Covid-19 has had a massive impact on live sport and the latest lockdown measures preventing the return of crowds, is a further blow. Governments, scientists, venues and clubs are desperately exploring safe ways to get the fans back. Despite the problems with rolling out nationwide track and trace mobile apps, our smart mobile devices could still hold the key to getting doors open, complying with social distancing expectations and filling up stadiums.
One of the emerging technologies that may provide an answer is new mobile mesh networking. Mobile mesh harnesses the power of our mobile devices by connecting smartphones directly to other smartphones and other internet connected wearables and devices without the need for cellular 4G/5G or Wi-Fi. Data simply finds the quickest and easiest route by hopping between phones. The technology is embedded in an existing or new branded mobile app, which could belong to a venue or club, for example.
The mesh is a mass expansive, robust, self-forming and self-healing resilient network created through multi-hop routing. Importantly, real-time messages and notifications can be sent to everyone on site with the app to meet social distancing objectives and provide up-to-date advice and guidance, as well as delivering live fan and community-based social content and retail offers.
Social distance monitoring and virtual geozones
Geozones are virtual walls to contain the mesh, which could be around a stadium, arena, fan zone, bar or VIP area, for example. It is also possible to create one or two meter personal geozones around individuals to enable social distance monitoring within a geozone.
This opens up a wide range of applications which were previously not possible. For example, a mesh network can provide digital access management, while analysis of data and use of graphical ‘heat maps’ can be used to monitor social distancing and make informed adjustments to layouts and visitor routing to help fans and visitors avoid unintentional close contact. And by integrating a mesh network of smartphones and devices, administrators can better manage and understand the effectiveness of practical measures such as hand sanitizing.
Of course, data security and privacy are paramount, so it is important that all user information is fully anonymized and only smartphones with the app installed that are inside the geozones are meshed together. As the smartphone leaves the geozone, it is automatically disconnected.
As fans return to live sport, mobile mesh technology also offers venue owners and marketers new opportunities to communicate and engage with supporters to create experiences to enrich live events. While many fans are desperate to return to live events, others may have become used to watching their sport from literally ‘the best seat in the house’. This combined with a rise in ticket prices for sporting events, parking, food and drink at stadiums means that clubs need to do more to attract back large crowds.
Poor in-stadium communications only make the living room more attractive. In most cases, there simply isn’t enough bandwidth for everyone to share images, videos and messages, when their team scores, let alone have access to fan-based apps to browse details about players, stats, merchandise offers and competitions – or find out information about the closest food stands, bars or emergency exits.
Deloitte questioned 15,000 US sports fans about their stadium experience and level of engagement*. When asked if: ‘My mobile device enhances my experience through increased interaction with the team, sponsors, and fans in the stadium,’ only 28% of casual fans said they were satisfied. While this figure rose to 42% for ‘fanatics’, there is clearly more that can be done.
Instead of relying on overloaded cellular or Wi-Fi networks, a mobile mesh network linked to a rich content platform could change this, creating community engagement and improved stadia experiences.
For example, a branded fan-based app could promote ticket offers for future games and pre-booking at retail outlets and restaurants. When a player scores, shirts could be purchased to be picked up at the nearest exit. Pop-up social networks also give the ability to gamify an event, so clubs could incentivize fans to cheer more by having one stand compete with another.
Season ticket holders could engage together in localized groups to win benefits and it is also possible to set up friend groups for meeting up or sharing chats. The combination of always-up technology and geofence information can create great opportunities for people to have more engagement, more fun and get discounts.
For sporting event organizers and fans, it’s a win-win situation. Supporters get a far richer and more interactive experience, while hard-pressed venues and clubs gain new revenue stream.