The Australian Football League (AFL) has announced that Marvel Stadium will become one of the world’s most technologically connected and innovative sports and entertainment venues, under a new deal with telecommunications company Telstra.

Today’s (Wednesday’s) announcement came as the Aussie rules league unveiled new agreements with Telstra and Foxtel under which both will extend their broadcast rights by two years across the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said the extended broadcast deal, along with the Seven Network’s extension for the 2023-2024 seasons announced earlier this year, would deliver A$946m (£533m/€587.3m/$715.6m) to the AFL industry over the two years.

Under the extended agreement, AFL-owned Marvel Stadium will become a test bed for Telstra 5G innovation. Telstra will become Marvel Stadium’s official technology and innovation partner over the next four years, aiming to ensuring the revamped Melbourne facility offers supporters the best digital experience of any stadium or entertainment venue in the country.

Telstra technology and connectivity will be deployed at Marvel over the next few years including fixed and 4G/5G networks upgrades, Artificial Intelligence, and mixed reality and edge computing. Telstra will also expand its visual sponsorship elements such as on-field Telstra 5G signage.

The AFL and Victorian State Government last month revealed plans to make Marvel Stadium one of the top sports and entertainment destinations in the world through a wide-ranging transformation scheme.

Marvel Stadium will be opened up to the city of Melbourne under the plans, which seek to ensure it becomes a seven-day-a-week community meeting place with a ‘Town Square’ and new cafes, bars and restaurants.

Commenting on the Telstra and Foxtel deals, McLachlan said: “After a challenging year, this is a great way to finish off 2020 and is a massive vote of confidence in the AFL, our players and our code at all levels. It provides greater financial certainty in the years ahead, ensures our fans continue to have the ability to watch men’s and women’s footy wherever they are.

“We have made a commitment to make Marvel Stadium one of the best sports and entertainment destinations in the world and our partnership with Telstra only enhances our ability to deliver this by providing fans a digitally-connected and technologically innovative fan-friendly experience.”

Telstra currently offers 4G and 5G in select stadiums around the nation, including at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Citing the importance of strong connectivity for major events, Telstra said that in 2018 it saw 3.8 terabytes of data sent over its mobile network from the MCG alone, up 22% from 2017.

Telstra CEO Andy Penn said: “Since 2002, we have been proud of our partnership with the AFL which has always been about using technology to help Aussies watch and enjoy the game at home or on the go.

“Telstra is delighted to be able to deepen our support of the AFL through extending our sponsorships, leveraging our industry leadership in 5G and other exciting technologies such as mixed reality, as well as becoming Marvel Stadium’s official technology and innovation partner to enhance the experience for fans. We’re really excited about the potential future stadium experiences that can be delivered for fans through Telstra 5G and other technologies.”

In other news, McLachlan said the AFL is conducting a review into October’s Grand Final, the first decider to be held at night. In September, the AFL announced it would stage its Grand Final outside the state of Victoria for the first time this year, with Brisbane’s Gabba stadium awarded the hosting rights to reward Queensland’s assistance to the League during COVID-19.

The 2020 Grand Final had been scheduled for October 24 at the MCG, its traditional home, but the COVID-19 situation in the state of Victoria had necessitated a different venue. McLachlan said the review is expected to be completed in March with a decision on the time of the 2021 Grand Final expected in the following month.

McLachlan added: “My personal preference is I’m open. Traditionally, I’ve supported a day Grand Final, I think I’ve been open about that, but it was an incredible experience at the Gabba for those of us who were fortunate enough to be there. So my decision and the Commission decision will be better informed by a proper engagement process we’re going through with industry figures and supporters.”

Image: Bob Tan/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size