THE BLOG

The Technology of Sport: Are Our Venues Letting the Side Down?

17/07/2015 16:13 BST | Updated 17/07/2016 10:59 BST

It's warming up to be a great summer of sport. I've been hooked on Wimbledon; loved watching our UK Lionesses in the World Cup and spent a couple of days at The Ashes. Sporting prowess aside, I've also been impressed by the technology involved in the tournaments, from the goal-line and court-edge cameras to the wearable sensors sharing live data on the heart-rates of the winning US team members as they played.

It's got me wondering why most of our sports venues in the UK are so low-tech. It seems odd that, as consumers, we are ultra-connected, inherently well-informed, and armed with the power to alter brand reputations, and yet we readily accept a third-rate customer experience when we enter a sports stadium. Particularly in Europe, many of our sporting venues are communication black holes. We've come to expect bad Wi-Fi and limited mobile signal - along with a warm beer and a long queue for the toilets at half time - as part of the pitch-side experience.

But how much longer can this last? Today, sports fans not only expect a once in a lifetime adventure match-side, they want to be able to capture and share their experiences with friends and family, and the communities they're part of. And today, most of that is done on mobile devices and through digital channels. Cast your mind back to Wimbledon 2013 when 'Murray Mania' sent the world into a social frenzy and 1.1 million people tweeted 2.6 million times, using tennis-related hashtags. Nearly 80 per cent of those tweets came from mobile devices.

Mobility gives consumers the power to act in the moment. And when you give this power to an emotionally-charged captive audience - such as a stadium full of sports fans - magic happens. That's when we start to see collective sharing through Twitter and Facebook, rapidly evolving social trends and hashtags, and viral brand awareness that is hard to engineer.

Sports technologies like contactless payments, stadium apps to help you find a parking spot, order a beer to your seat, or access player information on the last goal scorer have incredible potential to boost engagement for sports fans and advertisers. Especially as younger fans demand greater digital interaction with their team, their surroundings and their friends. But without the supporting communications infrastructure, these connected technologies are as good as redundant - and the venues will be too.

Encouragingly, the level of connectivity in stadiums across the UK and Europe is expected to grow over the next two years with a number of venues already leading the way.

Avaya was lucky enough to be involved with the Sochi Winter Olympics last year; accompanying the 75,000 spectators daily was an army of bandwidth-hungry mobile devices, which were expected to work seamlessly for picture messaging, live streaming, live tweeting, Facebook posts or Skype. The success of this entire event was perhaps the first to be truly bound to technology; the organisers relied on the communications network to deliver on consumer expectations of the event; and sponsors depended on consumers using it as a way of spreading their messages.

In the UK, Wembley stadium unveiled a range of next-generation technologies to a select group of fans at last month's FA Cup final, including access to multi-angle instant replays from mobile devices and contactless payments.

And Glamorgan County Cricket Club's SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff, Wales - which just hosted the first Test of this year's Ashes series - has put in place a brand new Avaya communications network to support next-generation media coverage of the first Test match. Along with 120 journalists from around the world, Glamorgan has welcomed a myriad of bandwidth-hungry devices, many of which will be used for live video streaming and second screening, as well as social media reporting. Looking to the future, the club's ultimate goal is to deliver a 21st century fan experience by becoming the most technically advanced cricket stadium in the world. It will use technology to reinvent the spectator experience in cricket through custom apps, e-commerce, marketing initiatives and promotions, and to boost the value proposition for sponsors.

So, maybe the UK's long-suffering sports fans won't have to put up with a technology black hole experience at stadiums for much longer. Sport is already becoming a fully-connected world and sporting venues have an opportunity to become industry leaders with the right technologies in place. Let's hope our venues don't let the side down.