Despite the best efforts of media outlets like Fox to keep you at home, the peak level for supporting your team is going to the game. You might love your match ensemble of dated replica jersey and lucky red jammies, but nothing can compare with being surrounded by thousands of people who are connected through their love of a team.
Stadiums provide the keystone to every club’s revenue flow. Bums-on-seats was the first principle of club management, until the recent development of mega-television deals. But more than reliable cash flow, the stadium is a symbol. Stadiums can either include or exclude, they can cater or punish, they can be comfortable or discomforting.
The future of the stadium is coming, and with identity and cash on the line, the future is going to be bright.
Naturally, technology will be the thin edge of the coming changes in how stadiums are operated and enjoyed. Mobile technology is relatively cheap to integrate, but goes far in making the match day experience more personalised and interactive. Already, many clubs have match-ready apps which the fans can plug straight into.
Across America, fans at matches can now personalise their experience. If you want to spend the entire match keeping one eye on the coaching bench, tap the option on the official game day app and it can be so. Cameras placed all over the stadium allow fans to zoom on contentious decisions, rolling it back to super-slo-mo, making the lives of the officials even worse than ever before.
The applications for mobile technology are only limited by the imagination. Leaving your seat for snacks is one of the great stadium love/hates. Today, point of service technology allows the fans to summon hotdogs and popcorn to their very seat. Gone are the days of waiting in line.
Toilet breaks are another inconvenience made more palatable through technology. Many stadiums have screens installed in the bathrooms so fans don’t miss a single piece of the action. Hopefully they are splash-proof.
The Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco was opened a few years ago, and took technology to a new level by including a Fantasy Football Lounge as a complement to the executive boxes. This room comes complete with HD screens, high speed internet and is powered by Yahoo.
Screens are a big part of the stadiums of tomorrow. Gone are the heavily pixilated boards of the past. Jordan-Hare stadium at Auburn University has a 190-foot HD screen, which makes it ¾ of the size of the actual field.
Teams use these screens for all manner of information dissemination, and a fan favourite has become the channeling of Go-Pro content. In a fantastically American play, the Houston Texans strapped one to a bald eagle and beamed what was literally a bird’s eye view down to their screens.
Stadiums have always had an impact on urban planning, and some even incorporate stylish contemporary designs to augment their practical purposes. But for the most part, stadiums have been utilitarian, designed less for looks than for purpose.
But given the fact that they are increasingly seen as the signature of a club, the design is becoming more and more flamboyant. Olympic stadiums have become something of a marker of the host countries’ brand, but now many franchises impose cutting edge design on their buildings. The update of Wembley was hugely expensive, but has resulted in a graceful stadium which retains some of its original features.
Ultra-modern design makes Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena the stand out European structure, with its swirling panels and sheer girth.
Moving ahead, and with new types of building material becoming available, stadiums will become more elaborate and may even be comparatively cheaper. Chelsea’ new Stamford Bridge will end up costing half a billion pounds, and will be a soaring Gothic-inspired stadium. While hardly cheap, building a new stadium from scratch in the centre of London for the price of five Paul Pogbas doesn’t seem like such a bad deal.
Retractable roofs have been part of stadium design for decades, but are becoming even more common-place as they guarantee games can go ahead despite the winteriest of days, and add marketability to the building as it is enhanced as a multi-purpose venue.
Technology also deals with one of the problems with these roofs: how to get enough sunshine onto the pitch. Over in America, the University of Phoenix Stadium has a retractable field to go with the roof. At the end of each match, the two-acre tray in which the pitch sits is slowly rolled out and under the stands, and is allowed to soak up those sweet Arizona rays.
Stadiums have become about the entire experience, rather than merely a place to gather to yell at men throwing or kicking a ball. Traditionally, beyond watching a match, fans had their options limited to going to the kiosk, the toilet or the bar.
Today, Detroit’s Comerica Park has a Ferris wheel.
Many clubs have ambitions to introduce a range of amusement park-style rides to their stadiums to keep people engaged and on-site: and most importantly, generating revenue.
The kiosk has long been another important money-spinner, but a lack of competition traditionally resulted in soggy pies and plastic-flavoured hotdogs. Food suppliers are now branching out. Self-serve soda and popcorn machines have been introduced, while even sushi bars have started to appear in the bowels of some stadiums around America.
Beer is a casualty of our advance into the future. To the relief of the security forces, but the chagrin of many punters, mid-strength has replaced regular beer and the stewards have the right to reject any fan looking a little wonky.
Baby-sitting services have been introduced in some stadiums, which allow fans to enjoy the match should they feel encumbered by a small person.
THE DISTANT FUTURE
Most of the innovations mentioned are already in play: their implementation on a large scale is merely a manner of will and wealth. They make the match-day experience fun and personalised.
In the not-too-distant future, two advances are coming that could change everything. Firstly, self-driving cars will nullify the worst part about going to a sporting event: getting there and leaving. Simply get out of the car at the gate and it will go and park itself.
And in a win at the turnstiles, hologram technology will soon make away games watchable at the home stadium.