connected stadiums

Stadiums can’t be what they used to be

By the year 2022, the global sports industry is expected to be worth more than $614bn. Most of that revenue will be sourced from TV/streaming contracts, however live attendance should continue drawing enough money to encourage digital transformation within stadiums.

In the past, game attendance was pure and simple; fans wanted to see a match and cheer on their team. These days, it is about more than watching the event in person. It’s about the wider experience. That experience is made up of everything. It includes the food being served, the flow of the crowds, even the connection people feel with their team. Fans aren’t attending alone even if they came alone. They are attending with fellow supporters and they want the chance to socialise with them – to do that, they need access to stadium bars, refreshment and open spaces.

Prior to the pandemic brand design consultancy Harrison and research company CGA, released research saying that UK sports arenas and stadiums were falling short of customer expectations. It said that stadiums were failing to keep up with evolving consumer habits and faling quickly behind the rest of the out-of-home foodservice market. The study demonstrated that over 50% of consumers rated the food and drink at sports stadiums as “ok”, “poor” or “awful”. You just need to visit a team’s Facebook pages to see post after post about the poor quality of the burgers or slow service during half time.

With stadiums now open to crowds again, an opportunity for change has emerged.

Stadiums are once again filling with consumers – some are even at capacity. Why? Because sport fans crave the social feel of a game. They’ve formed strong digital communities over the past two years but that’s not enough – they need to meet, to discuss and to enjoy games together, in person.

It’s time for stadiums to become ‘connected stadiums’ and to get it right. To do that, they first need to accept the actuality that the game on the pitch is only a part of the overall experience for supporters. Once they’ve accepted it, they need to implement change. When deciding on those changes, we would encourage teams/stadiums to consider how they can facilitate safe socialising – and further – how they can monetise that aspect of their business. Common issues have always been the flow of movement around stadiums – especially those smaller or older builds, as well as the connectivity in place. With thousands of people, all wanting to message friends, send live social updates or take photos that will upload to their Cloud accounts, having a sophisticated network solution in play is key.

Then there’s the consumer-facing technology stadiums can offer. The USA is leading the pack in this area – in connected stadiums there, supporters there are treated to apps which show waiting times for bathrooms, they can purchase exclusive experiences and they can purchase their food and drink in advance. That food and drink can be delivered to their seat – of if they want to mingle with others, can be collected by the bar, but without queuing.

The point of connected stadiums is to engage the supporter, make their experience smooth, simple – but also enjoyable. In the UK, Tottenham Hotspur is the clearest example of this. Its goal in building its new (opened 2019) stadium was to maximise revenue on every single match day. It wanted to create a longer, more engaging fan experience, encouraging supporters to arrive early, stay longer and spend more. And it succeeded. Now 40,000 fans can stream video on their phones simultaneously, the venue supports a 100% cashless journey and the team’s app offers wayfinding to seats (or to friends), and stores match day tickets to be scanned at turnstiles. It does mean no ticket stubs though!

We know that not every stadium has a capacity of 62,000, nor has the money to invest in an infrastructure of Tottenham Hotspur’s quality. However, most can afford to make small changes leading to big improvements. Speak to Theravada today and we can discuss how to build a technology network at the size and budget that your venue allows.

And remember, long-term, the stadiums that fans enjoy and return to spend money at won’t be the ones that focus on the game alone. Good grass is important, but for the fans, it will increasingly be about the wider venue and the entertainment and technology it has on offer.