‘Sports technology’ is an inherently amorphous and unwieldy term. In truth, technology is having a revolutionary impact on all parts of modern sports, from how it’s played to how it's administered to how it’s consumed.
This month focuses on sports tech applications for stadiums and venues: from base level technology infrastructure, such as internet connectivity and point of sale (POS) systems, to advanced matchday fan analytics and experience platforms.
State of play – where are we now?
The holy grail of in-venue technology is to provide fans with a safe and frictionless experience. Technology solutions such as touchless security scanning, digital ticketing, in-seat ordering and contactless payments all reduce fan friction points. Although these solutions create obvious operational efficiencies, adoption has traditionally been limited to a select digitally native subset of fans and often seen as a ‘nice to have’ for many stadiums.
However, in the new post-Covid paradigm, the underlying business case for these frictionless solutions has been strengthened and the timeline for implementation accelerated to meet changed fan expectations. Over the last year, fans have been educated on the positive health impacts of reducing unnecessary physical contact between staff and patrons. Fans now expect, or at the very least accept, digital solutions in the place of traditional physical ones, as evidenced by the National Football League's (NFL) shift to league wide digital ticketing.
There are still concerns that this digital transformation will leave some fans behind, especially elderly and visually-impaired people for whom touchless technology presents a unique set of challenges. Addressing these concerns hinges on how the technology is rolled out, with fan communication and education key aspects in ensuring successful adoption.
The move to digital ticketing and mobile payments also gives greater opportunity to increase data capture on stadium users whilst reducing fraud. By gathering richer data at all steps of the customer journey - from the time they purchase their ticket to the time they return home from the venue - stadiums are able to build a 360-degree view of the fan.
This is also true if a ticket is passed on or resold. Through mobile ticketing partners, teams and leagues are getting a better snapshot of who is actually physically in their venue, rather than only capturing incomplete data at the point of sale.
Capturing this data is only the first step in creating useful insights and ultimately increasing revenue. A range of analytics platforms are being applied to understand individual fans and their needs throughout the stadium experience. Once these insights are integrated with the venue, team, or ticketing system app, they enable the stadium to send highly targeted information and personalised offers to specific fans based on their needs and interests. As a result, teams and leagues can increase the potential revenue from sales conversions on F&B, retail, and further ticket purchases.
The touchless fan journey (Source:Venuetize)
This one-to-one communication before, during and after the event builds relationships with the fan to improve their experience. When combined with other smart stadium solutions, the direct communication becomes incredibly powerful in realising the promise of a truly 'frictionless' fan experience.
Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Los Angeles Football Club and their home ground, Banc of California Stadium, are among a number of professional teams utilising IoT (Internet of Things) sensors and computer vision at traditional friction points (such as parking garages, entry gates and concession lines) to understand bottlenecks and congestion. The club then uses their app and digital signage to directly communicate with fans about faster, less congested options available.
This example illustrates that the application of technology in stadiums and venues requires a holistic approach. If a club is capturing any and all data on fans without a strategy, without asking ‘why’ and what problems need to be solved, then it’s a waste of time and effort. If you have sensors to understand the flow of people throughout your stadium, but no way to effectively communicate these insights in real-time to staff or patrons to help them move more freely, then it is a wasted investment.
Finally, it may be stating the obvious, but the most important application of technology within any venue or stadium is internet connectivity. All the innovative digital applications listed here rely on reliable and fast internet connections. 5G is incredibly exciting in terms of the opportunities that are unleashed as a result, especially with regards to data-heavy augmented reality (AR) fan activations. The major US telecommunications providers, such as Verizon and AT&T, are throwing substantial marketing spend at stadium use cases to promote their respective 5G networks.
Although 5G will deliver a huge amount of value for fans when it is fully deployed, the majority of venues would do better to ensure they already have a solid network to meet the minimum requirements of operating existing basic digital connectivity and communication. All the advanced tech activations in the world are worthless in improving fan experience if they can’t even message a friend or post on social media.
Future innovations – what’s next?
The ability to unify security, ticketing and payments into one digital solution is a high watermark in delivering a truly frictionless fan experience. An incredibly powerful but contentious solution that does exactly that is biometrics, including facial recognition technology. As Christian Lau, LAFC’s chief technology officer, puts it: “At some point in the not-too-distant future, you can walk up and use your face to buy pizza. Our plan is to move everything to face.”
In a purely technical sense, many of these advanced solutions are ready to be implemented now. But as with any cutting-edge technology, the solutions must adapt to consumer expectations and levels of comfort to actually be useful. There is a natural hesitancy amongst fans to give over their biometric data, even if it means a better overall experience.
Consumer sentiment will evolve to meet technological capabilities, but the timeline for this is still unknown. As mentioned above, communication is essential to proper rollout and fan sentiment. In the same way that, even recently, many people were uncomfortable with the idea of having their face and passport scanned by a machine at an international airport, these tech breakthroughs will become commonplace but only in time.
An unforeseen effect of the Covid-19 pandemic is that after a year of consuming sports from the relative comfort of their homes, fans expect more from the in-venue experience. If stadiums and venues hope to attract fans back to pre-pandemic levels, the time is now to invest in strategy and technology to realise the potential and promise of a frictionless fan experience.
Below is a sample of some innovative companies offering stadium and venue tech solutions.
Originally got its start with airport security in the post-9/11 era, allowing travellers to skip growing airport queues if they had government identification and a boarding pass linked to their biometric profile (beginning with fingerprints and now expanding into facial recognition).
Notable clients: LAFC, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit Tigers, Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders FC, Orlando Magic, Arizona Coyotes, New York Mets
Latest Funding: US$100m raise (Feb 2021)
Touchless access using facial authentication
Wicket's Access platform includes products for facial ticketing, facial access control, crowd monitoring, audience measurement, VIP management, and security alerting for sports and entertainment, retail, real estate, and enterprises.
Notable clients: Cleveland Browns, Columbus Crew.
Real time crowd intelligence
Armored Thing’s platform utilises technology, like cameras and smart door locks, that is already being used in venues to gather data to provide physical security. This enables a real-time understanding of fan flow to make smarter decisions related to crowd density, space utilisation, security and sanitation.
Notable clients: LAFC, Cleveland Cavaliers, University of Tennessee
Latest funding: US$7m seed (June 2020)
Real time crowd intelligence
Provides real-time data and historical analytics on crowd behaviour learned from a combination of Waitime installed sensors and existing stadium data sources. Wait times are represented by spectrum bars that change from green to yellow to red relative to line lengths. These spectrums are shared with guests on digital displays and mobile apps.
Notable clients: Miami Heat, USTA, T-Mobile Arena, Indiana Pacers, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Sydney Cricket Ground
Combines gigapixel photography and computer vision to quantify the composition and behaviour of crowds including demographics, what merchandise they’re wearing, and attention (e.g. how many fans are looking at their phones during certain parts of a game). Spun out of the fan engagement company FanCam, which takes ultra-high resolution photographs of entire stadium crowds, CrowdIQ’s data is used to improve ticket sales, optimise the gameday experience and articulate value to sponsors about the fans in the stadium.
Notable clients: Minnesota Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Lightning
Mobile integration and automation platform
Provides ticketing, mobile ordering and audience personalisation and segmentation via a mobile and web app experience. It combines data from different sources including ticketing, CRM, location, and account details to create personalised screens and offers for individual users. These users can be targeted with push messaging to ensure timely delivery of the right information to the right person.
Notable clients: The O2 in London, Tottenham Hotspur, LA Galaxy, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Marylebone Cricket Club
Latest funding: US$7.2m Series A (June 2020)
Mobile integration and automation platform
Venuetize mobile platform (PaaS) manages all of a venue’s information systems and integrations in one place. The platform helps people with everything from finding and paying for parking, tickets, food and beverages to navigating stadiums and signing up for loyalty programmes.
Notable clients: LAFC, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Lightning, PGA Tour
Latest funding: US$2.8m Series A (May 2020)
Mobile ticket platform
Mobile-focused ticket platform that enables fans to buy and sell tickets for sports, concerts and theatre events. Expanding into the in-venue fan experience space with a new proprietary platform called Rally. Features include: mobile food and beverage ordering; ordering rideshares on Lyft after the game; venue guides; merchandise sales; weather reports and parking directions.
Notable clients: Brooklyn Nets, New York Liberty, Barclays Center, Liverpool FC, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Manchester City FC, Austin FC
POS Solutions (Contactless payments and mobile ordering software)
Appetize is a fully cloud-based POS, digital ordering and enterprise management platform. Products include fixed POS, handheld POS, self-serve kiosk, mobile and online ordering, as well as back-of-house enterprise management and reporting. Integrates with other providers such as RealifeTech and Venuetize.
Notable clients: Philadelphia Eagles, Texas Rangers, LA Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Louisiana State University, FC Cincinnati
POS Solutions (Contactless payments and mobile ordering software)
Originally started in 2014 by the San Francisco 49ers during the development of Levi's Stadium, VenueNext now offers in-venue mobile commerce, point of sale and loyalty solutions across all major US sports leagues.
Notable clients: San Francisco 49ers, Nashville Predators, LA Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, LA Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, University of Texas at Austin, Optus Stadium
Latest funding: Acquired for US$72 million by Shift4, a provider of integrated payment processing for a wide range of industries including retail, hospitality and lodging (March 2021)
Thanks for reading the first instalment of a monthly series examining the world of sports technology, brought to you by Thomas Alomes and the team at Sports Tech World Series.
In each column, we will provide insights into the global sports tech market drawn from our latest industry research, consulting clients and expert interviews. Our aim is to quickly inform you on what’s happening in the industry now, where it’s heading in the future and who are the major players, both emerging and established, operating at the cutting edge of this exciting space.
To make more sense of sports tech, we have classified the industry into sub-categories. Having covered stadiums and venues in this edition, the different areas being covered in this series are:
Athlete performance and tracking
Devices and platforms used to measure or track athletes with the purpose of testing and improving performance.
Athlete, team and event management
Solutions that support the management of athletes, teams, leagues and events, with a focus on improving overall efficiencies at an individual and organisational level.
Betting and fantasy sports
Solutions focused specifically on the unique challenges of betting and fantasy sports.
Data capture and analysis
Data processing, capture and analysis solutions that support insights and decision making for a variety of sports related organisations.
Esports and virtual sports
Solutions focused specifically on the unique challenges of esports and gaming.
Fan and sponsor engagement
Solutions designed to enhance and improve the experience of the fan, or increase the value for the sponsor, including memberships and social media engagement.
Media and broadcast
Solutions that enable and enhance the sharing and distribution of sports content such as streaming platforms, automated broadcast graphics and online content publishers.
Sports Tech World Series (STWS) is the trusted resource in the global sports technology ecosystem. We provide research, consulting and market insight services to help teams, leagues, governments, investors and vendors to achieve results and meaningful impact over the hype in sports technology and sports innovation.
About Thomas Alomes
An industry consultant, researcher and speaker, Thomas Alomes is a global leader in sports technology ecosystem growth and development with a passion for connecting the best people with the best ideas. He is currently head of North America at STWS and the founder of Sports Innovation Texas.