Imagining the IoT Stadium of the Future

IOTEarlier his week I had the chance to attend the IBM InterConnect conference to learn about what IBM is doing in the sports and technology space and share some thoughts in that area via their blog and social media. The event itself has a large emphasis on technology infrastructure needed to support the volume of data and systems integration that all industries now require, and within that, the Internet of Things (known shorthand as IoT) kept popping up as a topic.

Now IoT isn’t a huge topic in traditional sports business, but it is quite relevant in the health and fitness industry (wearables, smart watches, sensors, equipment) and continues to expand in so many ways, from home appliances to vehicles and more. So what I want to do is have a bit of fun and brainstorm all the ways that IoT could live within the context of a “smart stadium.” Here are a few things that came to mind, some of which exist in various forms today and others that may never exist, but it’s fun to imagine.

1. Beacons: Beacons and other geo-location technologies are actively being deployed in sports venues and used to collect and deliver all sorts of information related to the gameday experience. We are learning about what fans are engaging with different parts of the building, what types of location specific messaging can drive behavior and gathering insights on fans that may otherwise be anonymous to the team.

2. Smart Seats: One of the most fundamental tenants of sports is putting butts in seats, so why don’t we make those seats smarter? We do get a lot of data from access control systems to tell us when people enter/exit the venue and what their seat location is, but we don’t know when that person is or isn’t sitting in that seat. Many modern venues with club spaces struggle with getting people out of the club and back in those lower-level seats we see on TV. We also have challenges around logistics for food stands, bathrooms and other non-seating spaces. In a way, I think the data that “smart seats” could generate would be quite interesting.

3. Hawkers: Another classic element of sports are the vendors that navigate the building selling everything from peanuts to pennants to fans in the comfort of their seats. While in-seat ordering has changed the value proposition of hawkers, many venues still use this to drive per-caps. Smart technology on where hawkers are and the volume of goods sold vs. available can really optimize this process.

4. Security: Loyalty cards are becoming the new norm for ticket management and access control, but one thought that came up in an earlier Sports & Technology session was that as these cards and related systems get smarter, they become a valuable tool for security. We’ve started to see this with things like Clear in use at some ballparks and many new security procedures becoming the norm. Anything that can minimize risk while streamlining the stadium ingress process would be quite valuable.

5. Alcohol: Ah, a big gameday money-maker, but one that also has an equally big liability issue. Right now, staff training is the primary method for teams to avoid overserving, but why can’t we be smarter? Let’s take those same ticket cards (which often have loaded value) and track the level of alcohol purchases on each card. And yes, there are ways around this, so maybe we can use the technology in a product like Breathometer (first saw them on Shark Tank) and see if there’s a logical way to scale this for wider use in a venue.

6. Personal Trackers: We already have team apps being made available on the Apple Watch, so maybe we can we take these one step further and incentive fans to opt-in to share additional data that these gadgets generate. Instead of a decibel level tracker on the big screen, can we show the collective heart rate of our fans or the opponent’s fans? Maybe we discover unusual fan movement patterns that can be used to improve facility operations.

7. Parking Lots: A combination of in-ground/above-ground sensors and cameras could be just the ticket to streamlining the ingress and egress issues that many stadiums are constantly dealing with. Combine that data with real-time analysis and a feed to the team’s mobile app and now your fans can know what route to use regardless of accidents or traffic changes.

8. Environment: With the ever-growing importance of developing environmentally conscious facilities, there would be a great opportunity to use sensors and other IoT devices to actively monitor everything from air and noise pollution to waste disposal and more.

9. Lighting: We’ve seen things like Nest and other “home automation” systems around thermostats, lightbulbs, audio systems and more, could we have smart lighting in the future? This might be hard for those massive lighting structures used during night games, but there is so much other lighting throughout a venue that could be automated based on data collection and analysis.

10. Robots: Ok, I’m getting crazy here, but in 50 years, who knows! No one predicted eSports twenty years ago.

I’m sure there’s a lot more IoT possibilities that I missed, but it’s fun to try to picture how this type of technology will become part of the stadium experience, especially considering how pervasive it is everywhere else. It’s this type of technology evolution that puts more and more emphasis on the infrastructure within the venue. As I mentioned in this tweet earlier in the week, the pipes matter. Teams need to do whatever they can to plan for the future instead of today.