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Despite fans wanting the at-home benefits of in-stadia connectivity, few owners are investing in the requisite infrastructure

 

Behind the fervorous debate about connectivity in sports stadia, arguably the hotter topic is why so many venues have been languid about getting with the wireless programme. This hardly correlates with the supposed big push to prise sports fans from their sofas to watch the action live, tempted by the type of connected experience that’s wowing Nets’ fans in Brooklyn.

There are, of course, other high-profile venues to have embraced the connected experience. Cowboys Stadium in Texas was ahead of the curve in the way of access points installed, boasting 884 APs, while the Georgia Dome recently flexed its wireless muscle by supporting more than 8,000 users on its wi-fi network during the 2012/2013 NFC Championship Game. And most recently, the San Francisco 49ers announced its wireless intentions for the new Santa Clara Stadium – which should be ready in time for the 2014 season – to support all 68,500 fans at the same time. The New England Patriots, meanwhile, integrated free wi-fi at Gillette Stadium last October, and other teams that have gone wireless for fans include the New York Jets and the Giants (which share MetLife Stadium), the Atlanta Falcons, the Indianapolis Colts, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New Orleans Saints, the Carolina Panthers and the Miami Dolphins.

Conference call
But in the majority of US NFL, NBA and MLB venues,
it’s hard enough to SMS your friends the score, let alone share video content and pictures via mobile devices. This issue was on the radar at the On Deck Sports and Technology Conference – held in February in New York – the aim of which was to provide a forum for sports industry executives, entrepreneurs, sports tech startups and fans alike to discuss the key ideas and innovations in this space, as well as to provide a platform to surface promising new technologies and startups that will transform how fans follow sports in the years to come.

The impression of one speaker, Matt Higgins, CEO of RSE Ventures, was quite simply that fans’ expectations are not being met. “They expect to be able to interact with content in-venue as they do at home,” he said in one of the sessions. Higgins further stated that the lack of cohesion in the industry could be having a detrimental effect, with those stadiums investing on an individual basis not really doing much for the connected movement overall. In 2012, the NFL was reportedly looking for a telecommunications partner to help facilitate wi-fi throughout the league – a strategy that makes sense to Higgins. “The leagues should bring everyone together and make the investment,” he advised. “One team alone cannot come up with the return on the kind of investment necessary.” Higgins is in a position to know these things. RSE Ventures’ mission is to bring fans closer to the field by bringing the game to places it’s never been before, and the company has worked notably with the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. “In the venues that are aggressive with wireless, such as in Miami, we have 1,200 APs in place. But that’s expensive.”

Game changer
The need to embrace connected technologies in stadia is acute. A 2012 survey by ESPN.com revealed that only 29% of NFL fans would prefer to watch a game in-stadium compared to 41% in 1998. Connectivity could be a big part of the formula to reverse that trend. Firms such as Populous, Gensler, AECOM and others clearly agree, since they often advise wireless rethinks on new projects and refurbs. “To be a fan, you don’t have to have season tickets; you simply have to have internet access,” Scott Radecic, senior principal with Populous in Kansas City wrote in a recent blog. “While this accessibility has allowed the NFL to reach a record-high popularity, it has also left architects, stadium managers and owners exploring how we can entice fans to return. We are working with NFL clients to find innovative ways to give unparalleled access to fans and create events that will not only rival the in-home experience but exceed the expectations of the modern fan. Through branded social gathering spaces and the integration of technology, we’re creating destinations that make the in-stadium experience something worth leaving the house for."

 

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