Attending a stadium to watch a sporting or cultural event is no longer just about the ‘live’ experience. Technology, with a human-centred design focus, is transforming stadia into an end-to-end experience, engaging audiences online and offline, every step of the way.
In the past, attending a major sporting or other public event often meant navigating traffic, struggling to find a park and hours of public transport delays. Thankfully, those days are becoming less common. Soon, you will be able to track public transport options, traffic movements, pedestrian access and carpark availability from your app before you leave home to attend a major stadium event.
With smart cities integrating all forms of transport infrastructure to connect with major destinations, it will become a seamless journey by ride-sharing, driverless vehicle, metro, shuttle bus, bikes or simply walking to your favourite sporting game or event.
Arriving hassle-free and de-stressed, you will be ready to enjoy your fan experience!
Some draw parallels between sports stadia and churches – each being a place to gather for a kind of worship. Some would argue that each, at least in the West, needs to stay relevant to a rapidly changing society seeking new ways to find a sense of belonging and fellowship. For sports calendars and major entertainment events, how can we keep the magic alive to fill our stadia? What made them, and will keep them a mecca for fans?
The memories made through experiencing triumph, watching heroes and being inspired, witnessing a crowd lift a player or team can be formed from a very young age and can lead to life-long memories.
With bigger and better domestic smart TVs, and the comfort of home theatres, with recliner chairs, your own super couch and cold beverages in the fridge a few steps away, stadium management teams are reviewing their offerings and looking at how to deliver their events, games and stadium experience to lure audiences away from other pastimes, or ‘worshipping’ from the comforts at home. We also need to ensure these places are inclusive to the diverse range of a fan base covering age, gender and accessibility.
Since the crowd-drawing spectacles held in the ancient Roman colosseums, it has probably been an ongoing challenge to provide the newest and most exciting in not only sports, but sports venues.
Iconic stadia around the world have loyal followings and maintain a place in our hearts. While modern technology is expected to change the way we experience stadia, we also don’t want our favourite places to become unrecognisable to the point of lacking a heart and soul.
Wembley Stadium in the UK is among the most iconic stadia in world football. When it reopened in 2007 with a capacity of 90,000, the new Wembley was built on the site of the previous 1923 Wembley Stadium. Famous as one of the most gripping atmospheres in world football, the new design, with its iconic arch, encompasses everything that was great about the original stadium, like the Royal Box, and added more modern elements such as a retractable roof.
Holding some of the most prestigious events in European and international football is now commonplace at ‘the home of football‘, ’Soccer City‘ in Soweto, South Africa. Also known as The Calabash (because its shape is like the African pot or gourd) the First National Bank (FNB) stadium is known to all in that country, and has a capacity of more than 94,000. As well as a big match venue, this is an iconic meeting place. It was where Nelson Mandela gave his first speech after his release from prison in 1990, and where his memorial service was held in December 2013.
In the US, classics are the Yale Bowl, originally erected more than 100 years ago, and Madison Square Garden, in its fourth iteration. Manhattan’s indoor arena saw Pope Paul II visit in 1979 and is a key venue for benefit concerts after its refurbishment in 2013. Instead of visible support beams, a web of 48 bridge-like steel cables run between the ceiling panels, connecting in the centre in a tension ring to give fans an unobstructed view from every seat in the arena.
Melbourne Cricket Ground
Built for Australia’s first Olympic Games in 1956, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) has capacity for over 100,000 fans, and also has a special place in the community’s hearts as the home for test cricket and AFL matches. Most recently it has also undergone upgrades to ensure its heritage does not override the importance of fan experience and technology is integrated to enable this to happen.
Even though we love our traditional stadia, the new generation have come a long way from beer and a pie at halftime. Tottenham Hotspur’s new 62,000-seat stadium in the UK will boast a microbrewery, fromagerie and Michelin-calibre restaurant. Apart from being the home of NFL, the stadium is intent on creating a 365-days a year experience, incorporating community meeting spaces, a ‘sky walk’ enabling visitors to climb the exterior of the building up to 40 metres, museum, tours, retail, conference facilities, dining, private/public next-generation colocation lounges and a hotel.
Putting fans at the centre of stadia development and re-generation is crucial to getting the mix of facilities right.
In June 2017, with nominations submitted from all over the world, Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, was presented with TheStadiumBusiness Environmental Award for its successful pursuit of sustainable venue management.
Levi’s stadium has state-of-the-art solar panels designed to reduce energy demand and generate more electricity annually than is consumed during each season’s 10 scheduled 49ers games. It also has a 650 sqm ‘Faithful Farm’ – the first-ever for an NFL stadium – generating an annual yield of more than 3,000 kg of fresh vegetables. However, pioneering sustainability turns out not to be as important as the fan experience.
After posting shots of swathes of empty seats, bathed in the hot sun during a game, in September that same year, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan commented wryly on the engagement of an architect to improve the fan experience at Levi’s Stadium saying, "turns out that a new head coach, a new general manager and a few promising players aren't enough of a counterweight to expensive tickets, tough parking, terrible traffic and 91-degree heat on the blistering side of the stadium."
How could the fact that the sunny side of the stadium had no shade have escaped the designers? Why hadn’t the journey to and from, along with parking, been given enough consideration?
Why haven’t we learned yet that users, consumers, the people who are the real stakeholders, should drive design, and identify what is important and relevant to directing innovation?
Stadia being multi-functional across different sporting codes and events is also vital if they are to be relevant community assets.
Tottenham Hotspurs stadium is the first field of its kind to split into three parts and slide under the seating, revealing an astroturf for American football, positioned lower for perfect sight lines.
Part of the new generation of stadium experience, the Mercedes Benz Stadium, which opened in August 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia, is a multi-purpose retractable roof stadium and home to top Atlanta teams, as well as a popular venue for mega-star concerts.
Perth, in Western Australia, also delivers new stadium experiences as the most modern, state-of-the-art ground in Australia. The Optus Stadium provides 60,000-seat capacity across at least six different sporting codes, as well as entertainment. It boasts two of the biggest video screens in the southern hemisphere, and a plethora of smaller screens scattered around so no action is missed. Wider seats, each with a drink holder, give more home-like comfort, but the extra stadium attraction comes from behind-the-scenes access and dining options, complete with views of matches and an idyllic riverside setting.
The lesson is stadia can be amazing, they can sustain their role as a ‘place of worship’ for fans of all sorts, but they will be empty if their designs do not put the fans first.
Just imagine what the best fan experience would feel like. Yes, to access behind the scenes and getting closer to the players, yes to bigger seats and video screens, but then there could be so much more. But when home TVs can bring live coverage on an HDR screen that makes you feel the game is in your own home, why would fans venture out on a hot summer day or cold winter night?
What is now possible when we want to create an even better experience for more and more fans? Will it double the thrill of an 80,000-seat stadium to add a retractable all-weather roof and install seats that vibrate, tip or warm as the action on the field action intensifies?
Can we customise the experience and make the fan feel like it’s their seat, their bay and their team? Can fans influence outcomes and experiences within the stadium? Rituals like the Mexican wave and team chants could be crowd sourced via technology to create a movement both visually and through audio. Imagine the visual impact if crowds could simply turn their smart phones around and via unique identifiers each phone could act like a pixel, creating waves of colour and imagery around the stadium.
And would the wi-fi be lightning fast to enable your images of the action to be shared with friends and on social media, as well as provide all the infrastructure support of broadcasting and internal communications, operational functions and for drones, for instance?
Yes, it’s only a few steps from the couch to the fridge at home – but, if you are not the restaurant type, why move out of your stadium seat at all if a drone will deliver your snack or drink?
And what about lighting? The opportunity to incorporate energy-efficient LED lights that provide better quality, flicker-free, colour changing, dimming, glare control and lighting ‘stings’ can significantly enhance the fan experience and truly activate the stadium.
Audio is also vital to the fan experience. Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium will have a 17,500 seat single tier home stand, generating a ‘wall of sound’ to enhance the fan experience. Other options could be audio embedded under the field so that the sound of every kick and grunt could be heard around the stadium.
There is even a suggestion of holographic representation, whereby Real Madrid players battling it out at a stadium in Spain could be beamed to a stadium of supporters in Sao Paulo. In Japan’s bid for the 2022 World Cup, they proposed recording all games in 360 degrees and beaming them around the world in 3D, enabling players to be holographically represented in multiple stadia simultaneously.
Stadia are already often truly jaw-dropping and can be even more so!
Matt Magraith has led many large, multi-disciplinary engineering projects including stadia, commercial and residential towers, airport and transport infrastructure developments and progressive commercial workplace projects. He currently heads up Aurecon’s built environment team in New South Wales.
As Technical Director and Sydney Leader of Aurecon’s Structures Group, Joseph Pirrello has extensive experience in the design of large scale, complex concrete and steel structures. Joseph has been involved in major stadia projects such as Wembley Stadium, has led the design of Western Sydney Stadium, and more recently has led the roof design on a signature stadium for FIFA’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar.