What is the Internet of Things (IoTs) and its implications for Sports Organisations? (Blog 2)

19 June 2023 | Written by Andy Nutting

Andy Nutting, Information Governance Manager at Veritau, has released his second blog post from his latest series. 


In the last article I looked at what the Internet of Things (IoTs) are, how it works and some examples of what connected devices look like.

In this article I’m looking at how IoTs are shaping modern sports stadiums and fans experience, and how IoTs are being used in other areas of sport.

What about sports stadiums and shaping fans experience?

Pre the 1990’s many of the UK sports stadiums hadn’t changed much since their inception in the late 19th Century, and consisted of a stand with seating and banks of terracing.

Following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, the Lord Justice Taylor report recommended that stadia in the top two divisions of English professional football become all seater, and that all ticketed fans should have seats.

This ruling has had a knock on effect throughout football and other sports too, and stadiums across the UK have increased seating capacity and improved spectator facilities.

The next evolution of sports stadiums are being transformed by IoTs and elevating them from mere physical structures where people convene to watch a game to centralised data hubs powering interactive experiences.

By harnessing immense amounts of raw data about their fans, teams can track behaviours to create personalised experiences in the form of player interactions, live game updates, rewards programmes, and special offerings based on purchase history.

All of which is very exciting with oodles of potential, but you must remember data privacy rules and the respect owed to people’s personal data (more about this in a future article).

Fittingly, the first ‘smart stadium’ popped up near Silicon Valley in 2014. Levi’s Stadium, home to the San Francisco 49’ers, is equipped with 12,000 physical network ports and 40-gigabit Wi-Fi network to keep fans, features, and stadium operations always connected.

Image that? Fans able to obtain Wi-Fi in a sports stadium? Not sure about you but a perennial frustration of mine when in a football stadium is the lack of Wi-Fi connectivity available.

Back to the 49’ers, and fans using the stadium’s mobile app can watch multiple-angle instant replays on their smartphones, order concessions from their seats, and even track which restroom (toilet) has the shortest line in real-time – all made possible by 1,700 Bluetooth-based beacons that recognise fan locations throughout the venue.

Interestingly the 49’ers Enterprises (the commercial arm of the Grid Iron team) has just taken control of Leeds United AFC. I wonder whether we might see Elland Road kitted out with IoT devices and connectivity over the next few years?

One English Premier League team already fitted out with smart technology is Tottenham Hotspur. Their new stadium is one of the smartest, most connected stadiums in the world providing their fans (and visitors) with a truly connected experience within the stadium.

Tottenham’s vision was to deliver an enhanced fan experience by building a smart and connected stadium.

It’s strategy was to integrate technology to support stadium services, maximise operational efficiencies, and make facilities flexible.

The stadium enhances the visitors experience, adopting a mobile-first approach and reaching 95% fan satisfaction. It powers a cashless stadium, speeding service and increasing sales insight and revenue, and delivers 100% connectivity for over 60,000 fans, team staff, and commercial partners.

Not too far away from the 49’ers in San Francisco are the Sacramento King’s and their Golden 1 Centre, which has future-proofed itself by centring its functionality on software.

The stadium has a 6,000sq foot data command centre that can undergo software updates, which means there is no requirement to alter physical construction when new technology is required.

Fans can enjoy a highly personalised experience before they even arrive on site – arranging Uber rides and reserving parking through the stadium’s app, for instance.

Once you pass through the smart turnstiles, which use retina, fingerprint, and facial recognition for seamless entry, fans can use the app to find their seats, order food, follow live statistics and coverage, and even ask an AI messaging bot question about the games.

Not only do fans get to enjoy the sense of community that comes with being in a stadium, but they can share it with friends and family elsewhere.

The centre’s 650 miles of fibre optic cable, more than 300 mile of copper wire, and a multitude of Wi-Fi access points let fans post rapidly to social media – because the best kind of advertising is word of mouth, of course.

These are just a few examples of sports infrastructure enhancing smart technology and adopting IoTs to improve venues and bring stadiums into the 21st Century.

Sports organisations are realising that improving fan experience with innovative technologies has become a necessity for their growth and existence while competing with digital entertainment systems that are keeping the younger generations at home.

State-of-the-art smart stadiums are being built to drastically improve fan experiences and increase match attendance. Wireless sensors provide fans with a wealth of information from parking availability, bathroom and concession lines, seat upgrades, special offers, and more.

In addition to smart navigation, stadiums are also increasing comfort and fan engagement with the use of in-seat smart devices and augmented reality.

In some stadiums smart tables are available at seats to order food, merchandise, share insights about the match and even create automated photos and videos of fans during key moments of the match.

What about other areas of sport IoT is used?

IoT has been immersed in sports for a few years now, and it’s easy to find, whether this is in wearables or objects. For example, fitness bracelets such as the Fitbit. I have one strapped to my wrist providing me with data about the number of steps I take, calories burnt, and kilometres walked.

Perhaps less common is clothing such as the Hexoskin smart shirt, which measures your heart rate, heart rate variability, breathing rate, and breathing volume in addition to your steps and pace.

This type of technology extends beyond sports to monitor working in extreme and high-risk environments, such as firefighters and military personnel.

Smart garments can send an alarm, including location, if a firefighter or soldier is hurt in the line of duty.

During the last decade the sports industry has led the race to adopt IoT technologies. In the European Union (EU) alone, the number of IoT units in wellness and sports surged to 133 million at the beginning of the twenties and is projected to reach over 170 million units by the mid-point of the decade (2025).

These technologies are advancing at pace as is the expectations of sports fans and participants. For swimmers, both professional and amateur, tracking their progress during training may be a true challenge if you’re using a standard fitness tracker.

XMetrics Pro Swim Tracker allows you to attach the device to your goggles and get instant audio feedback about your performance, including laps, turns, strokes count, and efficiency. The device provides connected coaching to step up your proficiency fast and effectively.

A smart yoga mat can become a kind of workout assistant and coach.

IoT based mats can control the position of your body and guide you to correct the technique, support your balance, measure basic metrics like practice time, and additionally, design a personalised training programme.

There has been an evolution in smart clothing too. In third generation wearables, the garment is the sensor, and a growing number of companies are creating biometric, pressure, and strain sensors for this purpose.

Examples of smart clothing range from the Sensoria Smart Socks that not only calculate the distance and speed at which you run but also record the pressure on every part of your foot.

And how about a pair of smart shoes that orders your food? Of course, these are limited edition and they’re called the limited-edition pizza hut shoe. I kid you not!

These are a pair of sneakers that not only record your distance and track your fitness as you journey, but let you order a pizza and control your DVR. It connects with an app on your phone and can place the order at a tap. As for controlling the TV, just point your shoes at it and push a button!

Smart clothing and shoes combined with IoT sensors are used to collect player data too. Everything from an athlete’s heart rate to fatigue and player performance is measured.

Coaches use this data to adjust training and manage the workloads of players to mitigate injury risks.

There are countless other examples of how IoT devices are integrated into the sports industry. Too many for this article.

Whilst IoTs bring many benefits and advantages, they also intensify the proliferation of digital data, and can be intrusive and therefore bring about civil liberty and privacy issues.

In my next article I’ll look at some of the privacy concerns and guidance that is available to mitigate such concerns.

If you’d like support managing your organisation’s data, our team can help.

You can keep up to date with Andy’s blogs on his LinkedIn profile.