Technology is changing the way we experience live sports events.
Today’s tech-savvy fans expect to have uninterrupted connectivity throughout a sports venue, allowing them to post on social media and get instant access to game stats. However, when the Wi-Fi and cellular service gets overwhelmed at stadiums, it negatively impacts the fan experience.
By integrating the right systems to support your venue’s operations and the technology used by game attendees, you can ensure a smooth and immersive fan experience and avoid disruption of in-house operations. In this article, we explore the concept of digital integration in sports venues, its importance, factors to consider, and when owners and operators should start having conversations with their stadium builder.
What Is ‘Digital Integration?’
Digital integration refers to the combination of structured cabling, Wi-Fi, Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), video, and other technologies used to enable connectivity and enhance the overall fan experience. Everything in a venue—ticketing, point of sale, concessions, merchandise sales, security, and even life safety and emergency communications—utilizes these systems and equipment to operate reliably.
With 60,000 to 70,000 fans plus concessionaires, merchants, and in-house teams all using technology at the same time, these systems can get congested fast. Let’s break things down to discuss the considerations in planning successful digital integration and connectivity throughout your venue.
The Fan Experience Begins at the Gate
Just that first step of getting in the venue can be impacted by right-sizing your venue’s technology—for that reason, you need reliable wireless network connectivity both inside and outside of your venue.
“You want fans to feel immersed in the sports experience the moment they start walking towards your venue,” says Steve Edwards, a market executive specializing in digital integration. “It creates a bad experience when someone is standing there frustrated, waiting for their ticket to load as they watch other people walk through the gate.”
Venues can prevent these issues by having dedicated DAS networks and Wi-Fi systems with the bandwidth to support dozens of digital ticket scanning devices and tens of thousands of attendees simultaneously pulling up tickets on their stadium app.
Steve adds, “Once they’re through the gate, you also have to think about everyone using social media. Fans want to share their experience by sending that first picture or livestream inside the venue saying, ‘Look where I am!’ Having a reliable network is the only way to make sure fans can stay connected.”
Digital Connectivity and the In-game Experience
Social media reflects just a small part of game-day technology. The systems used by operations teams, concessionaires, and retailers contribute to the overall fan experience.
“Think about the systems and digital signage in concession stands,” says Mike O’Rourke, technology executive specializing in sports facility construction. “Vendors need to process payments quickly and update menu boards in real-time. Venues also have TV displays throughout the stadium for fans to watch the game while they wait in line for a hot dog. All of those things require having the right systems in place to support that activity without disruption.”
The in-seat experience is important, too. Game attendees can use apps to locate restaurants, bars, restrooms, and other amenities without leaving their seats. Some venues even provide a service where people can order from their phones and have food and beverages delivered right to their seats. And, of course, there are mobile apps that create an alternative reality experience for checking player and team stats.
Jason Jennings, vice president and general manager, explains that “Teams are always investing in the latest technology to help improve the fan experience, but your stadium can’t support that technology unless you invest in a great DAS and Wi-Fi system.” These systems are the foundations for you to experiment with new technology and continue elevating the fan experience.”
Steve adds, “To put things into perspective, at the Super Bowl last year in Arizona, Verizon customers used 47 terabytes (TB) of data and AT&T data was around 21 TB. Together that would be equivalent to 45 million social media posts. It is crazy how data usage is growing and what an amazing job the team owners, venue operators, and carriers are doing to keep up with it.”
Want to learn more about keeping sports fans connected? Check out this podcast episode!
Emergency and Public Safety System Connectivity
While fun and fan experience are important, so is keeping everyone in a venue safe. Seamless communication channels enable quick response times by safety personnel, effective crowd management, and efficient emergency protocols. By integrating the right safety and medical communication system support, sports venues can prioritize the well-being of spectators and athletes.
“Technology completely changed emergency communications,” says Mike. “We’ve moved beyond just ribbon boards and audio announcements to include digital emergency communications. These systems are critical not only for fan safety but dispatching fire, police, or medical emergency response teams, both in and outside of the venue. You need connectivity that works well whether someone is on the field or deep in the bowels of the building.”
Why Stadium Technology Discussions Should Start in the Design Stage
Imagine designing an iconic stadium, only to have the interior aesthetic ruined by wires and antenna boxes. That’s the risk you run when you implement integrations like Wi-Fi and DAS too late in the game.
“Many people don’t think about Wi-Fi and DAS systems until after the venue is built,” says Erik Johannes, business development executive. “Then they’re ripping out brand-new walls to install the systems, or hastily attaching the equipment under seats or any other place it will fit.”
“People often make the mistake of thinking everything in these systems is wireless,” adds Jason. “However, there’s a lot happening behind the scenes to make that make digital connections possible. Wires, cables, conduit, pathways, antennas, computers…all of it needs to be mapped out early to ensure the equipment fits seamlessly into your design.”
So, how do approach digital connectivity as part of the design and sports facility construction process?
- Engage an integration team before you start designing the venue. Together with your design team, they can determine the type and amount of technology equipment needed and how to make it all work with your building design while maintaining the best possible aesthetics.
- Focus on the envisioned fan experience first and work backward to technology. Technology is constantly evolving, and you don’t need to have your equipment selected before you start planning for DAS and Wi-Fi connectivity. An experienced team can build future-ready systems capable of supporting stadium technology that doesn’t even exist yet.
- Talk to concessionaire partners about their digital connectivity needs the moment you sign them on. Ask about their vendors and the technology they plan to use, so you have the systems in place to support it.
Stadium construction and development are enormously complex, and you want everything to run smoothly for fans and in-house operations. Stay ahead of the game by thinking about digital integration early and working with a team well-versed in stadium technology planning. At Mortenson, our mobile network and communications experts get involved from the beginning to help owners and operators make the right technology choices for an elevated fan experience.