Contributing Writer,

Beyond hot dogs, popcorn, and high-fives, the fan experience at stadiums around the world is being enhanced through AI and other technology. The move to create a more immersive experience for fans is pushing investment in the global smart stadium market, forecasted to increase by $50.7 billion from 2023 to 2028, a whopping 30%, according to a survey by Technavio, a leading global technology research and advisory company.

“The global smart stadium market is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years as venues integrate more advanced technologies to engage fans,” said Brian Parks, general manager for MapsPeople, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company that has developed a mapping platform that helps guide spectators inside stadiums.

“Artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, 5G and indoor mapping solutions are creating more immersive and personalized experiences for spectators,” Mr. Parks said in an interview with Techstrong.Ai.

“For example, the Jacksonville Jaguars integrated MapsPeople with their FanReach app and website, which now allows fans to navigate EverBank Stadium easily, locating concessions, restrooms and merchandise.

According to the Technavio survey, the market is fragmented because there are so many companies in the sector. At the forefront are tech giants such as Cisco Systems Inc., Dell Technologies Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., Honeywell International Inc., Huawei Technologies Co., NEC Corp. and many others.

Digital Content Management is the driving force behind the surge in investment. Digital content management relates to video management, digital signages, and mobile content management.

One of the companies that is a leader in that segment is Samsung. In its white paper titled “Drive Revenue: How venues can increase profitability and fan loyalty,” the company details how technology can enhance the spectator experience.

“Digital signage allows venues to include interactive visuals such as kiss, dance, or Simba cams; congratulation or proposal messages; or the ability for fans to vote in polls for what music they want to hear,” Samsung’s white paper states.

Samsung’s massive halo-shaped video screen suspended from the $5 billion SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA, the home of the Los Angeles Rams Football Team, is the largest screen in the history of sports, measuring 70,000 square feet, and figures heavily into the enhanced fan experience, by broadcasting those fan interactions, flashing QR codes, and showing enhanced replays that are captured at all angles by dozens of cameras synched to the action on the field.

There are in-game enhancements too that spectators can benefit from in their viewing. Video Assistant Referees (VAR) technology, using the Hawk-Eye system, is in use in tennis, cricket, rugby, football, and volleyball, and relies on multiple cameras to get an accurate view of whether a ball in in-bounds or out, or other factors that may occur too quick or out of the view of a referee.

The COVID-19 Pandemic put a sudden stop to spectator-filled stadiums, and when restrictions were lifted, numerous safety protocols were put in place, like contactless entry points and contactless concessions. The smartphone became a necessity at stadiums, from the parking lot to seating, and it also became somewhat of a Swiss Army multi-tool, with increased functionality linked to the recent rapid evolution of AI and augmented reality (AR).  With augmented reality, for example, fans will be able to use their smartphone cameras to view statistics, analysis or breakdowns of plays, and other creative graphics, or images, superimposed on the field and throughout the stadium.

And for people who may not have the best eyesight and have to squint to see the scoreboards, the same information is available on their smartphone, in similar format as the scoreboard. And there is technology being developed that will give spectators information like never before, through “smart clothing” worn by the athlete that will transmit his or her speed, movement and distance traveled.

AI, AR, and virtual reality are just two of the tech advances shaping the market’s growth. There are Wi-Fi solutions, blockchain technology, and facial recognition also being intertwined into the stadium structures, according to the Technavio survey.

If the World Cup has proven anything, it is that Fútbol is the preeminent sport worldwide, and with Europe being the epicenter for the sport, it makes sense that the continent leads all others in terms of being the largest smart stadium market in the world. The North American market is second.

STL Tech, a “leading global optical and digital solutions company,” says the technology will eventually extend to the at-home fan experience, bringing holograms of the action to living rooms. And fans viewing games from home will have the satisfaction of knowing that their cheering will be heard in the stadium where the game is being played, through Bluetooth-based technologies, according to STL Tech.

Mr. Parks, of MapsPeople, said that with over 2,100 map loads on day one at Everbank Stadium, “It’s clear these technologies resonate with audiences. Moreover, granular fan data presents opportunities for tailored, real-time promotions and recommendations catering to individuals’ preferences and locations within a venue, making it a true win-win for both fans and the team. I expect that as sensor data and mobile device data get combined, it will make those insights even more powerful, such as wait times displayed for queues in the beer line, along with the ability to pre-pay and skip the line altogether. Though technology can seem impersonal, the ultimate intent is strengthening connections between fans and franchises. As digital natives become the core market, smart stadium solutions will only increase in necessity for both fan satisfaction and venue operations.”