A New Paradigm for Sports Venues: Technology
03.20.2012
Jonathan Emmett in Los Angeles, Sports, Sports Venues New Paradigm

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This is the fourth article in a five part series. Read the Full Report.

We’ve gotten used to anytime-anywhere access to information, and for better or worse, nearly constant communication. We’ve hit the point where we get upset or frustrated when that connectivity is interrupted. The expectations are no different in a sports venue, in fact, they’re probably even greater. After all, when we’re watching a game at home, we’re accustomed to a plethora of data that support the game—instant stats, constant commentary, interaction with other fans, and the opportunity to follow along with our own devices. Sports fans look for a similarly immersive experience when they’re at the game in-person; and with thoughtful strategy and design, technology—our third new paradigm for sports venues—presents the opportunity for our human senses to step forward, while the technology itself recedes. The goal is to connect, facilitate, and streamline—to engage and entertain—not overwhelm. Make it easy to connect, not more difficult.

When we surveyed fans last year, we asked about ways they are plugged in. The numbers are not surprising—I imagine you’d answer the same way: 89 percent of our survey respondents use Facebook, 86 percent own high-definition televisions, and 85 percent use a web-enabled smartphone. Now compare these numbers to the responses we got to our question about the ways they’ve used their mobile phones at an event in a sports venue:

We’re using our mobile phones for all of these tasks outside of the venue, so why can’t we use them for these tasks inside the venue too? If you miss the chance to connect on the channels that consumers are increasingly choosing for personal communications and transactions, it’s likely your fans are going to stay home with all of those high-def TVs.

Relatively few venues have attempted, much less achieved, seamless integration. I think this is a huge missed opportunity. The sports industry lags others in implementation, though the technology is readily available. Consider the Yinzcam app, launched at the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium in 2010 and now offered in numerous venues, Yinzcam allows fans to watch instant replays, download stats, listen to game broadcasts, and chat on social media from their seats using their own mobile phones or tablets. Other mobile apps, like MLB’s At the Ballpark, allow fans to order concessions directly from their seats. And in the concourses, traditionally static elements like Hall of Fame walls can now enrich the fan’s experience through layers of interaction using a combination of touch-screen technology and mobile applications—such as the installation created for the Montreal Canadiens by Moment Factory—the multimedia designers behind Madonna’s recent Super Bowl halftime show.

It’s a legitimate argument that, on its own, technology poses a risk of oversaturation and overstimulation. Shervin Mirhashemi, AEG’s chief operative officer, reminded us in an interview for Dialogue that “you want fans to experience technology in a way that enhances what’s happening on field but doesn’t dominate it.”

The Miami Dolphins and IBM recently announced an innovative high-tech partnership at Sun Life Stadium, which is now poised to become one of the most advanced sports venues in North America. What’s so smart about this new partnership is the focus on technology’s ability to enhance, even to ease the fan’s experience with tools that monitor incoming roads, parking lots and turnstiles in order to keep traffic flowing, just to name a few. What’s equally smart is that the Dolphins have partnered with an industry expert who can navigate the technology for them. The operations staff at Sun Life Stadium no doubt needs to understand what the technology is doing, but they can leave the details of how it’s being done to IBM. The Dolphins and Sun Life Stadium benefit from an infrastructure that empowers them to create an unparalleled experience for event attendees and corporate sponsors, not to mention the fact that the implementation costs are (presumably) subsidized through a barter-style partnership with IBM. IBM benefits from the relative blank-slate of Sun Life Stadium where they can test their newest, most innovative processes, and affirm their position as the leader in smart technologies—creating systems they’ll no doubt be hired to implement in any number of applications. And because the two parties are going down the path together, they’re both invested in doing it right and delivering value to the end-users, who ultimately benefit most through an improved game day experience that’s customized for their unique, individual needs. As a designer and a sports fan, I look forward to the day (soon!) when this type of experience is no longer considered special, but is standard.

Click here to download a summary of our research on sports venues’ new paradigm.

Jonathan Emmett
Jonathan Emmett co-leads Gensler’s sports practice, and is an associate in the firm’s Los Angeles office. Jonathan has dedicated his career to the design of sports and entertainment venues and districts, combining his extensive technical knowledge of sports venues with his passion for great design in order to create exceptional experiences for sports fans, teams and partners. Contact him at jonathan_emmett@gensler.com.
Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
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