From digital signage, mobile point-of-sale systems and stadium security initiatives, reliable Wi-Fi connectivity is a critical enabler of the venue experience for fans, teams and operators alike. However, meeting modern day digital expectations is no small feat. The sheer size of these environments, the drastic shift in environment utilization and unpredictable external factors — think inclement weather or construction projects — all create unique challenges for venue managers.
At the same time, stadiums face another significant challenge: the couch. Operators need to find innovative ways to compete with the comforts and convenience of the at-home viewing experience. In order for sports organizations and entertainment venues to remain relevant and competitive, they’ll need to invest in IoT and supporting network technology to attract and engage fans.
Ticketing migrates to mobile
Like many modern businesses, stadiums and public venues’ day-to-day operations will increasingly become more digital and automated with IoT technology. From NFL and MLS stadiums to concert venues and theaters, many organizations around the world have already adopted mobile ticketing. In fact, some speculate that Super Bowl LIV might have been the last Super Bowl event with physical tickets. While the mobile ticketing technology itself isn’t new, setting up the proper infrastructure for digital ticket entry can be challenging.
For instance, Zwarte Cross, the largest music and sports festival in the Netherlands, deployed mobile ticketing to streamline the entry of its 220,000 attendees. The massive, 395-acres venue uses 60 different kinds of tickets across 20 different gated entrances. A system outage or latency could have bottlenecked thousands of eager festivalgoers, wreaking havoc on the entire event.
That’s why more and more venues are bolstering their Wi-Fi services near entrances and parking lots so that attendees can easily connect and access their tickets and mobile scanners can function without delay. Mobile ticketing is here to stay and it relies on a secure, dependable network connection to succeed.
VR and AR capabilities expand
Across industries, organizations are starting to offer virtual and augmented reality experiences. Nowhere is there a greater appetite than in sports and entertainment.
Here are a couple of my favorite examples:
- The Buffalo Bills have virtual reality chairs shaped like Bills helmets that guide fans on a journey through the team’s tunnel and locker room.
- On the practice field, teams such as the New England Patriots and the Dallas Cowboys use VR headsets when reviewing game film to give players a more immersive experience.
- The Baltimore Ravens leveraged augmented reality to deliver a digital face-painting experience that integrates with the team’s mobile app. They also used AR to simulate a giant raven flying over M&T Bank Stadium.
Though there are a handful of innovative use cases happening, AR and VR are still a nascent space. Success will require venue managers to do the hard work of planning and laying the right foundation. Seamless network hand-off between cellular and Wi-Fi networks as well as high-performance and low-latency connectivity are table stakes.
When combining these capabilities with real-time application and quality of service monitoring, venue managers can not only ensure the AR and VR experiences are seamless, but they can also identify user behavior in order to unlock new revenue and upsell opportunities such as targeted advertising. In the years to come, I expect more stadiums and venues to jump on board to attract and engage fans and create unique in-stadium experiences that can’t be found from the couch.
Wi-Fi 6 emerges as key IoT enabler
As more mobile and IoT devices flood stadiums, and new high-bandwidth applications such as AR and VR take center stage, there are new demands on the network. Stadiums and public venues experience drastic shifts in bandwidth demands all in a matter of hours. For example, consider the Super Bowl: 26 TB of data was transferred over in-stadium Wi-Fi during the 2020 event. That’s more than double the traffic that was recorded at the 2017 championship game.
Also, stadiums and arenas typically host a cross-section of events, sometimes as many as 200 different events a year including professional sports games, concerts, roadshows and business conferences. Different events call for different Wi-Fi and IoT requirements, so the supporting network must be agile and adaptable for seamless configurability.
Enter the next generation of wireless technology: Wi-Fi 6. Not only does it increase network speed, but it’s highly efficient, offers more bandwidth, enables greater performance and reduces network congestion. Stadiums and venues will adopt Wi-Fi 6 to keep up with consumers’ instant-replay, video streaming, and social media scrolling and posting behaviors.
In fact, stadiums such as Houston’s BBVA Stadium and West Texas A&M University’s Buffalo Stadium already invested in the future of Wi-Fi 6 technology, which delivers up to four times greater network capacity. We expect to see more Wi-Fi 6 deployments — potentially Wi-Fi 6E deployments pending approval from the FCC on new 6Ghz spectrum availability — come online to support the future of next-generation, connected fan experiences.
Attending games, concerts and events is no longer just about the in-person experience. Consumers want to remain in-the-know and connected to the outside world while also having an immersive stadium experience that’s action packed with always-on entertainment. Again, it’s no small feat. IoT technology and a supporting network are two critical ingredients that will motivate fans to ditch the couch and make it to the game.
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