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Stadium Innovations: 5 trends changing the fan experience

Your favorite sports stadium may just be reopening to capacity this summer and fall after a long break, but that doesn’t mean stadium technology advancements were stalled.

Despite a lack of fans in stadiums over the last year, plenty of advancements have been made, bringing cutting-edge technology to venues across the country and around the world. At Armored Things, we have the privilege of supporting premier venues such as the Cleveland Cavaliers Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse and LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium with AI for strategic space utilization decisions and we stay close to the latest innovations. 

Here’s our list of the top 5 initiatives paving the way for an enhanced fan experience in stadiums now.

5G

5G is currently being incorporated in over 6o stadiums and arenas across the United States. In May of this year, Verizon announced a deal that would deploy 5G Ultra Wideband in 15 NBA stadiums, continuing to bridge the gap between fans and the on-court action. Even if we haven’t noticed it yet, 5G has already begun to transform the way we watch and play sports. With unparalleled speeds and ultra-low latency, 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices.

At the World Football Summit, Michael Sutherland, chief transformation officer at Real Madrid, emphasized the importance of the technology within the context of sports branding,

“5G brings up an entirely new world of communication. It means a chance of providing richer content and gathering more precise information. As a consequence, consumer expectations are going to evolve. In the long term, 5G will completely change the fans’ expectations regarding their interactions with sports brands.”

Among the NBA stadiums partnered with Verizon is the Cav’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, where fans can point their phone at any player on the floor and get live stats and real-time information- all made possible through 5G. The hyper-quick network speed has also helped enhance the quality of ShotTracker, a Verizon application. ShotTracker – currently in testing beta in practice facilities –  will allow broadcasters, teams, and potential fans to track the basketball like never before. The technology should allow the tracking of ball movement, shot selection, and player efficiency,  providing in-game statistics that were previously near-impossible to register. 

Neighborhood Experience

One of the benefits of building a new stadium is the economic return it promises for the city. Building a new stadium should allow nearby businesses to thrive, and would open a bevy of new jobs for the public. The Milwaukee Bucks have introduced an initiative that does just that and more. Built in 2018, the Fiserv Forum, the home of the Bucks, is a multi-purpose stadium located in downtown Milwaukee. The unveiling of the new stadium celebrates the development of 30 acres surrounding the arena, 30 acres which includes the ever-growing Entertainment Block. The introduction of this new stadium experience has come in unison with a surge in popularity for the area. Peter Feigin, the team president, told the Atlantic,

“Not only does the time period get extended on the front end, but we are seeing lingering post event, whether the Bucks, Marquette or concerts, with hundreds of people staying in the district for an hour-plus afterward. It is just what strategically we wanted, to make the district sticky with folks.”

The Bucks have had a direct hand in the development of the area, and have consequently seen economic and social success because of it. The Milwaukee model should provide a strong blueprint for other small market organizations to follow, helping bridge the gap between less desirable markets and larger markets. 

Cashless Experience

Waiting in lines for tickets and concessions can be one of the most tiring, tedious activities for fans. They go to a game to watch, not to wait.

Among the first venues to go cashless was Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. Throughout the 2019 MLB season, the stadium elected for this cashless approach. Bill Walsh, Ray’s Vice President of Strategy and Development, told the New York Business Journal that the switch was met with an overall positive response from the fans. 

“Cash-free transactions are faster. Certainly, there are other benefits in terms of greater efficiencies, limiting cash-room activity at night and making operations run a lot more efficiently. Primarily, the fan experience was the driver.”

Banc of California Stadium, the home of Los Angeles FC, is another venue that truly embraced a cashless fan experience. In 2021, the stadium no longer accepted cash, instead opting for pre-ordered concessions and contactless payment options. 

Transformational pitches

Transformational pitches offer multisport versatility to stadiums.

In 2005, the NFL played its first official game outside of the US in the Estadio Azteca in New Mexico, Mexico. The game marked a historical moment for the sport, which had otherwise played solely in the US for over a hundred years. Estadio Azteca, however, isn’t the only international stadium to host an NFL game. As of 2007, a handful of games each season have been played in England. As of 2019,  games have been played in the Tottenham Stadium – the home of premier league outfit Tottenham Hotspurs – in northeastern central London. According to Populous, the architecture firm behind the brand new stadium, 

“The multi-award-winning Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is a new benchmark in global stadium design, offering one of the finest spectator experiences in the world and, by incorporating a fully retractable pitch, becoming the first purpose-built home for the NFL in Europe.”

From a stadium design perspective, transformational pitches have the potential to revolutionize venue layouts. Tottenham stadium was designed to host both soccer and football, as the grass field used for soccer easily retracts revealing the artificial NFL turf below. The stands, which are also adjustable, allows for optimal viewing and sidelines depending on the sport being played.

AI and Virtual Reality

Now more than ever, especially in a post-Covid world, team owners and designers are exploring ways in which fans at home can truly feel immersed in the live-action no matter where they sit. The recent advancements in AI and virtual reality have led to the possibility of stadiums delivering game-day experiences to fans who are watching from their couch. Some organizations including the Minnesota Vikings and Manchester City are already experimenting with VR broadcasts.  These VR broadcasts allow for users to watch the game through a selection of different camera angles such as courtside, on-field action, and even VIP suites. Using Oculus headsets and through a range of applications, fans have access to in-game angles, valuable statistics, and player insights those present in the stadium don’t have access to. In 2021, virtual reality headsets can cost anywhere from $200 up to $1000. Nonetheless, as the technology continues to develop, cheaper alternatives will be able to deliver the same if not better game experiences for fans.  

Armored Things uses AI and machine learning to manage crowds, foot traffic, and wait times throughout professional sports venues, higher education institutions, and corporate campuses. To learn more about Armored Things, check out our Solution Overview Video or connect with our Sales Team at Sales@ArmoredThings.com.

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