By Dave Claxton, BusinessOfSport.Net
In 1937 an astounding 149,415 people attended an international football game, featuring Scotland and England, at Hampden Park. More than 80 years on, it still stands as the record attendance for an international game in Europe.
What did the football fan’s experience even look like all the way back then?
There were a few key staples to the matchday experience, including printed football programmes. The trusty programme served as entertainment, but also, in an age of stadiums without covers, it helped fans keep their heads dry, especially during the 1924 FA Cup Final, which experienced torrential rain. The football rattle was also a ubiquitous sight and was a wooden contraption that was swung around to produce a clicking noise, used to encourage fans’ teams. Due to the size of the crowds, some more well-off fans also brought their own binoculars to make sure they captured every bit of the game. Meanwhile, technology also affected the era greatly. The first floodlights, enabling matches to be played at night, were introduced. Also, in the same year as the game at Hampden Park, the BBC televised football for the first time in the UK, featuring a specially arranged friendly between Arsenal and its reserve team.
Fast forward to today and this matchday experience looks quite quaint by comparison. Fans now expect a plethora of services and entertainment when attending a match. This includes ease of access to and from a stadium, free stadium WiFi, large screen TVs to rewatch game highlights and the ability to buy food and drink at venues.
Arguably we are now at a crossroads as to where the in-stadium fan experience goes next. There are two key reasons for this. As argued by consultancy firm Deloitte, the first is that stadiums are now being built with the goal of becoming “arena districts”, whereby a stadium is supported by a wide variety of interlinked experiences and services to support and maximise the commercial activity of a sporting venue. Secondly, the advance in technology, specifically the smartphone, has enabled fans to use their phones to experience and enjoy games in different ways, from something as simple as taking a high-quality video at a game, to interacting in real-time on social media with other fans in the stadium.
Critically, however, these two trends are now converging though and will shape the future of the fan experience, with a stadium becoming, in effect, both a technological and commercial platform.
What will the fan’s experience actually look like in the next 10-20 years though? At BusinessOfSport.Net, we’ve pulled out four key ways the sporting experience will change in the coming years:
- Fans take control of stadiums: In the future, thanks to technology fans may be able to “take over” certain parts of the in-stadium experience. This can range from the music played to in-game signage. For example, in ten years, we may see football stadiums mirror their NFL counterparts by supporting their team with enthusiastic electronic board messages, urging “defence!”, all controlled by fan vote throughout the game. This would be a democratisation of the in-stadium fan experience which would be an attempt to boost engagement too.
- Transportation: With the expected explosion in self-driving and parking vehicles coming (both for private and public use), this will have a radical impact on how fans go to and from a venue. It is estimated that these cars that could drop fans off at a stadium, could then park at a distance, will likely free up 20% to 30% of the near-venue area for other purposes, according to FutureOf.
- Holograms: Fans will be able to see the score, key match stats and even replays thanks to on-the-field holograms which will project this information to them. It will cut down on the huge eyesore of giant TV screens at venues currently and be much more cost effective for clubs.
- Content: Fans, through apps, will become the number one source of video production for a sports team. As smartphones offer better and better video recording potential, fans will supplement broadcasters’ video content with fan-recorded moments to give more authenticity, energy and personalisation.
Undoubtedly, much of the fan experience we have taken for granted, and potentially even, become bored by, will change radically in the coming years. Much like sports itself, the overall experience won’t stand still. Where the in-stadium fan experience goes next is a very exciting thing. As a fan, I can’t wait to be a part of it.
About the writer
Dave Claxton is a freelance sports business journalist who has written for SportTechie and Leaders In Sports. He is also a blogger at BusinessOfSport.net which examines how sports is increasingly being affected by business and also technology.