There is no doubt that modern and emerging technologies have drastically changed how fans experience live events. Fans want to be connected to the experience through their mobile devices at all times, not only to broadcast that they are at the game, but also to stay tuned to what is going on outside of the game. Many of the technologies that allow fans to stay connected are also helping to improve security at events to keep bad actors out and prepare staff for any number of emergencies. Additionally, as streaming services change the way we watch live events, today’s stadiums need to invest in the infrastructure to support the required bandwidth. These elements working together lead to a better fan experience, and people coming back for more.
Improving the Fan Experience
Events have increasingly become technology showcases in and of themselves, especially when it comes to the fan experience in stadiums. Just like every player wants to be regarded as the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time), every stadium (and sports organization: MLB, NFL, etc.) wants to be regarded as offering the greatest experience for its fans. Take, for example, Super Bowl 54 in Miami. Knowing how important keeping in touch with social network is to fans, Hard Rock Stadium partnered with major networks such as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile to improve the 5G capabilities in the region. This is just one example of the technologies that the stadium and the Miami region invested in prior to the event. Overall, they wanted to set the standard for what it takes to run a major event in the era of emerging technology. If stadiums have not yet installed 5G capabilities, edge computing networks are a great alternative to bring data closer to users and create a greater experience.
Think back to the experience at sports games just ten years ago: parking at events was a nightmare, printing tickets was difficult, ordering food took too long and you never really had a pulse on other games going on at the same time. Flash to today and there’s an app for everything you could ever need while at a game. Today’s stadiums need to compete with the experience of watching a game at home, where viewers can see replays and gain insights from expert commentators. Luckily, access to stronger networks allows stadiums to create a dynamic experience where fans can watch back replays at any time on their devices and do not have to be locked on the jumbotron. During the Super Bowl this year, there was a new feature on the NFL’s fan engagement app, OnePass, that allowed people with 5G devices connected to the stadium’s network to watch a multi-camera live stream of the game. This let fans watch from five different angles, so they could see beyond just the view from their seat and the jumbotron, and to pause and rewind the game, so they didn’t have to wait for a replay.
Although stadiums should invest in ensuring fans inside have a great time, it’s even more important to keep them safe. One of the most important reasons that stadiums should invest in a strong technology infrastructure is to improve security to ensure a safe on-site experience. Over the past 5-10 years stadiums have started to put an emphasis on improving security using technology to keep threats out and those inside safe.
This generally comes in two forms. One of the most common uses of technology for security is using AI and machine learning to identify bad actors and keep them out of the venue. A very effective way to do this is facial recognition. While this technology has often been met with criticism, many people are warming up to it for security. This technology can also detect when a bag or a device may be left unattended and alert security and law enforcement. Fan safety is not just about keeping bad actors out of stadiums, it is also about keeping fans safe in the event of a natural disaster or some other unforeseen event. This can also take the form of multiple redundant networks and disaster preparedness plans. If a major rainstorm or hurricane happens during an event, stadiums should have a redundant network to ensure that security staff are connected to each other to get fans to safety. This is only doable if there is a disaster recovery plan in place prior to an event.
Improving the Viewing Experience Outside the Stadium
Technology is not only providing a better experience in stadiums; it is also creating a better viewing experience for those at home by improving streaming quality. This year, more people streamed the Super Bowl than ever. Fox had a stream of Super Bowl LIV, which, in tandem with the Spanish-language feed on Fox Deportes, raised the audience for the game to 102 million viewers. In contrast, last year the total Super Bowl audience on CBS, ESPN Deportes and other streaming platforms combined to average 100.7 million viewers. This higher number of streamers doesn’t just put a strain on networks in the places viewers are, it also puts a strain on the networks where the stream originates. As such, Hard Rock Stadium and Miami’s investments into greater network capacity were crucial to the success of the game for the folks at home.
Improvements in consumer technology are also adding to the need to invest in 5G and edge technology. This year, Fox touted advancements with the SkyCam and PylonCams on the field. It was the first Super Bowl shot with 8K cameras and the first one produced in HDR, which provides brighter highlights and more color to television pictures. Fox knew that this would use a huge amount of data and ultimately had trouble executing. Many people were looking to stream the game in 4K, but instead of broadcasting in true 4K, Fox upscaled its 1080p capabilities. Why it did this is simple to understand and a common theme: bandwidth. Even with the amount of money put into upgrading networks, Fox doesn’t have the technology to handle the bandwidth needed to broadcast 4K images from the 100 or more cameras that were used for the Super Bowl. While it’s upsetting that this was not the year we’d see the game in 8K and true 4K quality, it is promising to see television networks are taking steps to improve the way we watch games.
Just about every team, stadium and venue today is keen on one thing: creating the ultimate fan experience. But achieving this is not about bringing in fancy food items and entertainment. It’s about bringing in the best technology. It’s vital that stadiums invest in technology to keep fans on their side and provide them with an incredible experience. This transcends just football and even sports in general, given that so many stadiums are used for concerts and major events. By investing in technology, events of all kinds can ensure that attendees enjoy every facet of the experience, are connected to the outside world and safe inside the venue.