Are sports and entertainment centers the gateway to 'smart cities'?

| by Elliot Maras
Are sports and entertainment centers the gateway to 'smart cities'?

Photo courtesy of iStock.

Are sports and entertainment centers the gateway to "smart cities"? A session addressing this question, titled "From Smart Venues to Smart Cities," bridged two conference tracks at the recent CES event in Las Vegas: sports technology and smart cities

At left, Gerry Pennell of the International Olympic Committee, poses questions to Dave Hagan of Boinga Wireless, Joey Tan of Alibaba Cloud International, Avi Arumugam of Visa, Chuck Steedman of AEG and Francesca Bodie of Oak View Group.

Sports and entertainment facilities are already deploying some of the technology — such as Internet of Things and wireless connectivity — that will provide the foundation for smart cities, where connected objects such as kiosks, buildings and vehicles will share data to optimize energy use, coordinate traffic management, reduce congestion and provide access to real-time information.

One example of a sports facility moving in that direction is the Cincinnati Reds Great American Ballpark, where this past season, fans ordered and paid for food from self-serve pickup lockers using the official MLB Ballpark app. 

One thing the CES panel, which consisted of sports and entertainment officials and IoT experts, confirmed is that more "smart" venues are on the way.

The CES panelists envisioned a smart venue as one that enables fans to access facilities and services seamlessly, thanks to wireless connectivity. They agreed that smart cities technology will make the sporting and entertainment experience more seamless and enjoyable for fans.

Fans expectations increase

Francesca Bodie, president of business development at Oak View Group, an advisory, development and investment company for the sports and entertainment industry, said today's fans are expecting connectivity when they go to an event, which is why her company's properties will be "coming online" in 2020.

"It is the petri dish," Avi Arumugam, senior vice president of IoT, programs and venture at Visa, said for sports and entertainment venues.

"The smart venue has to make it easy," observed David Hagan, CEO at Boingo Wireless, who noted that getting to a stadium parking lot and getting through security is currently difficult. He said autonomous vehicles will alleviate much of the task, for which a wireless infrastructure will be necessary.

Chuck Steedman, chief operating officer at AEG, a sports and entertainment operator, agreed, noting that wireless connectivity is the basis of smart venues. He said venues will have to provide access to all major wireless networks.

"It (wireless connectivity) is certainly not ubiquitous at this point," Steedman said with regard to sports and entertainment facilities. He looks forward to 5G bringing more bandwidth than 4G and 3G. 

5G will make it easier for venues to process cashless transactions, Steedman said, and the venues actually stand to benefit more than the fans. 

Arumugam agreed. Not only does cashless payment make transactions faster, but removing cash from the buying process takes a lot of cost out of an entertainment facility's operations.

Venues making progress

A lot of sports and entertainment companies are already doing part of the smart venue, Steedman said, but no one is yet doing the full smart venue.

Bodie took a shot at describing the full smart venue, characterizing it as a place where the facility's management knows when the fan bought their ticket and what they bought once they were within the gates, the ultimate goal being a better fan experience.

Arumugam said Visa has already tried to provide food delivery to fans at the Super Bowl so they would not have to leave their seats, but encountered difficulties.

Other countries might already be ahead of the curve with smart venues and smart cities, providing lessons for U.S. companies.

China is already making customer transactions faster through the use of facial recognition, said Joey Tan, head of global strategic initiatives at Alibaba Cloud International.

Venues must take action

Panel moderator Gerry Pennell, chief information and technology officer at the International Olympic Committee, asked what sports and entertainment venues should be doing at the present time to make smart venues a reality.

Much of the impetus is on the facility owners to support improved connectivity, said Bodie. 

"Venues in the private sector should be the catalyst for the cities to get smarter," Bodie said. "We're no longer defined by the four walls of our venues."

She said that historically, connectivity has been one of the first budget items cut on account of the cost, but she thinks this is changing.

Hagan concurred, noting there has been progress in recent years. Four or five years ago, stadium owners would ask him how much his company would pay them to build a wireless network for the property. Nowadays, the venues are more interested in making sure they have the connectivity than how much they'll have to pay for it.

The panelists also agreed that expanding wireless connectivity carries the risk of data breaches. 

Bodie said enhanced security measures should focus on customers whose identities the venues have not yet screened, as opposed to season ticket holders. 

For many consumers, their first exposure to smart facilities will be at sport and entertainment facilities.


Topics: Customer Experience, Future Trends, Internet of Things, Networking / Connectivity, Wireless

Companies: Alibaba, Visa



Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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