Imagine this: You’re at a sports stadium watching the big game. The crowd is going wild and it's down to the final minutes. Just as your favorite player is about to score, the spectator in front of you jumps up and blocks your view. You’ve missed the moment of the game.
You get out your phone, open an app and that moment is immediately there for you to rewatch and share on social media. You could even don a VR headset and interact with the star player. Okay, so you might want to wait until after the game to go VR, but this helps paint a picture of what’s being developed to deliver the next generation of the fan experience. In-stadium connectivity also means that this experience (as well as things like using your phone for AR overlays of player stats) can be delivered to every spectator, in high quality, simultaneously.
This is the next generation of the fan experience, and it’s starting to become a reality thanks to connected stadiums and the underlying communication networks that they rely on. A blueprint of exactly what the next-gen fan experience will look like was arguably created by Verizon, a partner of Ciena, in early 2021 when they launched in-stadium 5G solutions for fans attending Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Dubbed the "5G SuperStadium," the in-app experience allowed fans to engage with different camera angles and project AR overlays. Verizon's partnership with Epic Games also resulted in fans being able to interact with players in a virtual stadium environment.
United By 5G
Verizon isn’t the only one with a focus on innovating the fan experience. Our partner AT&T also harnessed 5G to bring together NBA players and interviewers from TNT’s NBA Studio. During last year’s Eastern and Western Conference Finals, the carrier streamed holographic images of both parties — separated as they were by hundreds of miles and Covid-19 restrictions — into the same room, allowing them to interact in real-time.
And it’s not only the fans who can experience this innovation — it’s happening within the stadium architecture itself. U.K. soccer club Tottenham Hotspur opened a new stadium in 2019 which, it claims, is "one of the most technologically advanced in the world" thanks to tech from Hewlett Packard Enterprise. In addition to supporting consumer devices, the network also provides real-time monitoring for preventative maintenance and personalized visitor experiences. It also supports CCTV and door access systems, lighting and elevators.
Offering better connectivity at events is a competitive differentiator for venue owners, who can also reduce operating costs by leveraging insights into a building’s energy use, footfall and more. Sports teams, local merchants and other stakeholders can benefit from additional marketing opportunities through in-app ads and purchases and pop-up notifications — all delivered directly to the fan via their mobile phone, either locally to the event or at home.
All of this is possible with 5G, the next generation of mobile connectivity. 5G can offer up to 100x faster speeds and up to 10x lower latency when compared to traditional 4G/LTE networks, enabling interactive experiences for fans that help make them feel truly immersed in the action. 5G also supports a higher density of devices, which is perfect for sites like stadiums, where crowds of people are concentrated in a small area and traffic will peak at similar times, such as during game breaks.