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This article was written by Laurence Norman, VP Sports Technology at NTT DATA UK.

Throughout the pandemic, rapid technology innovations across all sectors enabled society to continue functioning. But unfortunately, many industries had to close in a bid to combat the virus. The sporting industry, along with other live events and entertainment, suffered greatly.

However, with a return to full capacity events in the UK and partial capacity across other European countries, the exhilaration, passion, and thrill of live sporting events has returned. Once again, technology has enabled this, and it’ll be vital in ensuring this continues over the months ahead, particularly as we head back into the colder seasons.

From data analytics to distributed antenna systems, different technologies have helped stadiums return to full capacity. In addition to providing vital protection against the spread of coronavirus, they’re also enabling venues to become more profitable and improve the fan experience.

Serving COVID-19 a red card

When coronavirus emerged at the start of 2020, governments had the difficult choice of temporarily halting stadium events in order to slow down the spread of the disease and protect the public. However, as the pandemic showed no signs of slowing down, large-scale sporting events remained closed for several months. With visits dropping from tens of thousands to zero overnight, stadiums lost their main source of income.

Although the pandemic has had a devastating impact on these venues, they have been able to gradually reopen with the easing of lockdown restrictions and solve many of the different challenges of the pandemic by adopting innovative new technologies, which are now propelling them into the future.

Before the pandemic, sporting fans would need to show a physical ticket to someone at the entrance of the stadium. Now, using a combination of digital tickets, facial recognition technology, health status information, and barcode scanning hardware installed at point-of-entry, fans can easily verify their identity, complete key health and safety checks before leaving their home, prove their COVID-19 status, and safely check into sporting venues without the need to come into contact with stadium staff. This process is more efficient for fans and helps stadiums to ensure a safe and secure environment for everyone.

Another technology that is reducing human contact across stadiums, while providing key information to fans, is indoor navigation. Tracking technologies can direct fans to key points of interest around the stadium, such as entrances, exits, seating, toilets, and food stands, so they don’t get lost and make unnecessary contact with others by asking for directions. In a post-Covid world this improves the fan experience, ensuring they enter the stadium at the best place, experience an efficient exit, and are able to quickly and easily find the right — and closest — facilities when in the stadium.

Additionally, data about fans’ movement in the stadium and the people around them ensures contact tracing initiatives are a success. When stadiums use these solutions, they can help control the spread of the virus, protect fans, and avoid the need to reduce capacity or close again.

Back of the net for businesses

Since the start of the pandemic, stadiums have utilized a range of technologies to help fight COVID-19, keep fans safe, and ultimately remain open. But something to remember is that technology is incredibly versatile and can provide stadiums with huge benefits long after the pandemic has come to an end.

Leveraging tracking technology and data analytics, stadiums are able to radically transform how they manage staff, control stock levels, and manage crowds and on-site facilities. By analyzing data that gives key insights into these areas, stadiums can boost efficiencies, reduce operational costs, increase sales, and find other areas for improvement across the entire venue.

Stadiums are also increasingly investing in the latest Wi-Fi technologies and distributed antenna systems to improve on-site connectivity. This allows spectators to follow the game right across the stadium and enables dispersed employees to communicate with each other more effectively. At the same time, stadiums can provide new capabilities such as digital ticketing and e-commerce opportunities through better connectivity.

However, technology doesn’t just offer operations and sales benefits. With the latest advances in infrastructure, advanced analytics, robotics and artificial intelligence, stadiums can also make more informed decisions when it comes to creating sporting strategies and tactics.

Scoring on fan engagement

One of the biggest areas stadiums can transform through the use of technology and analytics, is fan engagement. For example, personalized feeds that provide real-time updates on games, teams and athletes are a great way to improve interaction with fans from all over the world.

These systems can analyze various data points, including player metrics, rankings and averages, and turn them into interactive infographics that can be accessed via mobile devices. That way, fans can experience the insights provided when watching at home when at an in-person event and can also follow games they aren’t able to attend in person more closely, while benefiting from a uniquely personalized experience.

Mobile personal news feeds are also great for spectators who have travelled to a stadium to watch a game but are sitting far away from the sporting action or decide to take a toilet or refreshment break while the game is still taking place. And, of course, stadiums can show key sporting metrics on large displays for everyone in the stadium to see.

The reality is that fan engagement technology is currently scratching the surface. Over the next few years, advanced technologies like holograms, AI and drones will help to create an even more immersive experience for sports fans. One day, fans will be in the comfort of their own home and feel like they are watching a game live at a stadium as a result of new sporting technology.

It’s fair to say coronavirus has been an extremely challenging time for the sporting sector, particularly stadiums and other venues that cater to large crowds of spectators. But what’s certain is that technology has provided a lifeline to stadiums during this tough time and will continue to play a vital role across the industry into the future.

Laurence has been a technology leader both in consulting and industry for more than 25 years. In the last 3 years he has focused on using unique technologies from NTT DATA to elevate the fan experience at key sports properties (linked to sponsorships) and to showcase NTT as a trusted global innovator

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