For fans, the experience is all. It’s the action on the field, pitch, or court that makes the magic. In my case, that magic happens in the intense moment of anticipation just before a rugby game begins. It’s the calm before the storm before the ball is first kicked. As the pandemic has prevented us from watching sports live in person, those are the moments I have really missed this past year.
I had the pleasure of moderating a discussion on this very topic with industry leaders Pierre-Louis de Guillebon, EVP of Orange Events, Günther Ottendorfer, Chief Technology & Infrastructure Officer at Ooredoo Qatar, and Brint Jackson, General Manager at Etihad Arena in the UAE. While you can catch a glimpse of their views in the video below, the conclusion was unanimous: we are in a new era of sports where connected technologies are transforming venues into interactive ecosystems. Where fan experience begins before they have even set off for the venue.
Today there are a multitude of platforms and devices through which fans can share their experiences with friends and celebrate their sporting heroes. Being a fan has become more than traveling to a stadium and watching the game, today it is an immersive experience where fans expect secure, seamless access to exclusive in-venue media content from live-action replays to exclusive interviews, the latest merchandise, and club memberships.
Venues can bring games to life for fans in ways that would have been unimaginable even twenty years ago, synchronising content from giant screens to individual digital displays in nanoseconds and engaging fans in ways they had never dreamed of. The explosion of Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and IoT devices, supported by new technologies such as 5G and WIFI 6 are game-changers. Imagine a digital Mexican wave, a virtual chant to cheer on your side, a slo-mo of the winning goal/try/serve – shared in real-time across a plethora of devices? Going to watch your team play is now a 360 degree, bespoke, in-and-out-of-body experience, whether you are viewing live, moving through the venue to buy a hot dog, or sharing a live-action clip with friends who are sitting at home watching the team on the telly.
The lines are blurring between digital and live, a trend that was already underway in many stadiums and arena venues and which has been accelerated by the pandemic. Covid has taken innovation in a new direction. Technology is now being deployed to help fans return to their beloved stadiums, enabling them to move around a venue safely through digital signage, avoiding busy areas, and making sure social distancing, hygiene, and safety measures are maintained during live events. As venues transcend towards becoming fan destinations through mixed-use retail, the importance of those connected technologies to enable seamless and secure experiences will increase even more.
Technology plays a significant role in planning for the fans’ return to stadiums before, during, and after matches. The arrival of Artificial Intelligence (AI) brings with it huge changes for fans and their engagement as clubs, athletes and teams use different subsets of data and statistics they gather in order to provide their fans with unique content. With the help of AI, clubs, players and teams get to know their fans better with each interaction.
Data, together with digital signage, can also be used to map out crowd management strategies, seating arrangements, or fan numbers so that seats are sold in such a way to enable social distancing, there is space between groups and only people from the same household are seated together. It may not be ground-breaking, but in the context of Covid-19, understanding how fans move around a stadium and avoiding congestion and bottlenecks is more important than ever.
Cisco is a tech leader in the sports and entertainment space, building the bridge between the game and the fans. Our purpose-built, secure platforms have been installed in hundreds of venues across the world, connecting fans with their beloved teams and driving greater efficiencies and new revenue sources for venues. A full stack of solutions crossing video, cloud, networking, security, data, and analytics enables Cisco to create environments and experiences that transform fans from passive spectators to active participants.
Partnering with venues and sporting giants in the industry including O2 Arena; Norwegian Professional Football League; City Football Group and Real Madrid FC, Cisco networks connect events, organizations, and broadcasters in new and unique ways, creating unforgettable moments for fans not only to enjoy but be a part of. It’s impossible to predict what the future holds for fandom, but there is no doubt that technology has a significant role in making sure that sport will remain at the heart of the human experience.