5 Ways to Reshape the Arena, Ballpark and Stadium Experience

Christine Williamson


From small-town Little Leagues to professionals at the height of their game, COVID-19 has impacted every corner of the sports and entertainment industry. Athletes, coaches, venue event staff, television contracts, freelance broadcast crews, fans: Everyone and everything has been affected. And we’re all trying to find new ways to ensure safety, health and well-being as we look for ways to gather together again in these venues.


Flexible and scalable network infrastructure will be vital to navigating the road back to safe re-entry. It will accommodate emerging technologies while helping venues prepare to pivot beyond sports and entertainment into voting/polling locations, surge hospitals, vaccination sites and disaster recovery sites, to name just a few.


While some fans will race back to see the teams they love in person, it may take more of an immersive experience to convince others.


Upgrading your infrastructure to support emerging technologies will play an important role in safely bringing guests back to sports and entertainment venues …


1. New Digital Reality: Immersive Media


5G technology will be vital in re-engaging guests to deliver an upgraded, safe experience while also capturing the attention of new generations of fans. For the experience to be worth it, Gen Z and Gen Alpha will need the ability to immerse themselves in a digital reality. Virtual, augmented and mixed reality with real-time edge computing that you can only experience inside the venue will be key to attracting them and keeping them loyal to your brand.


5G technology will play a crucial role in these experiences by allowing mobile networks to operate on a wide variety of frequencies and guaranteeing much lower latency than its predecessors (one millisecond or less), making it an ideal way to support IoT device sensors that gather and report real-time feedback.


2. Wireless Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6 & Wi-Fi 6E


The multiple devices fans bring into stadiums or arenas require constant connectivity and fast network speeds—and everyone expects to use their devices to share and connect with people inside and outside the venue.


In the future, the entire fan experience will be managed from personal devices. Mobile tickets; cashless, grab-and-go concessions; mobile betting; precise wayfinding; parking info; real-time data on restroom lines; ingress and egress points—all of these features will likely be found within the venue’s custom app.


On the horizon is Wi-Fi 6E, which allows us to use the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi. Previously, 6 GHz wasn’t allocated for unlicensed Wi-Fi use. Wi-Fi 6E devices operating in the 6 GHz band will gain access to four times more bandwidth than offered by Wi-Fi in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. In dense environments like stadiums, fans will be able to easily use apps, live stream and communicate with people inside and outside the venue without delays or dropped connections.


3. Enhanced Performance: CBRS Networks


Sometimes referred to as Private LTE, CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) is an in-building wireless technology that operates on a shared spectrum in the 3.5 GHz range, which, up until recently, was dedicated to the U.S. Navy.


Back-of-house operations (food and beverage, ticketing, retail cameras and other latency-sensitive applications) are being targeted as first adopters of CBRS. It will allow venues to make faster, smarter business decisions using real-time data traffic analysis.


4. Connected Experiences: IP Migration


IP is emerging as an efficient way to transport video; it supports more video feeds, camera types and camera angles. Broadcast control rooms are starting to look more like data centers, featuring rows of cabinets that house IP-connected servers instead of traditional master control operations and task-specific hardware.


It also supports remote production to reduce crew and equipment resources onsite—a necessary change due to COVID-19. When cameras can be plugged into a stadium’s network, video feeds can be carried via IP to production hubs instead of everyone and everything needing to be on location.


5. Safety & Wellbeing: Security Increases


Significant investments and carefully thought-out plans are necessary to balance safety and security with comfort and ease. The touchless experience plays a big part: The fan’s identity (whether that be through a device or facial recognition) serves as their ticket, credit card, wayfinding and security. Identity is what will grant access to specific experiences.


We know there will be unforeseen challenges at every turn … but facing them will be easier if we know we get to experience the electric, unifying atmosphere of a playoff or championship game—or your favorite band live on stage.