New Thinking

Upping their game: A glimpse of the next-generation in-stadium fan experience

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It’s Sunday afternoon, halfway through the first quarter of the big game. All the yard work is done and I’m seated comfortably next to my son, food at our fingertips, phones in hand. We’re checking real-time fantasy stats, streaming games in other markets and watching highlights from across the league. It’s the way football was meant to be enjoyed, with all the creature comforts a modern home can afford.

Only we’re not at home. We’re at the stadium.

It’s true that the at-home experience of live sports grows more dynamic every day. Twitter just broadcast its first season of NFL games, and the integration of social media conversations into the viewing experience was seamless. And it is only a matter of time before virtual reality becomes a viable — and appealing — option for attending a game.

But we are sports fans. We want to be at the game, supporting our team, hanging with our people. We just don’t want to fight the crowds, get stuck in traffic, wait in line for the bathroom and stare dumbly at the field while grown men in tights stand around talking during commercial breaks. And we don’t want to run out of water — or worse, beer.

So it’s time for owners to up their game and craft an in-stadium fan experience that can rival the comfort and convenience of the at-home fan experience. That experience should be mobile. It should be personal. And it should last from the moment I pull out of my driveway in the morning until the moment my head hits the pillow that night.

Fortunately, there is a great deal of activity in this area. And it starts with information technology. If you want to see what kind of technology infrastructure next-generation stadiums will need to accommodate the needs of communication-crazed fans, check out the Mercedes-Benz Stadium being built in Atlanta. Underneath the hood of this stunning stadium are 4,000 miles of advanced fiber optics supporting 1,800 wireless access points. The stadium will have more than 2,000 video displays and one enormous 360-degree, 63,000-square-foot “halo” display that encircles the entire ceiling.

Speed and reliability of connection will be the cornerstones of the next-generation stadium. But it’s about more than just lightning-fast Wi-Fi. The infrastructure in Atlanta will allow better data management to turn unknown fans into known fans, and ultimately into long-term customers. And it will create opportunities for first-of-a-kind experiences on mobile applications, including those that can be delivered through cognitive computing.

Cognitive computing can remove some of the inconveniences that are inevitable whenever you and 75,000 of your closest friends get together. For example, by combining and understanding unstructured information from multiple sources, a cognitive system could keep a stadium stocked with water and beer by checking the weather forecast against ticket sales and recommending a supply increase before the game.

Cognitive can also answer questions that help fans navigate the venue. Where should I park? What kind of beer is on tap? Where is the shortest line for the bathroom? This year at the US Open Tennis Championships in New York, IBM piloted cognitive concierge services in the US Open Mobile App, using IBM Watson to conduct conversations with fans in natural language to improve their experience. The fans loved it.

I love live sports. In my opinion, there is nothing better than being there. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement on the in-stadium fan experience. And with a powerful IT infrastructure, smart data management strategy, engaging mobile experiences and the creative application of cognitive computing, we’re well on our way to redefining a day at the stadium.

Vice President, Global Sponsorships and Client Programs

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