Holding a special place in the hearts of fans around the world, football remains one of our most beloved institutions. As the BBC reported 28.1 million UK viewers tuning into the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer (a record 47 per cent of the total population), it’s clear to see that nothing quite beats the feeling of cheering on your favourite team from your sofa. Nothing that is, except watching live from the stadium itself. To kick off the new Premier League season today, we explore the latest and greatest innovations to hit the ground running.
Worth a staggering £850m, the all-new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is one of the most technologically-advanced and offers the world’s first dividing, retractable pitch, allowing the venue to accommodate huge-scale sports and entertainment events; it’s also set to become the official home of America’s National Football League (NFL). With cutting-edge grass-growing technology to keep the pitch in prime condition, and a 120-tonne lighting system to illuminate every blade, many believe the Spurs home ground signals where the sports fan experience is headed.
Over in the Spanish capital, Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium also begins its transformation this summer – featuring a state-of-the-art retractable roof, 360-degree video screen, enhanced galleries, restaurants and bars, and a modernised metal façade. Set for completion by 2023, the redevelopment will also cover the Paseo de la Castellana area, including a pedestrianised street to allow better access – making it safer for fans to attend and creating a better all-round experience.
The ‘experience economy’ (and the contactless touch)
Meanwhile, the experience economy continues to fuel spending in the UK – from mini-breaks in the city to relaxing by the coast – and holidaymakers are opting to ‘escape’ closer to home, including the ever-popular pastimes of football and festivals. According to new research from Barclaycard, a fifth of Brits are set to choose a festival over a holiday, and 32 per cent a live entertainment event. It’s fair to say that contactless plays an important role in the experience economy for both consumers and merchants expecting a smoother payment experience; Barclaycard presents British Summer Time, for example, was the first contactless-only festival.
Stadiums seem to be headed the same way, with Twickenham to Tottenham making the decision to go completely cashless to speed up waiting times across bars, restaurants and merchandise kiosks to keep fans happy. The contactless system also allows visitors to enter the grounds using digital tickets accessed via smartphone apps for a seamless and stress-free welcome. The same can also be said for fans beyond the UK, with contactless said to have driven 50 per cent of purchases at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia – from the latest merchandise to in-stadium food and drink.
The stadiums of tomorrow
As coliseums of ultimate entertainment, sports stadiums are evolving to deliver an exceptional experience to visitors. But what can we hope to see next? When it comes to refreshments, research from Oracle in the US revealed 76 per cent of fans claimed in-seat food and drinks delivery would improve their experience, with 74 per cent saying they would prefer to collect their orders from an express queue at a concession stand. Unsurprisingly, 10 minutes was also the maximum time visitors were willing to wait for their refreshments at any given time.
While the improvement of food and drink services may not always have been on the agenda, of all the global fans surveyed by Oracle, 94 per cent maintained having bought refreshments at a game – at least occasionally. For this reason alone, sleek payment acceptance remains a top priority for stadiums wishing to best serve their fans. But what of the pioneering technology once only left to the imagination? From driverless cars to facial recognition, the future isn’t as far away as we might think.
In Sacramento, California, US, the Autonomous Transportation Open Standards (ATOS) Lab is already trialling a driverless electric vehicle – the IBM Watson-enabled Olli shuttle – with the aim to provide a more fuss-free transit experience for fans travelling to and from a sports venue. With more than one billion smartphones set to feature facial recognition by 2020 according to Counterpoint, this innovation will also go on to provide visitors with a more personalised experience (think greetings and bespoke special offers when heading to a merchandise store). And while the visitor experience evolves, so does the energy that powers it. So much so that Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is already operating on a 2MW/2.5MWn Tesla system for a more sustainable output – meaning even match day energy can be recycled.
Supporting the nation’s passion
Barclays is the first ever title sponsor of the Barclays FA Women’s Super League – allowing for for prize money of £500,000 to be offered for the first time. It is the biggest ever investment in UK women’s sport from a brand, and this exciting three-year deal will also see Barclays become the lead partner of the FA Girls’ Football School Partnerships – aiming to get 6,000 secondary schools to offer football on the curriculum to their female pupils for the first time. It is hoped that the partnerships will both encourage participation and double the fan base as part of the FA’s ‘Gameplan for Growth’ strategy.
In a bid to enhance sports event spend across the world, Barclays also announced a partnership with tech company Fortress this July – embedding Barclays payment capabilities into multi-functional, team-based membership cards. With international sports leagues including NFL and Major League Baseball (MLB) said to benefit, it will also support 16 of the 20 teams in the English Premier League (EPL). Not only will this collaboration help teams to deliver the best services and incentives, but it will also give consumers access to exclusive rewards whenever they use their cards with an affiliate brand. Football, it would seem, has well and truly landed in the hands of its fans.