The Future of Sports: Bridging the Gap between Virtual and Physical
Technology advances fast. In just five years, the way people watch sports at home and in-person will be noticeably different from how it’s currently experienced. Whether it’s the camera quality and angles seen on TV or the amount and variety of fan amenities in a stadium, both spectatorship and venue design are ever-changing.
Looking at current technology advancements and changes in the social landscape, we can predict some of the advancements that will take our pastimes into the future and how stadiums and events are going to evolve. Below are a few of the technologies to watch for, and how we expect they’ll elevate the future fan experience:
Wearable, data-recoding technology brings fans and athletes closer together. The heart-rate monitoring systems similar to what can be purchased at major retail stores could close the gap in translating game situation intensity to the spectator. Stadium seats equipped with monitors can pick up the heartbeat of a player and pulse to the rhythm of them preparing to take a penalty kick, or setting up for a 4th and goal push. Picture the video board showing the amount of force delivered by NFL linemen pushing against each other, or the real-time acceleration of an outfielder in pursuit to catch a hard hit.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
While seating bowl design does the best possible job of involving the fan in the game, virtual reality has the potential to overlay the spectator’s eyes onto those of the players on the field. The emergence of 3D binaural microphones combined with player-worn smart technology can elevate the virtual experience by bringing players’ physical sensations to the fan. Imagine taking a few swings at pitches from one of the league’s top pitchers, or trying to stop a puck in an overtime shootout without having to come near the field or rink.
Aside from full-headset virtual reality experiences, the potential for augmented reality is also expanding. Apps can now utilize software to enable fans to see 360-degree views from previously unavailable vantage points and experience conceptual places. This is also helpful for architects to showcase design concepts, allowing clients to visualize a space by being a part of it rather than looking at a two-dimensional image.
Spend less time guessing which area will have the shortest lines and start knowing with this future technology. As facility operators are already realizing the need for fast and reliable Wi-Fi to keep attendees satisfied, the next step is real-time data. Fans can keep track of which concessions areas serve which foods, and see an estimated amount of time they’ll spend waiting in lines. Allowing fans to see this kind of data for concessions and restrooms in advance of leaving their seats will severely cut down on waiting time and improve their overall experience.
With the emergence of temporary and demountable design, one facility now has the potential to live two full lives. One example of this is the Olympic stage, where the London 2012 main stadium was partially broken down after the events, and will now serve as the home to West Ham United FC. Aside from size-convertible structures, another advancement to watch for is temporary and mobile fan spaces. Shipping containers can be converted to premium spaces, acting alone as premium box seating right off the side of a race track, or in multiples to form a larger structure that houses memorabilia or interactive games in advance of a sporting event. Aside from the variety of use, demountable and mobile spaces also offer a less expensive and more sustainable alternative to large, purpose-built venues by taking up space temporarily as opposed to permanently and allowing greater accessibility through mobility.
What if the next big sporting sensation didn’t require a field? It doesn’t, eSports are here. With a larger online audience than the World Series or NBA Finals, eSports are taking the broadcast sports market by storm. With live-streaming services like Twitch, fans can access games at any time, but for major tournaments, the current trend of placing large screens and stages on arena floors leaves vast room for improvement. The rising popularity of eSports poses the opportunity of creating a physical space for a digital event. Virtual and augmented reality, demountable venues, and smart technology are all factors in bringing eSports to the mainstream stage as a new force in sports.
Just as current trends evolve and change, technology will, too, coming with it possibilities for new and never before seen experiences. Whether that goes for the camera quality and angles seen on TV or the amount and variety of amenities, both spectatorship and venue design are ever-changing, and the future of sports is yet to be seen.
Brian Mirakian serves as director of Populous Activate in the Americas. Populous Activate uses the power of design to link fans, brands, teams and properties by enhancing and extending the in-stadium experience. His award winning work has been recognized internationally and has helped create transformative social experiences in such places as the PepsiMax Field of Dreams and Worldwide Olympic Partner experiential activation for the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games. To further the discussion on the future of stadium design, contact Brian.