‘Smart’ Sports Facilities: The New Breed of Stadiums and Arenas

It was something that was once found only at the upper levels of sports facility construction, but now, the concept of a connected arena is filtering down to the college, high school and even rec levels. And it may just be something builders are starting to be asked about from the ground-up when projects are designed.

At the upper end, cities are competing to keep fans in stadiums (rather than watching from home or a local sports bar), so the pressure is on arenas and franchises to present the next generation of “fan experience.” In other words, mobile fan engagement is big business, and mobile apps, social media, location-based services and promotions are converging to form an entirely new subset of the growing business of sports in the United States.

This phenomenon is leading to rise in ‘smart arenas’ that are being built to accommodate a large number of wi-fi users. For example, when the new Sacramento Kings arena opens next year, it will feature mobile apps that can be used for check-in, to virtually usher fans to their seats, to view and purchase seat upgrade options and even offer information about the shortest bathroom and concession lines. The arena will also offer in-seat wireless charging. NASCAR is planning to go a step further, and offer fans on-board telemetry from the cars streamed directly to fans’ phones. Going forward, fans will see more efforts to blend team or athlete information with sponsored content on their smartphones.

Going forward, professional sports arenas are likely to compete to outdo one another, looking for new applications that will increase fan engagement, maximize sponsorship opportunities and boost revenue. Expect facility designers to start being asked about connectivity on the drawing board, rather than after the fact.

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