Earlier this month, many sports fans tuned in to watch the latest (and slightly subdued) edition of NFL’s biggest show, Super Bowl 55 (or LV, if you’re a traditionalist), which felt very different this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it’s the removal of fans from stadiums or the stringent COVID protocols enforced on athletes, sports teams and organisations have had to completely re-think and reshape their processes to ensure fan and athlete safety.
So, with health and safety considerations at an all-time high, how can the sports world move forward and welcome fans back to stadiums soon? To quote soon to be basketball Hall-of-Fame inductee Kevin Garnett, with the help of technology, ‘anything is possible!’
In this blog, we dive into how innovative technologies could help sports teams and organisations keep their players and fans safe while allowing sporting events to continue.
Wearable health technology
Wearable technology is nothing new in sports. With the rise in sabermetrics across all sports, collecting in-game data from players using wearable tech has become a staple in performance sport. However, due to the pandemic, we have seen a rise in the use of wearable technology as a means to monitor the vital signs of athletes to limit the spread of the virus.
Last Autumn, we saw the National Basketball Association consider using the Oura smart ring as a tool to monitor the health of the participants in the bubble at Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida. In the National Football League, teams used Kinexon’s wearable sensors to ensure that teammates were socially distancing, with the device alerting users if they were to come too close to a teammate. And while this trend was always likely to increase, the pandemic may lead to sports teams utilising wearable tech as a method of ensuring health and safety as well as measuring athlete performance.
While we are already starting to see more sport venues utilising smart gates, these pieces of tech could be crucial in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 at sporting events. With sport stadiums gates usually resembling vast oceans of excited fans at major events, being able to detect those who could be carrying the virus could be difficult.
However, a study with the National Health Service in Scotland is testing a new system that can detect individuals with high temperatures, whether they’re on their own or in the middle of a crowd. The system combines thermal imagers with artificial intelligence, allowing it to quickly detect if someone is experiencing a high temperature.
If this technology were to be integrated into smart gates at a sporting venue, staff can quickly act to stop fans experiencing potential COVID-19 symptoms from entering the arena and spreading the virus. With sporting events seeing sometimes hundreds-of-thousands of fans pass through their gates, technology like this could be vital in ensuring that all spectators are fit to view the event.
While seemingly something confined to the pages of spy novels, some sport stadiums are looking to use facial recognition technology to start allowing small numbers of visitors to venues, such as season-ticket holders or VIP guests. In fact some sports franchises, such as the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Football Club, have already started testing the technology.
With health measures, such as the wearing of masks, likely being enforced at sport events for the foreseeable future, identifying fans could prove to be problematic for event organisers. However, improvements in AI and machine learning mean that facial recognition tech today can authenticate people wearing masks with 99% accuracy, keeping the authentication process quick and simple.
Lastly, as we have come to see at some sporting events, fans can become slightly overzealous in their support for their team, this sometimes spilling out into anti-social behaviour, ruining the fan experience for those around them. Stadium administrators and event organisers could be assisted by facial recognition tech to keep track of fans not willing to play by the rules, quickly deploying security if action is needed.
Stadiums can be chaotic during any sporting event, with people buying food and drinks, walking to their seats or queuing for the toilets. While this undoubtedly presents a transmission risk, it can also be a general health and safety risk.
So, in order to prevent these seas of commotion at sporting venues, 5G sensors could be utilised to monitor the movement of fans at an event, providing insight to organisers as to how best to manage fan movement to provide the highest level of safety.
Moreover, with the continued growth of 5G, fans will come to benefit from better connectivity within stadiums, enabling organisers to boost the fan experience using applications which help visitors order half-time snacks, keep up to date with the latest stories across sport or organise parking.
What do you think the stadium of the future could look like? What type of tech would you be interested in seeing implemented? Let us know in the comments below.