Smart is everywhere, and it’s coming to stadiums

In the following case study, Mike Bohndiek, Head of IT at West Ham United FC (WHUFC), shares his thoughts on smart stadia – and how venues that don’t continue to adapt will get quickly left behind.

In years gone by, the community heartbeat was a church, a cathedral. People assembled, shared stories, met with friends and family, and collectively came together as one for a common cause. In the modern age sports clubs and their stadiums are taking on this mantra; unifying cities and acting as the pulse of their surrounds.

The expectation of the average fan is now heightened through the technological transformation they experience at home – smartphones, wi-fi, Netflix, social media consumption etc. Sporting venues and businesses must view technology as a key enabler to unlocked match day potential. At the very least, it is a critical part of retaining a fan. Proactively, it is a driver for best in class fan or even city engagement.

With new stadiums emerging across Europe, these venues have the opportunity to put technology at the heart of delivering a world-class experience for consumers, corporate and partners alike. Failure to invest into future technologies and stay ahead of the curve will ultimately undermine vision and delivery.

In its simplest most positive form:

  • Technology drives data
  • Data drives insight
  • Insight drives smart marketing/media and partner strategy
  • Marketing/media and partner strategy drive brand value
  • Brand value drives incremental revenue
  • Incremental revenue drives an ability to invest in technology

The curve is steepening. The difference in stadia between the haves and have nots is growing. Those without – elective or otherwise – should pay attention to the journey of hotels. 10 years ago, hotels that offered paid wi-fi were seen as market leading. They had deployed technology that many were grappling to understand. Fast forward to 2017 and any hotel without free wi-fi throughout the facility is now dimly viewed. It has become a critical part of life for the many, and this must be grasped. The consumer has spoken. The same is true now of stadia.

With stadia, technology offers opportunities. Fan engagement platforms enable the lengthening of a match day –  from the moment when the fan leaves home. Communication of transport information, targeted campaigns for event specific activities, and feedback on their experience deliver a holistic view of a supporter’s day, and thus enables the club to better understand what a successful match day looks like. It blends operations, engagement, and sales in a unique fashion. This – at a high level – is truly the goal of a smart stadium.

Technology is a facilitator for data collection. Registration for free wi-fi, engaging with an app, or entering a competition via a website are all generic methods. There is a straight interaction; do x to access y. You gain data, but little insight.

Enter the Internet of Things (IoT): the interconnection via the internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. This sits at the heart of smart stadium and enables a deeper understanding of the fan.

Registration for Wi-Fi just tells you that the fan has arrived, and potentially what they looked at.

The Internet of Things (IoT) enables tracking of the fan connected to the Wi-Fi to understand how they moved through the stadium, where they dwelled, and when they left.

The latter provides operational and commercial information and enables sales and marketing exploitation. Data is the insight lead for any business, and technology is the collection mechanism.

A smart stadium can mean a smart business future. The times of fans attending physical events is slowly passing with the advent of new streaming/online consumption channels; typically a more cost-effective method to see your team or event. Keeping your venue in line with their technological demands and providing an augmented match day experience are two core prongs leading the fight back to the classic attendance model.