Connected Stadiums: Getting Fans Off Their Couches And Back Into Arenas

Like many sports fans these days, I find myself spending less time attending live sporting events and more time watching my favorite teams and athletes from the comfort of my own home (or my local watering hole). It’s not for lack of interest (despite the findings of a recent report that indicated 9 out of 10 men in the United Kingdom fake their love of sports to impress friends and colleagues.) Keeping true fans in the stands for virtually all types of live sporting events has actually been getting harder to do over the last five years—and the decline in attendance is likely to continue.

Everything from sky-high ticket prices to the (perceived or real) inconveniences associated with schlepping all the way to the stadium to long lines (and hefty prices) at concession stands have all contributed to sports fans’ demotivation to showing up and cheering for their teams in person.

Perhaps an even bigger issue is the fact that consumers’ expectations have radically changed when it comes to watching sports entertainment. We live in a time when high-definition broadcasts of live sporting events provide an as-close-to-being-there-experience without the hassles or expense, not to mention fans’ desires to multitask and share reactions and stats through social media channels while they watch sports—something that’s often difficult (if not impossible) to do in most outdated, poorly wired stadiums. It’s little wonder, then, that many fans simply choose to stay at home and watch sports from their couches on their massive, increasingly more inexpensive high-definition TVs.

One could argue that sports, like music and theater, are best viewed live and communally. The televised simulacrum of sports and entertainment simply lacks the same drama and excitement of seeing it in person, no matter how high definition the visuals might appear. There is something very human about sharing in the experience of live sports (witnessing the agony and the defeat, as it were), and sports teams and franchises around the world are increasingly becoming attuned to fans’ need to stay connected during live events—and working to address this concern.

The recent news that Wembley National Stadium has partnered with U.K. mobile provider EE to create “the most connected stadium in the world” is just another example in a growing number of sports venues that have recognized the importance of providing connectivity to sports fans in order to keep them in stadium seats. Arenas from Kansas to Foxboro, Mass. (home of the New England Patriots), to the San Francisco 49ers’s highly anticipated new super-green, super-connected stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., have kicked up a renewed interest in the promise of connected stadium to attract back sports fans.

Guthrie Dolin, executive vice president and director of strategy of our office in San Francisco, has spent a lot of time considering the implications of connected stadiums, and how improved and increased connectivity may help to rekindle fan attendance and draw them back to the stands. As Guthrie explains it, the future of the connected stadium has less to do with infrastructure (although a robust infrastructure is critical), and more to do with ensuring fans’ experiences at the stadium can meet their high expectations.

A connected stadium isn’t simply about providing strong and stable wifi access, which should be a given. In Guthrie’s words, connectivity should tackle the three A’s expected by fans: to Assist, Augment, and Amplify their sport-watching experiences.

Assist: Stadiums have dipped their toes into the digital waters by providing venue-specific apps, which typically show things such as location maps and directions. But soon, apps could provide additional assistance, such as coupons for merchandise, the ability to upgrade seats, or in-seat concession delivery.

Augment: While the live sports experience provides the benefit of the crowds’ energy, the details can sometimes get lost. In a connected stadium, contextual information such as video replays and player stats can be easily accessed through smartphones, and in real time.

Amplify: The live sports experience can be further amplified through social media sharing. Connected stadiums would facilitate the interaction of those at the event and those at home.

Ultimately, the future of connected stadiums will become the norm rather than the exception. The race to see who gets there first and who does it best, well, that’s something I’d like to see live and in person.

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