For decades, the construction of a new sports stadium has been associated with significant investments in a Jumbotron, an enormous video screen. At the recent D11: All Things Digital conference, the San Francisco 49ers American football team and Sony outlined an alternative approach where users bring their own screens to the game, and where 4K video and arena-specific video feeds transform the user experience.
With a fan base upgrading their phone and tablet devices every 18-24 months, sports franchises have new and very capable screens to target. You can even ask if it is right to invest in a Jumbotron with a lifetime of 10-20 years when fans spend the same amount of money every second year on upgrading their devices. With bring-your-own-device (BYOD) widely established in the workplace environment, it is about to make an entrance into major sports arenas as an integrated part of the live experience.
The San Francisco 49ers aim to create a “software-enabled stadium” as they finalize the construction of the Levi’s Stadium. Without the restrictions of the one-screen Jumbotron concept, it is possible to distribute multiple video feeds in the arena. They can combine the use of standard TV feeds with special camera feeds for arena users only. A bigger share of the experience can be delivered to user devices through apps and media sent to their personal screens. In essence the software-enabled stadium is about delivering a personal experience to 68,500 fans in the same location.
The software-enabled stadium will have very different network needs than a classic Jumbotron-based venue. The stadium networks need to be designed to support media streams to users’ own devices, and to do it in very large volumes during events. These new networks can be funded with a reallocation of Jumbotron funds to smartphone/tablet feeder networks.
My predictions of the future of stadium networking are:
* The biggest sports Jumbotrons have already been built, and the new game in town is to focus on the 7-10-inch mobile devices
* Sports venues will ensure that very capable networks are built to support the influx of screen-equipped fans, way beyond current capabilities.
* Innovation around local media feeds and associated advertising models is a vital part of the development of the personal sports screen
* The phone/tablet screen will be as important as the TV in connecting with the fan base of the future. New fans did not grow up with tube TV as the norm