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Tech in sports stadia – live sport, and beyond

The limited match day use of stadia for sports is almost now long gone, a part of history. The inventive use of sports stadia for a wide variety of experiences and events beyond the match itself is now regarded as being an essential element of the business case when deciding on and designing a new stadium. It means enhancing the user experience, leveraging sponsorship opportunities, offering new forms of interaction with users and new uses for the stadia itself. Under-pinning much of this is the use of technology.

April 2018


A new stadium needs to engage with the immediate fan base and have appeal to the wider audience – to allow both commercial companies and spectators and users of stadium space to understand that a new stadium will bring about as many successful events and memories as the previous stadium.

Whilst the number of seats, the circulation space, the bars and restaurants and parking spaces are all essential parts of the design of a new scheme, the developer and the club/occupier need also to understand the broadcasting and interactive technology, media, ecommerce and internet activity and playing rights, together with sponsorship, merchandising, endorsement, brand management, ambush marketing, player image rights and representation that will all go into the match day and non-match day activities. With that in mind, the developer and club/occupier will need to consider the following sorts of agreements and issues.

Technology and communications agreement

Fans and stadium users are increasingly expecting better connectivity at grounds, as well as the opportunity to engage with their clubs, vendors and one another via technology. Realising the potential to drive revenue and to build stronger relationships with their fans and stadium users, it is no surprise that it is also a priority for stadium developers and clubs/occupiers.

However, UK clubs have been considerably slower to recognise (or, at least, deliver) the potential of in-stadia technology than their USA counter-parts. For example, it was not until 2014 that a Premier League club, Manchester City, was able to offer free Wi-Fi throughout its stadium. Wembley stadium followed in 2015 with a roll out of 4G+. Whilst other UK clubs have followed, take-up and success has not been uniform. Nonetheless, with 5G on the horizon – it already having been deployed commercially at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea – as well as the option of stadium beacons, it is surely only a matter of time before UK stadia catch-up with their US counter-parts.

Doing so will drive new forms of interaction and new revenue streams for clubs. One way in which this will be achieved is through cutting-edge apps. To date, sports apps have tended to focus on news, analysis, statistics, stadium facilities and other relatively straight-forward forms of fan engagement such as photo and video sharing. The Wembley Stadium app, for example, provides the latest ticket and event information, the view from each seat, an interactive stadium map and journey planner. However, going forward, the potential for apps to enhance the user experience are multi-fold, with the possibility of access to instant replays and live feeds from multiple camera angles around the ground. Some have even suggested the use of chest cameras on players to give users a first person experience of the match. There is also obvious potential for the use of augmented and virtual reality, both for those in the stadia and those at home. For example, technology to allow those at home to experience the match as though they are in the stadium itself or to experience the play as a 3D hologram is already being trialled.

Add in the use of technology in other areas of stadia, for example, to facilitate self-service kiosks, HDTV concourse systems and paperless tickets, and the fans of tomorrow will be consuming sport and content like never before.

Ensuring that stadia are prepared for these technological advances is crucial. It results in the need for a range of technologies and capabilities, from significant WiFi capacity and investment in hardware at the stadium through to data processing, hosting, payment processing and application development capabilities. There will be significant advantages in appointing a single provider to deliver and integrate the entire solution, rather than contracting with multiple suppliers of the technology involved. Even then, the significant financial investment involved is likely to be a limiting factor for all but the richest of clubs. Add in the fact that many clubs are bound by reasonably lengthy digital rights agreements that limit their ability to monetise content across digital platforms and we might still be waiting some time for UK stadia to realise the full potential afforded by technology.

Naming rights

In the last 10 or so years, there has been increasing acceptance of commercial sponsorships of sports stadia. For sponsors, it gives increased brand awareness, particularly if they wish to establish themselves in the market or challenge more established competitors, as well as the opportunity to project a community-minded image. For clubs, it gives significant revenue, in some cases helping to fund the building of new stadia.

Significant thought needs to be given to the structure of a competitive bidding process between potential sponsors and the commercial terms and benefits which would be offered in return for a sponsorship agreement. Those terms need to reflect the worth of the stadium, the team, the TV rights, what exposure is being offered and whether or not the sponsorship is purely financial or involves the provision of goods and services by the sponsor as well.

Increasingly, it is common for sponsorship agreements to include retail opportunities at the stadium and access to data (for marketing purposes) for the sponsor. These sorts of agreements therefore raise numerous legal issues from rights protection through to reputation management and data protection.

Betting agreements

The agreement would need to relate to the appointment of an official betting partner of the stadium that would cover a number of areas including betting kiosks present at the stadium together with the promotion inventory – perimeter of the pitch, even the stadia itself and wider advertisements, joint promotional activities, social media campaigns and obligations to involve players in promotional activities.

Increasingly, offerings not only involve in-stadia betting but also hardware and software solutions for betting and sponsorship activation. In recent years, we have also seen increasing use of partnerships in the betting sphere, with companies such as BD Stadia handling in-stadia stores, staff, logistics and marketing, giving their partners, such as William Hill, an easier way to access customers.

Stadium use agreements

The 'original' use will be for the sport itself. Moving beyond that and thinking about non-match days and the summer months, there is a need for the stadium to have built into it the ability to accommodate music and other events, with the the real future being the ability to host such things as live gaming and esports events with the necessary IT, WiFi and AV kit that can allow gaming to occur on large screens to a packed out stadium.

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Tech in sports stadia – live sport, and beyond
Al Watson

Al draws on the firm's experience of stadia development and in the wider sports industry to look at the increasing use of Tech in sports stadia.

"The limited match day use of stadia for sports is almost now long gone, a part of history. The inventive use of sports stadia... is now regarded as being an essential element of the business case when deciding on and designing a new stadium."