In recent years, there has been a lot of noise around the rise of technology in sport. Much of this is to improve the spectacle and in some cases make the lives of officials and managers easier.
However, until recently, very little had been said about improving, or even introducing, technology to enhance the experience of the fans. In sport, if ‘you’ve got no fans’, you’re pretty much done as a viable business – they are the lifeblood of the game.
As fans, we have been accustomed to, almost expectant of, poor mobile signal, long queues, disappointing transfer failures and complicated ticket purchases. However, many of these frustrations can be alleviated through the use of up-to-date technology.
Swamped with Paperwork
Imagine yourself at Wimbledon 2016. Think strawberries and cream as Andy Murray cruises through another set. Sounds lovely right? However, brace yourself, because before this blissful scene there is paperwork to be done and plenty of it.
To even be placed in the ballot box for a ticket, you must first send Wimbledon a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Once received, Wimbledon will send you the application form. When this is completed and returned, Wimbledon will let you know you have a ticket in the following six months. In this digital age, it is extraordinary that fans still do this and that Wimbledon hasn’t crumbled under the heaps of unnecessary admin work. If you think how many fans will miss out on this great sporting event because of such an inaccessible process, it’s shocking.
The innovations on the pitch make these inefficiencies look all the more incongruous. Hawkeye, the ball tracking software, has already been welcomed by both cricket and tennis to great effect. Similar technology is used in football to definitively say whether or not a ball has crossed the line. On top of this there has also been lots of talk about players using wearable tech, meaning trainers and managers can monitor their health and performance to the nth degree.
For the thousands of fans who come together to watch their favourite team or sportsperson, things can be more of a struggle. Think of those precious moments spent in a queue, viewing the back of a head rather than the game because the payment process is so slow. With the introduction of contactless card payments and Apple pay, fans could be fast-tracked into the stadiums.
It’s not all bad though, this summer we saw the Lord’s cricket ground give fans an exclusive behind the scenes on Periscope at the Ashes. They saw an opportunity to utilise social media to bring fans closer to the heart of the game, wherever they are. However, we must not forget that most stadiums struggle to provide consistent mobile signal, and you can forget about Wi-fi, so those in the ground may have to wait for their behind the scenes tour.
Further to this, most sports games will be accompanied with a hashtag (#) on Twitter. Ironically the fans watching the game live at the stadium can’t use it because the stadium has such poor signal. Failing to provide even the basic tech for fans can mean a poor experience of the game.
The Bare Fax
But wait. The list of fan frustrations does not stop there. The most recent let down due to outdated tech was during the football transfer deadline day. David De Gea’s transfer to Real Madrid dropped at the last minute because of ‘admin errors’. That an industry worth billions, still uses unreliable methods to complete transfers, such as the fax machine, is beyond the comprehension of most fans.
We are increasingly seeing sports teams such as Manchester United and Chelsea recently, signing deals with tech companies to improve the experience of fans both within the stadium and on the other side of the world, but this is long overdue.
If the sports industry can shift outdated methods it still holds on to it has a bright future and will not risk alienating and distancing its fans from the game they love.