The optimal technology strategies for commercial success for sports stadia and arenas were on the agenda at the Stadium Technology Insights event in Birmingham.

Held at Edgbaston, home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club, the PTI Consulting-organised event gathered together 100 of the UK’s senior stadium and venue leaders yesterday (Wednesday), with fan engagement, stadium WiFi, technology transformation, event management and retail the core topics discussed.

In one of three keynote sessions, Ben Wells, chief commercial officer of Bath Rugby, kicked things off by discussing how the Premiership club is seeking to utilise technology to deliver its new stadium. Wells was speaking after Stadium for Bath, the group behind the new stadium for Bath Rugby, last week revealed that it is now targeting a completion date of summer 2022 for the development, nearly a year later than initially planned.

Stadium for Bath, which comprises the club, its charity Bath Rugby Foundation and Arena 1865, owner Bruce Craig’s development company, disclosed the new timeline in a scoping report that was submitted to Bath and North East Somerset Council.

The group had previously said that the new 18,000-capacity stadium, which is set to be built on the same site as the historic 14,500-capacity Recreation Ground, could open as early as September 2021. The stadium’s location in the heart of Bath, which is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, presents a number of challenges to the club.

Wells stated that while the new stadium will only have 16 days of rugby per year, it needs to deliver dual usage throughout the year. He added that the club is holding early stage talks with the city council to see how the new stadium can fit into a ‘smart city’ strategy.

While Bath has a population of only 80,000, the city as a tourist magnet has a visitor footfall of six million per year. Wells said that Bath’s season ticket base at present has an average age of 57, adding that the club wants to use tech to future proof the stadium and draw in the next generation of fans.

Stating that use of data is a massive part of future strategy, Wells said that fans using social media while at games should be viewed as an opportunity not a challenge. The key, he stated, is that people are showing off that they’re at an event.

With tech, Wells said that if it doesn’t add value to the fan experience a club or organisation shouldn’t do it, adding that Bath is keen to ensure technology accelerates every part of the stadium plan.

Wells said that barriers to access need to be removed, and while basic-level connection in a stadium must be free, there can be scope to charge for better connection and enhanced levels of content.

Next up, Craig Flindall, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Edgbaston, discussed how the stadium has evolved to become one of the leading grounds in English cricket. Edgbaston played a key role in the recently completed Cricket World Cup, hosting five matches including one semi-final.

From August 1, Edgbaston, renowned as a fortress for the England team, will host the opening Test of the Ashes series against Australia. Looking to the future, Flindall revealed that Edgbaston is currently in the midst of a tender process for a new venue app that seeks to enhance the fan experience at the ground.

Scheduled to launch for the start of the 2020 season, a shortlist of three partners are currently vying for the contract to create the ‘Edgbaston App’. Flindall said the app will include e-ticketing, adding that the club is currently considering whether to potentially switch to a completely paper-free ticketing model.

Food and beverage (F&B) pre-ordering and in-seat ordering are also set to be part of the app. Flindall said pre-ordering would potentially lessen the F&B revenue risk that is inherently part of cricket through weather factors and games not running to their full length.

Looking further into the future, Flindall said the next phase of the Edgbaston development masterplan will begin from 2024 onwards. This is set to focus on the area currently encompassing the Family Stand, RES Wyatt and Raglan Stand, with Flindall stating the new development could include an on-site hotel.

In the final keynote session, Antony Tomlinson, CEO of wireless infrastructure company Ontix, debated the relative merits of 4G versus 5G and WiFi tech in stadia. With certain delegates questioning which is the better investment given the entry to the marketplace of 5G, Tomlinson stated his belief that full 5G is likely to take more than five years to come to fruition.

Outlining that 4G to 5G is a much bigger step than 3G to 4G was, he added that 4G is mature tech and will be around for years to come.

Commenting on the event, PTI Consulting managing director Mike Bohndiek said: “It was great to get industry leaders together to share common challenges and debate the answers to them. With content entirely led by the attendees pre-event survey answers, we hope we’ve provided an insightful day.

“The discussions were lively in session, and in the networking time after, and sometimes that’s the real win – getting the conversation started and helping people to understand they aren’t alone in their challenge.”

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