Podcast: How can we add tech to stadiums without losing sight of the sport?
Sport faces a difficult battle in the modern world. Most sports date from a pre digital technology era, but they are also striving to be as compatible as possible with how people choose to spend their time these days.
But how far can that realistically go when it comes to attracting fans to stadiums?
Last week’s Digital Sport Insider podcast saw Dan McLaren sit down with Chris DeVolder, Managing Principal of architecture firm HOK’s Sports + Recreation + Entertainment practice at this year’s Sports Tech Awards. Talking stadium tech and the need to give fans an experience they can’t replicate at home, the two also talked about the dangers of going too far with the integration of technology: as much as we may like to encourage the use of phones for social media and other uses (like club apps, food and beverage ordering or even stadium-integrated augmented reality apps), we also certainly don’t want the game to be of secondary importance to tens of thousands of fans who are more interested in the trimmings than they are in the sport.
Why build in WiFi and these other gimmicks when you’re taking away from the on-pitch action?
“One of the things we’ve found, especially with the younger generation, is that they’ll pay attention to the game that’s happening on the pitch, but they want to be able to tweet that that’s what they’re doing and collectively share that experience,” said DeVolder.
Creating new apps, then, can become gimmicky, especially when all people want to do is pay attention to the sport but maybe Instagram it, too. Despite that being a distraction from the game in some sense, it’s still just a minimal use of technology compared to some of the particularly engagement-focused uses of digital that are often talked about.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t great possibilities for stadium apps.
“On matchday, let’s say I wake up and I get a message saying ‘good morning Mr DeVolder, we’re looking forward to seeing you this afternoon’, and you really reach out beyond the stadium and engage the fan literally from when they wake up to when they go to bed, so it’s a day-long experience.”
There is clearly a journey to find the sweet spot for sport. To what extent can the stadium experience become a digital one without compromising interest and focus on the actual sport taking place below – which is the whole point of going in the first place.
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