Antony Marcou, managing director at Sports Revolution, argues that the provision of in-stadium wi-fi benefits sports fans, clubs and advertiser brands.
Mobile and wi-fi networks are almost ubiquitous these days, and people expect to be able to get online at any time, whether in a tube, cafe, restaurant, or even a plane. However, football stadia have lagged noticeably in catching onto the trend. As a result, as any disheartened fan will know, football matches are all too often a mobile dead zone – even sending a text can be impossible, let alone getting online.
This is a wasted opportunity. Social media and betting are the most obvious areas where football and mobile marketing can thrive, but there are a host of other under-explored opportunities, such as buying merchandise and refreshments, and interacting with match-day offers from sponsors. The demand from the fans is there, as is the ‘supply’ from the brands.
The sticking point is the connectivity – but is stadium wi-fi such a difficult nut to crack? So far, stadium wi-fi has received a mixed press. Some trials have gone better than others. We have been involved in one of the most successful, with Celtic Football Club, where we teamed up with Cisco to deliver a true, high-density system, coupled with a custom-built fan app, CelticLIVE.
Even in the initial test phase it has gone down a storm with fans, with 11,000 connecting to the network during the first live match, and over 15,000 downloading the free CelticLIVE app. The app allows fans to access text commentary, stats, player profiles, photos, voting and polling via mobile, as well as share exclusive content through their social media profiles.
Technically, it’s clear from our experience that high-density wi-fi needs to mean just that: no black spots, no crashing of the system, and the ability to serve bandwidth equally across tens of thousands of users.
So, the technology need not be an obstacle. A thornier issue is the commercial
rationale for making it pay. Should it be free to use, or sit behind a paywall? Do you give fans unrestricted access to the web, or keep them within a walled garden, where commercial interactions are limited to a club’s existing sponsors and partners?
This latter question is a tricky one for clubs eager to protect their commercial relationships, but there are always ways to find a solution. It’s not as if this is completely virgin territory – stadium wi-fi has been successfully implemented in the MLS soccer league in the US, and also at some big clubs on the continent, most notably Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. So, there are clearly models out there that work.
As ever, decisions will be eased by a commercial imperative. As wi-fi access becomes the norm, fans, sponsors and outside advertisers will expect clubs to offer it as part of their digital media package. Just as brands would expect a top-tier club to have a jumbo screen and LED pitchside boards, they will also increasingly demand stadium wi-fi to help them connect with fans. For the clubs, investing in this additional media channel can only help them bolster match-day revenues.
It’s also a way of protecting their ticket sales. As so much money and effort goes into televised football, clubs need to ensure that the live experience of coming to a match is as rich and immersive as possible. Of course, the main draw will always be what happens on the pitch, but offering fans the chance to ‘second screen’ at the live game, just as they would at home on the sofa, seems a logical thing to do.
There’s no doubt that stadium wi-fi is the way forward, it’s just a question of finding the models that work for fans, rights-holders and brands alike. There may be different solutions for different situations, but the demand for wi-fi won’t go away. Watch this space – it’s about time that the connected stadium came online.
Antony Marcou is managing director at Sports Revolution