Safety Concerns Accelerate the Digital Transformation of Sports Venues

As stadiums and arenas welcome back fans, facility operators are exploring innovative methods to ensure fan safety, while adopting fast-moving technologies set in motion even before the pandemic.

As sports and entertainment venues slowly begin to welcome back fans, venue operators and managers should explore new innovative methods to ensure fans are safe in these spaces. Some popular existing technologies that have been widely adopted in other markets, such as mobile apps and cashless transactions, are helping venues to reopen.

The adoption of those technologies, along with new social distancing and cleaning tech, have accelerated the digital transformation of sports venues that began before the pandemic.

Social Distancing Monitoring Systems

Software that allows venues operators to monitor foot traffic, the clustering of people, and temperatures in their spaces have been developed by several firms and will be important in reopening venues to full capacity. The software examines foot traffic around the stadium and detects hotspots from cameras set up around the venue. If temperatures rise to a certain level, operators are alerted that the crowd needs to be dispersed.

Another creative solution is to create social distancing though the ticketing system. Fenway Park is ticketing by neighborhood to prevent cross-contamination across the city of Boston. In this scenario, fans will be required to complete a health screening survey prior to entry utilizing the MLB Ballpark App, and ticket holders will enter via designated gates and digital tickets. Most stadiums are selling a limited capacity and only allowing sales to fans who buy an entire pod of seats together.

Cashless Digital Fan Experiences

In the future, all tickets will be completely digital. This year’s Super Bowl was the first major event to be completely cashless. Digital ticketing is here to stay. No more laminated passes and hard tickets. This trend was coming for years, and the pandemic just accelerated it.

In addition to touchless, ticketless transactions, venues must reduce lines at the concessions and other shops. Tech that keeps people from grouping up, such as apps to order merchandise and concessions from the fans’ seats, are going to transform the fan experience.

Venues can adapt the strategy and technologies that have been revolutionizing the quick-service restaurant industry. Companies like McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A, along with delivery services like GrubHub and DoorDash, have been perfecting systems for delivering food orders to customers’ cars and homes in a completely touchless, cashless transaction.

Venue concessions can use these same technologies to start delivering food to the fan’s seat. That innovation has the added benefit of improving fan experience because fans won’t miss the action while standing in line.

Some venues have already begun to add this capability. The Texas Rangers’ Globe Life Field, the first MLB stadium to open to complete capacity in the 2021 season, has added a new mobile ordering system from Appetize to power all concessions and retail with in-seat delivery.

Disinfecting Technologies

UV-C lighting technology is an advanced yet simple solution to the problem of disinfecting enclosed spaces within the venue. UV-C combats harmful surface and airborne pathogens in spaces like locker rooms and luxury suites.

These sanitizing solutions are exciting because they lead to the possibility of venues being open at 100% capacity again. If UV-C can mitigate the virus fast enough, it can allow all seats to be full. The installation of these devices is quick and easy, and the lights are low wattage, so long-term operation costs are also low. It’s possible they could even be retrofitted into some of the existing fixtures.

Remote Tech Management

Another important consideration for operating safely during a pandemic is allowing technicians to work remotely. Cameras can now be remotely controlled with zero delay. If staff members are not feeling well or are not yet comfortable coming to work, these technologies can ensure that the show goes on.

The Boston Red Sox partnered with Nikon to outfit Fenway Park with a robotic camera system that allows for remote-controlled photography and videography during home games. Photographers can adhere to COVID-19 social distancing by controlling operations like zoom, focus, and exposure via Nikon’s software interface, all while stationed in a booth at Fenway Park. The remote-controlled cameras are placed on the roof of Fenway’s press box, on the third and first baselines, overlooking centerfield, and behind home plate.

The road to recovery for sports and entertainment is long, but we will come out of this stronger and wiser than before. Sports and live events had to stop last year because we didn’t have the solutions. If we have these solutions in place going forward, we will be ready for the next time.

Even before the pandemic, venues were already making substantial investments in audiovisual technologies. According to market intelligence reported in AVIXA’s 2020 AV Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis, venues spend $28 billion annually on AV solutions. To insulate from future pandemics or other disruptions, venues should continue and expand their technology investments to ensure continuity of operations in the face of public safety challenges.

About Mark Consiglio
As Director of Market Strategy for Events/Com, a provider of AV technology and design for meetings and events, Mark advises venues on how to use event technology to bring in more “nontraditional revenue” in the form of private and non-gameday events that might normally be held at a convention center or hotel. In his role as a Market Trends Advisory Board member for AVIXA, the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association, he advises the association on trends that affect the live events, venues, sports, and entertainment AV markets.