How is technology shaping the sports fan experience?

Despite all the changes in media and viewing habits that we’ve seen in recent years, sport remains almost uniquely powerful as a vehicle for bringing people together for a shared, live experience. In England we’ve seen staggering TV viewing figures for World Cup games, along with huge numbers of people gathering around big screens and fan parks around the country.

The fundamental appeal of sport is constant – drama, tribalism, shared emotion, the need to watch it live – but technology is increasingly being used to add to the fan experience, for those going along to stadium as well as for the armchair fan.

At the stadium

The US tends to lead the way when it comes to stadium design and fan experience, and the Minnesota Vikings’ US Bank Stadium (home of the 2018 Super Bowl) is no exception. the $1.1bn venue is packed with technology, including a 1,500 feet long “ribbon” concourse display designed to keep fans engaged with replays, action from other games and, of course, a few ads. 1,300 Wi-Fi points embedded throughout the stadium mean fans can enjoy high-speed connectivity, which (along with 2,000 Bluetooth beacons) will help fans to make use of the dedicated mapping function that guides you to your seat inside the massive arena.

One of the most annoying aspects of watching live sport has to be the half time queue for a drink and something to eat. You either go at half time and join an enormous line, or go early and risk missing something crucial on the pitch. Seat Serve is an emerging business that uses a mobile app to make it super-easy for fans to order food, drinks and merchandise from their seat.

Another issue for fans is the potential to lose their ticket. Mobile and e-tickets are one solution, but Major League Baseball is taking things one step further and introducing biometric ticketing. This will mean fans can use their fingerprint or face recognition to access the venue and potentially to pay for food and drink when they get there.

Ironically, fans going to a game have access to less information than those watching at home. Cricket Australia aimed to combat this earlier in 2018 with the introduction of their Matchday app. Specifically designed to enhance the experience for people at the venue, the app provides fans with video highlights, venue maps and info on sponsor promotions.

Most technology is designed to help fans spend more money once they get to the venue, but FanHub is a new app that promises to give something back. It offers better deals on travel and hotels, and tracks how far each fan has travelled, offering targeted rewards to the most dedicated.

With all of this content and functionality on offer for fans through their phones, connectivity and battery charging are set to be two key things for venues to get right. 5G is still a couple of years away but could be a game-changer for fan engagement. In-seat wireless charging should also become a common feature of new venues that come on line in the coming years, through the likes of Chargifi.

Watching at home

While the “traditional” TV still dominates our sports viewing at home, 93% of fans also use a second screen to interact with friends in other places. Sceenic is a new platform that brings fan interaction back to the main screen, with cloud technology that lets people enjoy more meaningful moments together, without missing any of the action.

During the World Cup, official sponsor McDonald’s partnered with Google to use big data to identify the moments during games when fans would be most hungry, triggering real time orders through the new McDelivery service. The results weren’t entirely unpredictable, with key hunger moments being the beginning, half-time and end of matches, but this use of real time data to engage with fans will only become more prevalent.

Fans love anything that helps them get closer to the players and one of the most shared clips from this World Cup was the startling sight of Belgium’s Eden Hazard, in hologram form, being interviewed right after their defeat of Brazil. Without leaving the locker room, the player was projected into the TV studio (still in full kit) giving the impression to viewers that he was actually in the room.

Wimbledon has taken something of a back seat this summer, but that hasn’t stopped The All England Club from keeping up its pursuit of digital innovation. In a partnership with IBM, artificial intelligence is being used for the first time to curate game highlights in real time. IBM’s Watson platform is analysing player emotion, crowd noise and match data to work out which highlights to capture, delivering them to fans via the Wimbledon app, website and social channels in a matter of minutes.

This is a blog I originally wrote for

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