Last July, tens of thousands of fans waved their mobile phones in the air at a jam-packed Amsterdam ArenA, the venue for the world-famous electronic dance concert, Sensation. From a distance, there wasn’t anything peculiar about the way people were using their phones; it seemed they were Snapchatting the sights and sounds to their friends or simply flailing their devices as if they were flicked lighters at a 1970s rock concert. But looking (and perhaps listening) a bit more closely, one would have noticed that the cell phones were actually vibrating melodiously in rhythm to the songs that were playing at the concert.
According to Sander van Stiphout, director at Amsterdam ArenA, these types of apps – categorized as transient apps – are rapidly infiltrating stadia and fans’ mobile phones across the globe as a means to connect event and match attendees with the venue.
“The stadium is a building type that has been technically perfected over the past 20 years,” says Chris Dite, associate director of sport venue design and major events at Arup. “But now it’s all about how people interact with the building instead of the building itself.”
Making the stadium both better connected and more interactive is at the top of stadia operators’ and architects’ agendas, especially since fans today seek a different type of experience than their grandparents – and even their parents – did.
“Today’s fans grew up on the couch with FIFA on the PlayStation,” Dite says. “They consume sport through their iPhones and Twitter. The excitement on the grass in the middle of the stadium used to be enough to get fans into seats. But not anymore.
“We need to offer today’s fans content that can’t be given at home. Whether its entertainment on the side of the pitch or data streamed on a phone app, we have to generate content that isn’t available to the fan at home,” Dite adds.
To further engage the fan at the stadium, Justin Frankel, project manager at HOK, says venues will begin offering augmented reality (AR) devices.
“Say you’re in the bowl, watching the game, and you want to learn more about a certain player. AR would allow you to point your phone at a given player and automatically get his biography, his stats, and more,” explains Frankel. “It adds an extra layer of connectivity and information to the experience.”
On the other hand, for those unavailable to attend games in person, virtual reality (VR) devices would connect fans to the stadium. “With VR, you can sit at home, put on a headset, and instantly, you’re in the stadium of your favorite team, watching the match,” Frankel says. “It’s being at the match, without being at the match.”
As technology continues to improve, the possibilities for fans become limitless. Imagine an app that would enable the fan to feel the heartbeat of a player as he makes an approach to the ball during a penalty shootout. Or one that would share a player’s blood pressure in a 1-1 tie during stoppage time. While the technological potential is absurdly exciting, there exists a fine line between fan engagement and player privacy.
“We’re beginning to have the conversation of ‘what can and can’t we share with the public?'” says van Stiphout.
Another concern among those in the industry is the impact technology is having on the integrity of the match. For example, goal-line technology, while interesting for the fan, may be the tip of the iceberg for interrupting game flow, and may serve as a gateway for more invasive and disruptive systems. “When goal-line technology was introduced in soccer matches, I thought, ‘it won’t be too long until all referee decisions are referred to those on TV,'” says Richard Keys, senior soccer anchor at beIN Sports.
“You can have all the fancy toys in the world. But TV should not determine the outcome of the game,” Keys continues. “It should just broadcast it.”
Amid the plethora of technological changes inundating the world of sports – in both stadia and on television – it’s ultimately the product that will continue to move fans from the couch to the venue.
“Through good times and bad times, the game ultimately drives people to the stadium,” says Frankel. “To get the fan off the couch, it’s the unwavering love for a team that will endure.”
“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – like the experience of going to a game,” Keys adds.
About the author
David Zabinsky is the Conference Director for IQPC Middle East’s upcoming World Stadium Congress, which will be held from May 16-19, 2016, at The Westin Doha Hotel & Spa, Doha, Qatar.
To find out more visit: www.worldstadiumcongress.com