fans with information on fantasy sports and fan tweets while Mercedes Benz Stadium has added 2000 video display screens and a 360° 63,000ft HD halo video board in a new partnership with Daktronics. In the UK, Norwich City have revolutionized screen technology by becoming the first team in English football to install a 360° revolving LED stadium screen that switches between portrait and landscape while for Perth’s new stadium plans are to have 240sqm mega screens installed at both ends of the ground.
Racing each other to be the most technologically advanced stadium in the world through the use of virtual and augmented reality, stadiums are looking to offer new unique viewing experiences to bring fans in closer to the action and change how they consume content. The NBA’s Warriors recently broadcast the first live streamed game in VR that incorporated 360° cameras being installed around Oracle Arena with fans wearing VR headsets to see a new perspective of the game. Manchester’s Etihad Stadium in conjunction with Melbourne’s AAMI Park and New York’s Yankee Stadium also enabled fans to trial viewing a Manchester City match in VR in an effort to promote more fan involvement. Elsewhere there are rumours that the new City of Champions stadium in Los Angeles will feature on field projections using VR.
Enabling fans to have seamless in stadium connectivity to fast and free high density Wi-Fi has become the norm amongst leading stadiums who have understood the importance of ensuring fans have no impediment to mobile access. Venues such as US Bank Stadium have 1300 Wi-Fi hot spots while Levis Stadium features over 600KM of Wi-Fi cabling and one access point to every 100 seats in the bowl. Throughout Australia many of the leading stadiums now feature free Wi-Fi which have enabled fans to enjoy a better fan experience through interacting with team and stadium content, uploading pictures as well as receiving targeted ads for food, beverage and merchandise offers.
The stadium of the future has arrived and fans should be excited. While global stadiums show no signs of slowing down as they continue to innovate and revolutionize with smart technologies, it is evident from these ten areas that the stadium fan experience is being improved in every single aspect to ensure that fans are put first and provided with more reasons to attend.