In-Stadium Existing & Emerging Tech for ’18 NFL Season

Ryan Hall Published 11 Oct 2018

In sports venues, innovative technologies are delivering seamless, personalized experiences to their fans, offering more convenience and value than ever before.  Technology is also optimizing in-venue operations and assets that enable event management staff and resources.  Digital transformation is undoubtedly impacting sports; the National Football League is no exception, and the beginning of the ’18 NFL season brings to light some fascinating ways NFL clubs plan to leverage emerging technologies.

With this in mind, let’s explore some of the in-stadium technology trends and individual team use cases being rolled out this season.     

Meeting Fan Expectations  

Whether it’s the rising cost (tickets, food/beverage, gas/parking) of attending live sporting events, the creature comforts enjoyed from the couch, or the evolution of the ‘at-home’ viewing experience, teams are facing the increasing challenge of attracting fans to the stadium.  To address this challenge, NFL teams are investing in technologies to meet, and in some cases surpass, commonly-held fan expectations today.

Like many public spaces today, upon entering a sports venue fans expect access to reliable Wi-Fi.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise with the extent we use and rely on mobile devices today. The NFL identified Wi-Fi as a priority several years ago, investing heavily to deploy in-stadium network solutions.  The results speak for themselves, as Wi-Fi usage and satisfaction is on the rise across NFL stadiums season to season and with an average of over 28,000 unique fans using Wi-Fi at NFL games during the ‘17 NFL season.  These metrics and the trajectory of in-stadium Wi-Fi usage underscores what many NFL teams already believe: fan-facing Wi-Fi is the cost of doing business in today’s mobile-centric culture.

Increasing Convenience and Minimizing Friction  

Beyond Wi-Fi connectivity, there are other League-wide trends and technologies meant to streamline and add value to the game day experience for NFL fans.  At the forefront is mobile ticketing, as this is the first NFL season where all NFL stadiums will have a fully operational digital ticketing system, an extension of an expanded partnership between Ticketmaster and the NFL.  Mobile ticketing helps fans avoid the risk of fraud associated with paper tickets and brings another level of convenience when attending an NFL game; for teams, digital ticketing helps complete the full picture of fans attending their games, opening up creative opportunities for teams to connect with their fans in more personalized and contextual ways. 

Mobile ticketing isn’t the only technology that increases convenience and eliminates friction in-stadium, some teams are piloting wayfinding solutions to recommend fans with the best walking route from parking lot to seat, while other teams are experimenting with in-seat ordering and delivery in select spaces.  On a related note, the Seattle Seahawks are piloting a biometric screening solution in select areas of CenturyLink Field this season. The technology allows fans to enter the stadium and even purchase alcoholic beverages simply by scanning a finger; biometric profiles can be built via kiosks placed around the stadium.         

Delivering Differentiated Experiences

The goal of in-stadium technologies isn’t solely geared toward increasing convenience, NFL teams also seek to deliver memorable and differentiated experiences to create meaningful connections between the brand and its fan base.  This isn’t limited to fans, either: as marketers demand more from their sports partnerships and sponsorships, businesses are shifting their traditional approach surrounding to sponsorship investments to more creative content, campaigns, and activations that resonate and are more memorable with fans.

One way to provide these experiences is through emerging technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality.  NFL teams are already employing AR/VR solutions to support training and coaching practices, like placing NFL rookies in front of ‘virtual reporters’ to practice fielding post-game questions, reviewing enhanced game tape that features augmented reality, or helping quarterbacks learn and practice their playbooks on a virtual field.  AR and VR extends into the stands as well.  Some teams are creating virtual tours of their respective stadiums for fans to enjoy through VR headsets, while teams like the Minnesota Vikings have integrated AR into their team-specific apps, bringing to life the players in their team yearbooks.  The AR/VR in sports stadiums is still a nascent market with a number of potential applications, but it’s clear that teams recognize the opportunity with a number of clubs forming multi-year partnerships with AR/VR providers, the Jacksonville Jaguars being one of them.               

Game Day Operations and Security

In-stadium technologies do not exclusively deliver enhanced experiences and improved convenience to fans, they also help support the very important task of enabling game operations and ensuring a secure, smooth event.  Wired and wireless connectivity in NFL stadiums maintain and enable critical assets powering game day operations and assets. 

In addition to digital ticketing mentioned above, networking solutions and IoT also power point-of-sale (POS) devices, heating and cooling systems, in-stadium digital signage, IPTV, and video surveillance technologies to manage, automate and gather real-time analytics across a broad collection of business functions such as hospitality, concessions, retail, operational systems, and other third party groups.  Emerging technologies are also supported by the network, like facial recognition systems, which are being widely implemented across sports leagues (including the NFL) to improve security measures, but also learn more about the demographics of their fan base.       

This evolution of the ‘smart stadium’ will only continue across the NFL and other major sport leagues; technology enhancements in sports venues also provides a viable test environment for broader applications, like smart cities.            

Looking Ahead at What’s Next

It’s difficult to truly predict the new, innovative ways technology will support and enhance the game day experience in NFL stadiums, but one developing area to certainly keep an eye on is sports gambling, which the U.S. Supreme Court recently rule was not unconstitutional, allowing individual states to determine its legalization and adoption.  This obviously has ramifications outside NFL stadiums, but what about inside? In-stadium, in-play sports betting is one area that could offer huge opportunities for NFL teams, their fans, and of course – their partners.

In-play betting allows fans to place wagers on games and in-game aspects as the action unfolds in real-time (also known as prop betting).  Fantasy football is already a massive market; it’s also a catalyst for NFL engagement and viewership, so one could imagine the impact in-play gambling could have on the League.  Popular fantasy outlets FanDuel and DraftKings clearly recognize the opportunity, as both platforms have developed and rolled out iterations of sportsbook applications, allows fans to place legal bets on NFL games.  On the topic of in-stadium preparedness and enablement, in order to take full advantage of sports gambling NFL teams need to ensure their venues have the necessary technologies; an NFL team certainly wouldn’t want poor Wi-Fi to stop a fan from placing a bet. 

To learn more about in-venue technologies, specifically networking solutions, be sure to visit our Sports & Public Venues landing page.        

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