I love the start of the new year, with its host of articles on trends and future-facing views – a time to step back, collect ourselves and take a big picture look at the year ahead. More specifically, in-stadium and event tech, the trend is moving towards more immersive and social experiences, in order to compete with the comfort and ease of simply watching the event at home from your couch. Here is my take on some of the key technology trends that will impact stadiums and event venues this year:
There has been major buzz around 5G mobile network technology over the past few months, with the first physical rollouts initiated by Verizon and AT&T in Q4 2018. The first 5G-compatible phones (iPhones and other smartphones) are expected to start selling through phone manufacturers and key US carriers in Q2 of this year – however mainstream adoption is not expected until 2020, at least a year later, or even 2021, the time for more wide-spread adoption of 5G phones and dense enough coverage to be able to talk of a national 5G network. In live event venues, this means stadiums currently under construction or renovation need to set up their telecom infrastructure to support a 5G DAS (Distributed Antenna Systems) within the bowl, with the goal of turning it on for the beginning of the 2020 or 2021 seasons. One of the key promises of 5G has been rumored to be the end of Wi-Fi (no need to invest in both a Wi-Fi and a cellular network to offer full network coverage of the stadium). However, the key advantage of Wi-Fi lies in offering key customer data through the login process, which requires users within the stadium to enter their email address to access the network. 5G will not offer the same incentive, which means other data collection strategies will need to be put in place (through trivia games, stadium mobile apps, mobile ticketing, digital wallets, etc.)
Increasingly, advertisers and sponsors are looking for analytics and quantitative ROI on the budget they allocate to marketing and activation campaigns. This means leveraging all of the data touchpoints within the stadium and the entertainment district to offer detailed, quantitative reporting, as well as qualitative insights on fans and their behavior and engagement metrics. This requires stadium teams to structure their underlying software solutions to collect, store, and organize all of the data coming into the stadium (mobile entry, connecting to Wi-Fi, contactless payments, mobile replay views, etc.) in order to leverage it with actionable learnings. Certains teams such as the Sacramento Kings or Toronto Raptors have even built a ‘data war room’ into their stadiums, where various screens show the state of key stadium KPIs in real time. Teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers have invested in data scientist resources to best leverage fan information and offer enhanced experiences to VIP ticket holders.
Content is a key component of the immersive fan experience, from giant center-hung scoreboards, to live-streaming of the game on TVs across the concourse, to matching content on the team mobile app and the digital signage at concessions (replay, sponsorship activations, social feeds). An increasing number of integrated CMS (Content Management Systems) solutions offer easy enterprise software to manage all the content generated on game day across all devices: from Yinzcam and its integrated CMS between digital signage and the team mobile app, to Daktronics and its Show Control CMS solution. All of these services are deeply dependent on the quality of the network bandwidth (see point 1), and can also be integrated with the experience for fans viewing the game or event remotely, for example with crystal sound allowing for player voices to emerge from the background noises in the streaming feed (a service offered by Insoundz, for example), to chosen replay clips made available online, on the mobile app, and on the center-hung scoreboard at the same time.
Given the complexity of a stadium as a standalone building, more and more stadium owners and operators are looking into automating all of the building information through digital BMSs (Building Management Systems), leveraging a wide array of sensors to monitor security threats, energy consumption, device usage, and optimize building operations. Some of these data points are directly integrated in the ‘data war rooms’ mentioned above, to allow for a centralized view of the building activity, and immediate response to any serious alert. Beyond just the stadium, venues are now integrated into mixed-use districts, and increasingly into the wider city at large. Taking the time to insert smart grid integration, waste management and network interconnection with the city infrastructures into construction design and planning makes for a more seamless interaction with the local neighborhoods and city planning initiatives. This is also a step towards award-winning LEED certifications to offer eco-conscious stadiums in the 21st century.
With the increased weight of technology in an overall stadium budget, it is becoming paramount to develop a holistic view of the software structure of the stadium, in parallel with the physical structure already designed and planned for in stadium construction projects. This requires defining target digital use cases ahead of time, identifying key scalability areas and fostering the most flexible stadium software architecture in a plug-and-play mode to plan for technology upgrades during the life-cycle of the stadium (15-20 years before the next renovation). To use an image, the stadium concourse is an area surrounding the stadium bowl that is the physical receptacle of fan attention and allows third-parties such as concessionnaires and sponsors to access these enthusiastic fans before, during and after the game. This can be the analogy for the Stadium-as-a-Platform concept: creating a ’software concourse' that offers a number of stadium-powered digital features and capabilities allowing third-parties such as mobile service providers, advertisers, promoters, contactless payment companies, etc. to offer integrated services to fans on their devices or on the various screens in the concourse. The challenge behind all these trends of course, is finding the right resources (CTOs able to span the breadth of technologies involved, data scientists, software architects) to build and set up the tech-forward venues of the next few years. And planning ahead, with options to scale networks, architecture and data solutions to support the venue for the next 20 years. An exciting year ahead for the event industry!