How stadium technology will work after COVID-19

Stadiums have been forced to adapt during the pandemic, from being out of use during shutdowns to hosting matches without fans to now introducing new procedures and innovations allowing fans to attend matches safely.

Aderassa Sports & Entertainment specialise in advising sports venue owners and operators.

CEO of Aderassa, Oliver Mazé told TheStadiumBusiness.com the business models for stadiums have changed due to COVID-19.

“Stadia and arenas are facing, and will face, two real challenges. Firstly, how to keep venues safe for attendees. If venues are not safe enough for attendance at least until 2022, authorities should not authorise them to be open,” Mazé said.

“In terms of attracting attendees, this pandemic is a real trauma for all of us and will leave a footprint in our mind for decades. The fear of crowds will be in our minds for a long time, because nobody can guarantee it will be gone forever. We need to live with the virus and provide the safest places as possible, and communicate this to show attendees they can come, enjoy and be safe.”

There are several areas in which stadiums have adapted and will continue to be managed during the pandemic and into the future.

Hygiene

Stadiums have moved to becoming contact free – contactless payment at food and merchandise stalls via tap and go has become the norm during the pandemic. Online ordering of food and beverages is another innovation which has become important, allowing for people to order their food whilst avoiding large crowds at stalls.

At some stadiums, contactless technologies are being introduced for doors and bathrooms.

The installation of hygiene stations with sanitiser also help to keep fans and safe and minimise the spread of infection.

Chief Technology Officer of Los Angeles FC, Christian Lau recently spoke to fcbusiness of the technology innovations at the Banc of California Stadium

“Coming into the stadium, we’re installing new access controls via our partner Axess Control based out of Austria. We’ll be adding a thermal scanner to check people’s temperature along with mask detection,” Lau said.

“So upon arrival visitors will have their ticket scanned, temperature checked and checked if they have a mask on before the turnstile opens up.”

Ticketing

Michal Pyda is the Business Development Executive at Roboticket. In fcbusiness, he spoke of how the company is working to provide ticketing solutions.

“Pre-COVID, the normal situation is to maximise attendance whilst minimising the gaps between fans sitting together, so we already had the mechanisms to keep people sitting tight on the stands. In order to create an automatic buffer between each transaction we implemented a reverse version of the algorithm covering complex geometrical models allowing us to shape any buffer around each transaction,” Pyda said.

“Crucially, this mechanism is flexible so it can be adapted to work around any changes to social distancing rules that are created by law or the FA. This customisation is also required to be adaptable to the individual requirements across different territories. Today we may have a two-metre separation rule but tomorrow it might be one metre so the mechanism needs to be flexible.”

COVID-19 has also increased the use of mobile ticketing. Research completed by Juniper Research last year suggested that there will be a 64% increase to $23 billion in spending on mobile tickets for sporting events by 2023. This will be a major increase from $14 billion in 2019.

Staggered entry and exit times will also become common to avoid large crowds gathering at gates outside games, this also helps to spread the times at which people access public transport to get to and from matches.

Digitalisation

Managing director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for stadium architect Populous, Christopher Lee told SportsPro in May that there is potential for the in stadium experience to be recreated virtually.

“We’re anticipating the integration of some kind of remote audience, whether that’s VR (virtual reality), how they’re portrayed in-bowl itself,” Lee said.

“If you look at any of the big clubs, Manchester United, they’ll get a couple of million people physically through their doors [per season], but social media says they have 650 million fans around the world. A reasonable percentage will watch a game live somewhere, and it’s how you then bring that remote audience into a live stadium audience – so using screens and boards – and I think you’ll see more of that.

“We will see more sophisticated ways of watching your favourite team, whether it’s using VR, or AR [augmented reality]…and having that represented in the stadium. I think that is something that will stay much longer than just to do with Covid.”

Digital screens around the ground and scoreboards are being used to provide alerts and to remind fans of social distancing regulations that they need to follow.

Some football leagues are already using facial recognition technology, Serie A have previously used the technology to identity fans who are responsible for racist behaviour at matches.

Artificial intelligence and facial recognition can be used to monitor crowds at concession stands or look back and identity who has come into contact with a positive COVID case.

“There are more sophisticated versions that also add a track and trace overlay on top of that, so it tells you if you’re within two metres or eventually if you’ve been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus. [There is also] a lot of work on robots linked to CCTV cameras and central command posts where they can enforce social distancing,” Lee said.

Football Australia and stadium management will be looking to introduce as many of these innovations as possible to allow spectators to attend matches while ensuring the safety of those fans who do attend matches.

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Daniel Foley is a sports junior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and micro industry matters.

Lawrie McKinna: A true survivor

Since 1986, when he first appeared for Heidelberg United in the NSL, Lawrie McKinna, the current Sydney Olympic CEO, has seen it all in Australian football.

After playing stints with Apia and Blacktown City, he eventually teamed up with David Mitchell at Sydney United and Parramatta Power in coaching roles, followed by Northern Spirit in his own right.

When the A-League commenced in 2005, Mckinna was involved at Central Coast Mariners and eventually became mayor of Gosford.

In recent times, he was CEO at the Newcastle Jets until the opportunity arose two years ago to take the helm at Sydney Olympic.

It is no coincidence that Lawrie McKinna faces one of the greatest challenges of his career in preparing the club to be ready for the start of the National Second Division in the winter of 2025.

Fittingly, on Saturday January 13th, a challenge match commemorated the first NSL  match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne which was played on April 2nd, 1977 at the Sydney Sportsground.

It was a unique day for football as it was the first code in Australia to form a national competition.

Lawrie McKinna is well aware of the famous players who appeared on that day, notably Gary Meier and Joe Senkalski for Sydney Olympic and former Socceroos, Jack Reilly, Billy Rogers, Duncan Cummings, Jimmy Mackay and Peter Ollerton for South Melbourne.

In fact, it was Peter Ollerton who scored the two goals for South Melbourne to secure his team’s victory.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Lawrie McKinna discusses the current state of Australian football, his vision for the success of the National Second Division and the significance of the Sydney Olympic v South Melbourne clash.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Looking back over all those years you’ve been involved in the Australian game, how do you see its current state?

LAWRIE McKINNA

When I first played at Heidelberg in the NSL, there were big crowds but we played at poor stadiums like Connor Reserve and Sunshine Reserve in the winter. Furthermore, we played in ankles of mud which was very much like playing in Scotland.

The current A-League stadiums are top notch with good surfaces and part of the criteria for the B-League will be for this to be replicated.

One of the glaring weaknesses of the A-League is the lack of media as the other codes receive blanket coverage.

If the game is trying to entice more support there is no incentive for the general sporting fan to follow it so this must be addressed.

However, the success of the Matildas is well known and the Socceroos popularity has never been greater so these strengths have to be built on.

R.S.

Do you think the right people are running the game?

L.M.

I don’t even know who is running the game since Danny Townsend left the APL.

I’ve never seen Nick Garcia, the new APL CEO, because he’s never appeared on television.

There are very large staff numbers at the APL but they’re invisible people.

James Johnson, the FA CEO, is their spokesperson and at least people recognise him but there still isn’t enough exposure of the FA Management to the supporters.

R.S.

Newcastle Jets, Perth Glory, Western United and Brisbane Roar are in survival mode.

Is this a satisfactory situation?

L.M.

This is not the only country in the world with financial problems so it’s a matter of getting the right owners who will commit for the long term.

However, it’s not a bottomless pit so better broadcast deals are required to bring money into the game.

R.S.

What do you see as the vision for the National Second Division and how can it integrate with the A-League?

L.M.

The admission of the first eight clubs is positive but a 12-club League is desirable.

We also need Adelaide, Brisbane and Tasmania to be represented to make it a truly national competition.

At the moment, a new television deal is being worked on to encompass the Matildas, Socceroos, Asian Cup and National Second Division and this was the major reason the new League was postponed until 2025.

R.S.

Will there be promotion from the B-League to the A-League?

L.M.

There won’t be for a number of years and the only way it could happen is if there is a bid for an A-League licence which would be in the vicinity of $10 million.

Eventually, there will be relegation from the B-League to the NPL and promotion upwards.

R.S.

Why should the B-League be more successful than the NPL?

L.M.

Simply, of the eight teams accepted for the B-League, seven of them were former, large NSL clubs who have strong community support and financial backing.

There’ll be more money spent to get better players into the League and also compensation will be provided to the clubs if an A-League club signs a player.

At the moment, there is virtually no compensation for the sale of NPL players to the A- League and if a player moves overseas , there’s usually a free transfer clause in their contract.

Also, contracts in the B-League will be for 2-3 years while in the current NPL they’re usually only for one year.

There’ll be more movement between NPL and the B-League with the aim to provide players with more games and opportunity which is one of the weaknesses of the current system.

R.S.

What is the main purpose of the match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne?

L.M.

Apart from recognising the famous match of April 2nd, 1977, we are attempting to reconnect the Olympic fans who haven’t identified with the game and the club since the end of the NSL.

At the Greek festival, I attended last weekend there was a lot of interest expressed about the B-League which resulted in some promising ticket sales for the match.

The venue at Netstrata Stadium is ideal and we intend to play our home matches there in 2025.

We also hope those former fans will bring their children to the games and create a new generation of supporters.

Brisbane Roar and AQUAME boost optimal hydration

Brisbane Roar and AQUAME

Brisbane Roar is collaborating with leading Australian water bottle developer AQUAME to provide their squads with high-tech water bottles.

AQUAME is a high-tech water bottle offering UVC sanitation, drink reminders, and real-time tracking, all guided by an AI-enhanced app for optimal hydration.

AQUAME’s AI-enhanced phone application enables users to see statistics regarding their hydration, with historical data and personalised coaching options to help guide users towards informed daily health decisions.

The device has been used and approved by Socceroos legend Archie Thompson and Melbourne City FC forward Andrew Nabbout, with the sports water bottle company moving into the football corporate world after recent growth.

Brisbane Roar CEO Kaz Patafta mentioned the importance the club puts on maximising player performance.

“We are proud to partner with AQUAME and believe these high-tech water bottles will greatly contribute to player wellbeing on and off the pitch. As a club we strive to see players have the best products at their fingertips to perform their best. We look forward to growing this partnership with AQUAME,” Patafta said via media release.

Founder of AQUAME Steve Aidun Xie spoke on the large market that this partnership with the A-League club provides for technology in sport.

“We are thrilled to partner with Brisbane Roar, a significant milestone in revolutionising the role of data in modern sports. In today’s competitive sporting landscape, the understanding and optimisation of athlete hydration remain underexplored. Our collaboration is set to bridge this gap by leveraging cutting-edge technology to collect vital hydration data,” Xie added.

“This partnership is more than just an alliance; it’s a step towards filling a crucial void in sports tech by integrating effective hydration plans into athletes’ routines. The insights gained from working with a professional club like Brisbane Roar are invaluable. They will be instrumental in refining our new hydration analysis software, designed to empower sporting clubs globally,” Xie continued.

“This tool will not only analyse but also illuminate how precise hydration planning can elevate athletes to their peak performance. We are excited to be at the forefront of this groundbreaking development, contributing to enhanced athletic achievements and wellbeing.”

Brisbane Roar have a focus with this partnership to positively impact player performance for both the men’s and women’s sides through high quality technological equipment, with AQUAME specifically focusing on the players receiving acute hydration.

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