Connected stadiums: the transformation of the football experience

Published 4/26/2016 by Mark Dewell, MD of Commercial and Third Sector

The Hillsborough disaster, where 96 football fans lost their lives, and a further 766 were injured, led to the longest inquest in British legal history and changed British football forever. This week, the families of those killed finally got justice when, a staggering 27 years after the tragedy, the inquest jury ruled that those who lost their lives were unlawfully killed.

In the space of those two decades, the way the game is played, watched and run in this country has changed exponentially. Some of these have been a direct result of what happened on 19 April 1989. The tragedy convinced the authorities that all major sports stadia in Britain should be converted to all-seater models by August 1994, resulting in run-down grounds morphing into all-seater stadiums with merchandise megastores and restaurants serving three-course meals.

Ticketing changed too. Prior to Hillsborough, it was perfectly legal to sell or give away a football ticket second hand. But the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 made it against the law in the UK to do so for matches anywhere involving British teams – without the consent of the original seller. Although this ban continues to be flouted by touts outside grounds and online, from a safety aspect it has made it easier for clubs to know exactly who is sitting in each seat.

What’s also changed significantly is the role that digital and technology innovations are playing in transforming the football experience. By embracing the digital era, venues can now make attending a football match a fully immersive, personalised experience to build excitement and loyalty with supporters. However, while the concept of the Connected Fan has, until now, focused on the fan experience, the Hillsborough case also highlights the safety gains that technology advancements can bring.

Safety and order are essential to creating a satisfying event experience for both fans and staff on event days. In addition to making the game experience more enjoyable, new stadium technology gives venue operators greater control over everything from energy efficiency to security. Wifi-enabled stadiums mean operators are able to equip their security personnel and public safety first-responders with more effective communication resources, with many having the ability to roll out wireless access points along with IP cameras to capture video and provide greater security throughout their facilities.

With upwards of 36,000 people attending a Premier League match, stadium operators need to have eyes and ears everywhere. Connected stadiums can feed real-time data to the security staff monitoring the stands so that they can pre-empt situations before they arise. Similarly, if a child gets separated from a parent, security staff can transmit a photo to all team members’ smartphones within seconds so that they can be found more easily. And by instantly turning digital content into real-time directional messaging, stadiums can significantly improve evacuation times.

By embracing digital and putting fans’ needs and wants first, today's clubs and venues have a golden opportunity to create ‘smart stadiums’ which engage fans across the entire event experience, increasing loyalty and revenue - as well as safety. Having worked with many sports clubs operating in stadium environments over the last 15 years, ensuring the technology infrastructure that we provide supports this combination of requirements is a responsibility we at Advanced take very seriously.

Mark Dewell, Managing Director, Advanced - Specialist Solutions

Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkDewellADV

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