Technology is now a key focus in new stadium development, with major sports teams from Atlanta to Sacramento rallying to create better—and better connected—fan experiences.
When the Atlanta Braves’ lease was up in 2014, the Major League Baseball team saw a new opportunity: to embed technology into development, rather than the old way of making do with wiring new solutions into existing infrastructure. Since then, the franchise has clearly seized the opportunity with the recent opening of SunTrust Park. The ballpark is packed with evidence of tech investment, from massive LED screens and all-over WiFi, to the 40-foot steel cow whose hand-painted poster of yesteryear has been replaced with a digital sign.
The Georgia stadium is not the only new stadium to prioritize technology. Across the country, developers are responding to mounting interest for smart, connected stadiums.
“We are seeing tremendous demand from stadium developers looking for cutting-edge technology strategy,” says Don Loudermilk, Senior Vice President, JLL Project and Development Services. “Their interest is fueled by a combination of benefits, from improvements to the guest experience, to improved marketing, security and facility operations.”
The draw of a connected experience
Thanks in part to the advent of giant-screen home TVs, it’s become harder to inspire guests to get off the couch and make the trek to a live event, where, in many stadiums, cell coverage is spotty and wireless is painfully slow. In fact, a 2012 Cisco survey found that 57 percent of fans prefer to watch the big game at home. Those who do attend games, however, overwhelmingly cite the experience as their chief reason for going.
And technology not only helps to create more memorable experiences but can equally inspire fans to come back for more. “Great technology brings the benefits of staying at home, like good wireless and easy access to food, together with the benefits of being part of a genuine stadium experience,” says Loudermilk. “Nothing beats adding to the roar of the crowd, especially when you can add your voice digitally and audibly.”
SunTrust Park is encouraging fans to do just that, now boasting some of the fastest WiFi in the country, with enough bandwidth for everyone in the 41,000-stadium to be on their phones at the same time. The Sacramento Kings are also winning with pervasive WiFi. Like SunTrust Park, the team’s new Golden One Center is configured with two 100-gigabit circuits— a huge leap from the Levi’s Stadium in Silicon Valley, which had until recently been considered the most tech-forward stadium, at just 40 GB capacity.
Ensuring everyone can upload real-time pictures and videos is one thing, but there are other ways that stadiums are connecting with guests through technology. The Golden One Center’s app enables guests to find the best parking places, order concessions, and see instant replays and stats. Meanwhile the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium helps fans to manage their fantasy football players on a large video board or play virtual reality games.
And the improved communication networks don’t stop there; new stadiums are also providing better cell phone coverage. The Vikings’ new stadium, for example, has its own neutral distributed antenna system (DAS), so that all major wireless providers can work from every seat.
Stronger technology tools, stronger systems
It’s not just the fans who are benefiting; behind-the-scenes, connected technology is helping facilities managers to run game days more effectively.
“Smart buildings can also improve stadium operations and efficiencies,” Loudermilk explains. “For example, some stadiums are investing in building automation systems that support real time analytics, so facility managers can optimize every device and function, from heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) to the flashing light display that accompanies a home team score.”
Some are investing in renewable technology to improve their carbon footprint, resilience, and operating efficiencies, too. For example, Sacramento’s Golden One Center is the first entirely powered solar arena, sourcing from a mix of rooftop panels a local solar farm.
New tech also has a role to play in boosting merchandise sales. “It’s easier to market to your audience when you can change content in real-time, based on current audience behavior,” says Loudermilk.
Consider the new Dallas Cowboys stadium, for example, where each screen has its own IP address, so that each of the 3,000 massive HDTVs and 240 digital signs can be instantly personalized. Apps can also help connect fans with everything from hot dogs to seating upgrades. For example, the Vikings’ app offers the opportunity to order concessions for express pickup, so that guests can avoid lines.
Future-proofing is a must
While instant social media uploads and immediate access to replay stats may keep today’s fans coming back for more, technology is changing so fast that even the most cutting-edge solutions will soon become obsolete.
“It’s no different for stadiums,” says Loudermilk. “But stadium developers are embracing today’s advantages, while also building flexibility into the strategy for changes to come.”
When it’s all about the game, technology is ultimately proving to be a game-changer for modern stadiums looking to provide a winning experience for fans.