Ever since major league baseball lit up its first night game in 1933, technology has shaped the way we experience team sports. Traditionally, franchises relied on four big revenue streams: gate receipts, media rights, sponsorships, and merchandising—and technology has disrupted them all. What's more, emerging technology such as augmented reality (AR) and interactivity could reshape the sports industry all over again.
What might the future hold for sports venues? Here are some of the technology trends that look like they'll have an impact.
Immersive, customizable video
Not only are they more vibrant than ever, but jumbotrons now talk to your phone. Advanced digital technology is enabling slick, creative display boards and in-game feeds.
At Talladega Superspeedway, fans enjoy a large-format digital board that displays racing action, driver interviews, and promotional content alongside a handy mobile app. Happy Dream Park in South Korea is the world's first 5G stadium with an augmented reality experience that includes real-time batter vs. pitcher stats on the field and special treats for Pokemon GO players. Live feeds, pitcher cams, and alternate angle feeds are also widely available—if you've paid upfront for box suite tickets or specialty apps.
If adoption takes hold, fans may soon have their own customized augmented reality overlays. One day, we might even have our own personal replay device built into our glasses.
In-game experiences driving efficiency and revenue
Artificial intelligence, virtual assistants, and AR are beginning to play a part in delivering top customer service and (revenue-driving) engagement at sporting events.
Stadiums are looking first toward concessions. Great American Ball Park in Ohio is testing locker-style food pickup to reduce lines and resulting lost revenue. Seattle's Safeco Field installed Amazon Echo with Alexa in its box suites to offer voice-activated concierge services during games. And now, everyday fans can customize their in-game experience with programs that allow them to curate music during games, create “diaries of fandom” with virtual badges, and customize video clips for social sharing.
For an optimal fan experience en route to the park, smart ticketing technology increases the virality and appeal of events, while self-driving cars may reduce parking issues and constraints. Apps with real-time traffic, weather, and event schedules are already integrated into the scoreboards at SK Happy Dream Park.
Virtual experiences bring the stadium to you
Is the future of the sports venue… not a venue at all? The blurring lines between our physical and virtual world may lead to flexible, and perhaps only temporary venues. Organizations are already experimenting with completely virtual leagues alongside add-ons such as access to virtual commentary at in-person events.
Some modified season ticket plans include virtual tickets to events, and eSports leagues continue to grow in terms of both adoption and monetization. vSports, or completely virtual, sports video games built on VR/AR, have the potential to shape the future too.
In the short-term, for stadiums, franchises, owners, and teams, it still all comes back to those four big revenue streams. It's likely that the future will be shaped by decisions that balance both the fan experience and monetization.
Meanwhile the closest most of us will get to futuristic sports venues will probably be from the comfort of our own homes through gaming. Luckily, there's no shortage of increasingly sophisticated and immersive technology—like the HP OMEN X
gaming desktop—to keep us entertained until we can experience the future IRL.