Smart Buildings

4 In-Venue Experiences that Sports Fans Now Expect

Christine Williamson
After months of empty stadiums and ballparks, fans were more than ready to return to the teams they love. Since March 2020, sporting events have progressed in stages: from cancelled games and playing in vacant stadiums to small numbers of fans attending with social distancing in place and now (in some cases) back to full stadiums.


It quickly became clear: People couldn’t wait to return to “normal” and feel the energy of a crowd again. Venues had no problems encouraging fans to return in full force—but what will it take to convince them to keep coming back instead of watching elsewhere?


Spectator expectations have changed— due not only to the pandemic, but also to increased use of technology and the need for constant excitement and interaction. Fans also want to use personal devices at all times to engage inside and outside the stadium.


Based on these changes, we identified four new expectations that spectators have for in-venue experiences.


1. Frictionless, Seamless Encounters from Start to Finish


Although this was a priority before the pandemic, it’s now even more important. Fans don’t want a stressful gameday experience with lots of time spent waiting or standing in lines. They want to get in and join the crowd!


Frictionless, seamless experiences through custom mobile apps can let fans can do just that: everything from purchasing mobile tickets beforehand to finding parking directions and viewing real-time density mapping to see which concession lines are the shortest.


Many professional and collegiate venues are also considering cashless environments where fans either leave cash at home and bring credit/debit cards or digital forms of payment (like the app, for example), or they use reverse ATMs that turn cash into cards to buy food, drinks and merchandise. Some club apps even allow spectators to order food or merchandise without leaving their seats.


These approaches offer perks for owners and spectators. A cashless experience makes it faster and easier to buy things, which increases revenue. It also moves people through lines faster and gets them back to their seats, allowing the venue to sell more in less time.


In addition to boosting sales, mobile apps also allow data capture and analysis to create customized deals and experiences. If a customer repeatedly buys a specific food item, for example, then the app can suggest complementary purchases and personalized offers.


As these frictionless, seamless encounters take hold, they will place more strain on network infrastructure and require more bandwidth. Without a robust network that can support these devices and transactions, mobile apps and cashless environments won’t perform like you need them to, which will negatively impact the rate of fan adoption.


2. The Promise of Safe and Secure Environments


Safety and security have long been important in stadiums and arenas, but the pandemic and recent Astroworld tragedy have shone an even brighter light on what venue operators need to do to keep guests safe.


State-of-the-art access control and security barriers manage ingress and egress. Surveillance cameras monitor for disturbances and crowd density levels. Digital signage must be present to offer real-time information and directions in case of emergencies. And, of utmost importance, a robust first-responder communication system must be able to reach every stakeholder at the event. We have the technology to take security at any type of venue to whole new levels.


For example, biometrics and facial recognition not only offer a contactless way of validating tickets, but also help venues recognize VIPs (season ticket holders, media personnel, important donors, etc.) to create more memorable experiences. The technology can also be used to locate someone who is separated from their party or identify criminals or banned guests who make their way into the venue. New types of video surveillance with built-in AI technology can also help distinguish the presence of weapons to notify emergency personnel.


In addition to physical security, cybersecurity is another important factor to consider. Protecting network infrastructure is just as important as protecting the people inside the venue. By making sure your network is secure, you protect not only your fans’ data, but also against damaging ransomware and breaches that give bad actors access to every system and device that runs on your network.


When it comes to planning for safety and security, it’s also important to remember that stadiums and arenas can be transformed for purposes that span beyond their original purpose. For example, in the future, they may be set up as vaccination sites, voting sites or shelters after a natural disaster. The security technology and network infrastructure in these venues need to be robust enough to support whatever happens inside.


3. Continuous and Uninterrupted Device Connectivity


To give fans what they expect—and to support the systems and devices connecting to stadium networks—applications like Wi-Fi 6E, 5G and CBRS will be necessary. They’re key to bringing technology like virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence to life.


Many stadiums already have distributed antenna systems (DASs) in place to capture signals, but it’s likely that these existing systems will need to be upgraded to support the higher bandwidth, faster speeds and low latency that come along with 5G.


For example: Imagine yourself inside Climate Pledge Arena. On your way to concessions, you walk by a video mirror. You stop and press a button to see an image of yourself wearing a Seattle Kraken jersey, which is available for purchase online or in The Lair team store—and it can be delivered directly to your seat. The mirror shows you exactly how the jersey will fit based on your precise dimensions. This technology already exists—it’s just waiting on 5G to become a day-to-day reality.


4. Elevated In-Venue Content


The team is no longer the biggest draw—the destination of the venue and surrounding district is. The immersive and personalized experiences inside the venue is what will make spectators eager to come back.


Guest expectations are high, especially for the next generation of fans. In-venue production will focus on boosting fan engagement through things like mixed reality and 8K cameras for the highest-quality angles and replays.


Spectators will also expect more customized experiences for the content they interact with. For example: If facial recognition data identifies that more women attend games on weekends, then the venue can target that group accordingly—at the right time—with special deals and messages.


New technology will prevail, supporting everything from chatbots that answer fan questions to digital displays or holograms of your favorite player greeting you once you’re in the stadium—and directing you to where you can find your favorite beverage. Better second-screen experiences will also be important so people inside the stadium can access data and stats about players in real-time. As sports betting increases, so will the demand for specialized secondary productions with advanced stats and zero-latency content.


The Market Leader in Stadiums


Belden is known for connecting fans to stadium experiences—now and in the future. We offer fiber, copper and Digital Electricity™ cabling and connectivity solutions that not only support broadcast and AV applications, but also extend beyond the production control room to bring in-venue technology to life. 


We recently shared our insights with Stadia magazine on the best ways to welcome and excite fans in this new environment. Watch the archived webinar here to find out what our stadiums and venues team anticipates in the future.