Experts agree: when the pandemic is finally over, fans will return to the stadiums as motivated as they were before. Even more motivated, especially at the beginning, if they feel the need to regain their lost leisure time. The experience will not have big changes, but it will develop tendencies that have already been growing before coronavirus. Therefore, stadiums will not radically change. They will only move forward in their transformation.
Cashless and contactless, the two technologies that made COVID-19 prevention measures easier, were already used in stadiums before the pandemic. With the current situation they have only increased, being at the forefront of society and even going ahead of it. Today, access to venues and the purchase of tickets are almost fully digitalized, at least in some of the biggest clubs. Although it is a matter of time every single stadium, regardless of its category, does the same.
This implementation gives much more importance to Big Data, which was not given a high value. Since now, acting on the stadium management means acting on the fan base. However, the last step to take full advantage of this data is missing: use the data for the venue experience.
Technological advance in stadiums continues to be focused on operations, we need to extend it to the user experience. The stadium app, which is present in 100% of premier division clubs, has just a few personalized commercial promotions or directed pop-ups. On match day is virtually not used. Besides, it is far from the functions of apps thought to share information like the social network ones.
This happens because fan digitalization is still low, even though trends in society and the market are making it bigger. The main reason for low implantation is still connectivity. We are not at the point at which every stadium has venues to make this digitalization possible. Now that clubs have lost an important part of their income due to COVID-19, this item is not among the first investment options. 5G will take long.
We are naturally talking about a European scene. Europe is far behind the USA with venues like Hard Rock in Miami or Allegiant in Las Vegas, where 5G technology is integrated to the fullest of its capacity. This is the foreseeable future for every venue in Europe.
It is calculated that clubs lost 30% of their income, affecting their revenue model. This means losses are even higher and it is predictable that it will take a couple of years until going back to normal. So, will there be investments in stadiums infrastructure in this situation? For the moment, yes. To the extent that money distribution in the leagues forces to allocate funds to these expenses. From here and as the financial conditions improve, even more.
A well-developed awareness in every club already exists, and their stadiums are not only relevant every fifteen days with the match, but they build their brand every single day of the year. Also, the idea of growing the time spent in the stadium has spread, but above all its quality. When staggering access, more fans wait longer in the venue, and they must do something exciting. The quality of that offer and, therefore, the quality perceived in the experience will directly depend on how much is invested to upgrade it.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
The spectacular presentation in the debut of Carolina Panthers in the new 2021 NFL season is just a preview of the boom that augmented and virtual reality will experience. Something very similar was made in UNO Jorge Luis Hirschi stadium in Argentina in 2019, and in both cases, it completely changed the audience experience. As internet infrastructure upgrades in the venues, these technologies will become more common. Basically, because the new generations demand them, and if they are not present in the stadiums, they will simply be empty.
These two examples are also an example of how a stadium can turn into something amazing. The presence of virtual animals in the retransmission and on the social networks depicts a brand and club image that is better than anything seen before.
It is true that there is no company that applies this technology to football. Or maybe there is already a startup devoting its energy to make this product possible. When this happens, the experience in stadiums will radically change. Since it will make it possible to show players in the official store using holograms to greet people.
Besides, one of the biggest challenges that stadiums face is couch technology. Everything the audience already has or can have at home should be upgraded live.
Holographic stadiums will be the last big step. When the quality of holograms reaches its peak, big clubs would be able to replicate their stadiums in all the cities capable of generating great amounts of fans. A second Anfield, San Siro, Bernabéu, Camp Nou or Amsterdam Arena, to name the biggest, will be profitable with a capacity for 90,000 spectators in Beijing or New Delhi. The experience will be identical to the one in the original stadium, with physical players as well as revenue generation. Fans in these cities would go because their experience would be real, even though generated by holograms.
It is already being done at a minor scale with interviews and movie premiers. It will be, of course, a huge enterprise with high investment. But if we think about it carefully, the biggest contribution of technology is that it does not limit the future of stadiums.