by Larissa Gutscher

Technology has made it much easier for sports fans to follow their favourite teams. Big screen TVs at home and at bars show matches in high-definition; teams have hired social media gurus to keep fans posted through Twitter and Instagram; and sports-related apps continue to become more common. Users of the GameOn app can interact with other sports fans, who occasionally include among them some of the athletes who have backed the app, while viewing highlights and live data or sharing photos from the match. The creators of Fanmode have taken the fan experience to another level, allowing those unable to attend the game the ability to share all their cheers or boos with those in the stadium simply by swiping their phones.

But while fans who live far from their favourite teams can rejoice in these new ways to connect, these amenities make it harder to convince local fans to support the team in person. Team owners have to adapt to a changing, younger fan base that has grown accustomed to certain comforts while watching sports that many stadiums still don’t provide.

We see the living room as our greatest competitor.

— Al Kurtenbach, co-founder and chairman of Daktronics

As ticket prices continue to rise and visitors have to factor in the high costs of beer, food, and parking or transportation, more and more fans are choosing to stay at home on their comfortable couches, watching their HD sports packages while knowing there will never be a bathroom queue to worry about. Many teams are hoping they can improve their in-game experience to encourage their fans to watch a game live in the stadium rather than from home.

The New Stadium

While even non-sports fans can attest to the vibrant atmosphere of some teams’ home crowds, it is still not enough to convince everyone that attending a game is worth it. To combat this, teams are upgrading the technology in their stadiums to offer some of the benefits fans get at home, such as Wi-Fi and instant replays on big screens.

Stadium Technology

Yankee Stadium, opened in 2009, combines modern technology with traditional elements.

In North America, arenas and stadiums seem determined to out-do each other when it comes to the in-game experience they provide. Expectations of Wi-Fi have become standard, with the National Football League requiring its teams to offer it free to fans by 2016. When the National Hockey League’s second-newest arena, the CONSOL Energy Center, began construction in 2008, it was designed with luxuries such as fine-dining restaurants, wider seats, and a concession stand for every 158 guests in mind. The Pittsburgh Technology Council was consulted to ensure the arena remained “future-proof” and could easily adapt to advances in technology at the same speed as its visitors.

Less than a decade later, the new Rogers Place being built in Edmonton, Canada boasts twenty-four theatre boxes, tickets that grant access to a premium buffet and club, social spaces, and an arena app that can be used for ticketing, finding a seat, and ordering food and beverages. It is committed to partially offsetting emissions by using green energy sources, making it the first LEED Silver-certified NHL arena in Canada.

Not to be outdone, the San Francisco 49ers have made sure their new US$1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium exceeds fan expectations when it comes to technology, comfort, and sustainability. Solar panels lining the stadium generate enough power for each home game. Luxury suites create a sense of exclusivity with their six-figure price tags. 12,000 Wi-Fi access points make it easy for every fan to connect, which will be key when San Francisco hosts the Super Bowl on February 7. And, going one step beyond ordering from an app, it is also possible for fans at home to order food for a friend sitting in the stadium.

Crossing the Pond

The in-game experience in European countries is quite different. With a lively atmosphere and dedicated seating for the visiting team’s supporters, diehard fans are still embracing the opportunity to see teams live. Rather than building new stadiums, teams try to preserve tradition by simply upgrading and renovating hundred-year-old structures. With a seven-figure cost to install systems capable of providing a strong enough Wi-Fi connection, plus the running cost of constant upgrades and preventing cyber attacks, some leagues in the UK are hesitant to adhere to what has become a standard in the US.

Stadium Technology

However, team owners know that technology-using millennials are becoming their new target group and have taken steps to improve their experience at live matches. Back in 2007, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium introduced an “anti-social text service” to allow fans to report harmful activities to arena staff. In 2012, Twickenham Stadium installed ribbon advertising to allow fans to interact during breaks in play, becoming the first stadium in Europe to do so. The Danish national stadium PARKEN partnered with Cisco in 2014 to provide fans with free Wi-Fi and digital mobile content.

We are proud to have the opportunity to work with PARKEN Sport & Entertainment to collaboratively fulfill their vision of being the most interactive stadium in Europe. We both know that when people go to a football match or a concert, they want to use their mobile devices to share their experiences, interact with that action on the pitch or stage, and ultimately consume the action reliably and in new and different immersive ways.

— Niels Münster-Hansen, managing director Cisco Denmark

Since it is home to a team whose games sell out within minutes, the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany has made sure to provide a fantastic game environment for the over 70,000 fans attending each match. In addition to providing 6,000 square metres of catering space, a nursery, and the FCB Erlebniswelt interactive museum, an ArenaCard is used for cashless payments throughout the stadium. Season ticket holders can use it to enter the stadium as it is programmed to remember ticket subscriptions, increasing convenience and saving time so fans can enjoy their experience.

It is safe to say teams will continue to find new ways to keep up with technology, but at what cost? Will fans have to expect higher ticket prices, even if they don’t plan on taking advantage of the perks offered at stadiums?

The cost of building a new stadium regularly reaches the hundreds of millions (whether dollars, pounds, or euros) when factoring in features that are nowadays required, such as luxury suites and connectivity. Even the initial cost of integrating Wi-Fi in existing stadiums is US$10 million just to provide coverage for 40% of fans at one time.

However, teams can also benefit from the technology they provide visitors. Giant scoreboards that have become commonplace in new stadiums and arenas can be used for advertising revenue. The sheer number of places where advertising can be integrated means marketers can target their advertising to specific groups. Furthermore, apps can collect user data and use it to promote products at the right time; Fanmade co-founder Christian Jochnick sees value in using “emotional data” to advertise to fans when they’re in a good mood because their team has just won. The far reach of apps and social media gives teams the opportunity to profit from fans around the world as well.

Team owners can also take a cue from some of the new stadiums in North America and use alternative sources of energy to power their home games. At a time when company values such as sustainability are becoming more enticing to young people, teams can show their commitment to being green to help connect with a new generation of fans.

The in-stadium experience is changing to accommodate a world embracing technology and convenience. But by attracting a new segment of fans, will teams drive away those who strive to maintain tradition?

Stadium Technology

Today’s fans have more options to follow the game beyond listening to the announcer.

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