The Emergence of the Intelligent Venue
Innovation in stadium design is driven in particular by the impact of technology affecting both the venue design itself and the fan experience. Emerging technology is having an all-encompassing impact on stadium design: venues are operationally smarter, they are more sustainable and they ultimately offer a far more engaging, social fan experience. Stadia have to continue to innovate to entice people to gather and share experiences in person at the venue, experiences that they cannot get in the living room at home or at the pub with friends.
The continuing competition with the in-home experience is the driving force behind the emergence of the intelligent venue. There is a critical balance between the in-game experience and the remote experience in order for both to coexist. Designers and venue owners are now looking to augment the in-stadium experience through cutting edge technology providing access to unique information and unique experiences. I believe there are three areas in which the stadium of the future can be smarter:
Fan-Experience: The fan experience is rapidly changing with the evolution of technology and everything from augmented reality technology to social media is impacting the design of facilities. In particular, recent technology allows the in-stadium guest various touch points to engage with the facility, which allows their behavior patterns to be tracked and venues to respond intelligently, magnifying sponsorship revenues and future opportunities for engagement. This technology also allows teams to expand their offerings to fans beyond the front doors of a venue and build brand loyalty over the long term. As a conduit, technology ensures that fans engage on their way to the stadium, and as they travel home, through pre and post-game events. As designers we also must consider how to reach fans at touch points that extend beyond the stadium walls and into the broader community.
Among the emerging technologies to have an impact on stadium design and the overall fan experience are:
Wi-Fi – Wi-Fi ensures that each of us who uses technology regularly has access to live feeds of unique information about a game while also being encouraged to share experiences via social media. In-stadium apps can encourage this sharing of information and connect fans who attend an event with exclusive content, as is the case at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, USA. This technology is moving toward more centralized distribution nodes ultimately extending connectivity. Third party vendors are now filling this void by providing infrastructure to make this possible in existing venues at a minimal upfront cost.
Data mining – Data mining, coupled with robust Wi-Fi, allows teams to track the buying patterns of users to better understand stadium hot spots or the popularity of items, resulting in a customized stadium experience and the expansion of the event. This information can be used to drive people to areas of the stadium where their friends are, or to try out new products or restaurants.
Augmented Reality – New technologies, such as Google Glass, now provide an opportunity for fans to connect directly to the live action on the field, providing another opportunity for exclusive content for fans in the stadium. As this technology evolves, augmented information will result in an incomparable game-day experience in which you can see action on the field, vital stats and an overlay of information you’d be unable to access from your living room.
Social media – Community engagement is becoming sacred in today’s virtual driven environments. Social media plays a crucial role in society as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have become live sketch books, journals and photo albums for users. People enjoy following friends and sharing their experiences, presenting an opportunity for sports to tailor content to fans and reinforce the gathering of people with similar tastes and/or demographic characteristics within a venue.
Eyes on the game – Cameras are everywhere and it’s not far off to assume that users will one day be able to access an app that controls cameras at various angles in a stadium or are worn by performers themselves, allowing guests access to behind the scenes views. The ability to watch or follow a particular player at will is another possibility just around the corner.
Dynamic pricing is already common place, but dynamic environments which can change at the flip of a switch are necessary to captivate what is hot at any particular moment. These environments would be conceived as large touch screens, allowing individuals to experience an environment- maybe a club, bar or other gathering space, that is dynamic and constantly changing. Thus, fans would never have the same experience twice in that space.
The integration of large HD screens into the exterior and interior of a facility of any shape, size or density is now possible due to declining costs as technology proliferates. New modulated and interchangeable LED panels allow for customization opportunities to further celebrate the live action and engage fans to participate in programming while magnifying the experience.
Operationally, smart buildings will be more efficient, less expensive to operate and increasingly adaptable. The evolution of technology is leading to behind-the-scenes efficiency that significantly impacts the bottom line operational cost of a facility. In turn, it isn’t unreasonable to think that eventually public assembly venues will be completely self-powered and self-sustaining. As a building type, there is potential for public assembly venues to generate enough power to power themselves. Technologies in solar collection, heat exchange, water collection and crowd movement are making it possible to envision this hyper-functional building type. In addition, new technology monitoring systems and automated controls allow operations professionals to systematically power a building to create the perfect balance for optimum operational efficiency. Finally, kinetic innovations are allowing venues to be more adaptable to the size of an audience or a particular show, which is particularly important in arena spaces. This technology means that venues can be downsized, operable or perhaps even mobile, depending on the show resulting in more flexible venues with higher performance usage over the long term.
The evolution of the technologies impacting operations is also having an impact over sustainable design and operations of large, public assembly venues. Technology is driving buildings to become more efficient in energy use, fundamentally reducing the impact on the environment. In addition, designers are returning to passive building strategies to reduce energy consumption, coupled with technological driven controls and automation which cause buildings to breathe in their climatic condition, ultimately reducing energy consumption and harvesting clean energy. These buildings are high-performance and extend the thinking surrounding sustainability from beyond LEED Certification to the overall and long-term impact a venue will have on its surroundings and the lasting legacy.
The challenge for venue owners and designers of their venues is to design facilities which allow and embrace these rapidly advancing innovations, while anticipating what is coming next. Keeping pace isn’t easily predictable, but teams can anticipate future trends by considering visionary design concepts, investing time and conducting research to better understand where these trends are headed. The key philosophy for designers and teams moving forward is allowing for flexibility- in operations, sustainability and the fan experience.
But what does this philosophy mean for owners? Flexible design will require strategic thinking and an understanding of the long-term rewards for this approach. Immediately, teams and designers can begin by allocating additional core space and infrastructure which will ensure there is physical space for technology allowing teams to expand without additional cost when the next technology arrives on the market. In addition, system compatibility must be a priority. As venues modernize, all technology systems must be linkable to allow for content programming to be consistent, seamless and uniquely branded to a specific event. In addition, teams should consider oversizing wireless broadband capacity and system linkage. Doubling, tripling or quadrupling broad band capacity is simply a necessity in a smart stadium as every fan expects to utilize their smart phone or tablet while watching the game. Finally, allowing for the physical adaptation of a facility is crucial and results in environments that can easily adapt to social gathering trends, evolving communication patterns and our growing knowledge of how fans interact and navigate a facility. It is not unreasonable to think that fans of the future will determine who they socialize with based on a particular brand they choose to associate with, shared interests, age or other data, which then reinforces their own particular identity and further distinguishes the desire to attend an event versus watch from home. For example, a young urban professional could choose seating areas where their colleagues prefer to hang out while at the game, or diehards who prefer to keep stats can all share similar focus. As these concepts become plausible, facilities must be prepared to adapt to accommodate them.
New innovations in technology are leading the way for intelligent public assembly venues that will create unique, personalized and flexible spaces that compel individuals to gather together. However, fundamentally, technology innovations in both the home environment and the live experience must grow in parallel, as one cannot exist without the other. Such venues will then continue to create settings that draw communities together, foster a culture and engross fans.