Technology in sport: Inside the stadium of the future

Tottenham Hotspur Football Club wants fans to think of its new state-of-the-art stadium as a destination first and a sports ground second.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor on

For most fans, football is a game of tradition – you arrive just before kick-off, have a pie and pint at half-time, and leave elated or deflated straight after the end of the match. But now Tottenham Hotspur Football Club – with a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium – hopes to use technology to re-think how football fans spend their Saturday afternoons or even longer.

"We want to take what is intrinsically Tottenham, to embrace it and to take it to the next level. We want to make Tottenham a destination because there are so many reasons to visit the stadium – we want to create Destination Tottenham," says Donna-Maria Cullen, executive director at Spurs.

Football matches themselves, of course, will be key to this strategy – and Spurs are one of the top sides in the English Premier League. Yet football is now far from the only game to take place at the new stadium. The club has reached an agreement with the NFL to hold a minimum of two American football games a year in a 10-year partnership. The venue will also hold concerts by big-name bands.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The new stadium was initially expected to open last summer but delays in construction meant Spurs finally played their first competitive match at the ground at the beginning of April. As I saw back in July 2017, the plan was always to create a future-proofed, intelligent stadium. Now, after spending upwards of £850m, fans can experience the stadium for themselves. 

Christopher Lee, managing director of stadium-designer Populous, says the 62,062-seater venue will provide a new type of experience for visitors. On my visit to the new stadium as part of a media day prior to opening, I was impressed by the quality of the facilities. Rather than being herded through cramped and outdated facilities, fans can take advantage of a range of options with the aim of keeping them in the venue for longer, which means happier customers and bigger profits for Spurs.

"The architecture is all about producing an environment where spectators can choose where they want to go, rather than being told where to go," says Lee, recognising that the new stadium represents a break in tradition for a typical English football ground. "The aim is we produce a venue like in US sport, where you come for a whole day, stay at the stadium and have different experiences."

Digital systems and services are central to that approach. Rather than being implemented as an afterthought, the stadium's technology systems – through key partners such as HPE, Schneider Electric and HP Inc. – have been built into the fabric of the ground.

The stadium includes HPE Aruba technology with 1,641 Wi-Fi Access Points that provide Wi-Fi coverage everywhere. The core wired network infrastructure, meanwhile, enables the operation of the stadium's critical services, such as CCTV, building management systems, audio visual technologies, and ticketing.

Finally, 700 HPE Bluetooth beacons work in conjunction with a newly created Spurs App to give fans location services, helping fans navigate bars, restaurants and retail stores. The aim is that this infrastructure provides the foundations for digitally enabled fan experiences, both now and into the future, says Lee.

"Technology is key to design-thinking for the stadium, whether that's for access systems, cashless technologies, Wi-Fi coverage, or incorporating the signal of all four of the major UK mobile providers," he says. "Ultimately it's about producing an infrastructure and a backbone that allows us to embrace new technologies as they come out. We want to be able to constantly incorporate those within the stadium."

Like Lee, Sanjeev Katwa, head of technology at Tottenham Hotspur, says digital infrastructure is the key to providing new types of customer experiences at the ground. The new stadium is fully cashless. All major contactless debit and credit cards are accepted, as well as mobile and wearable payment systems, including Apple Pay and Google Pay.

"If you look at that experience, we've got 100 percent cashless in retail, catering and even programme sales," says Katwa. "Most people nowadays in London don't have cash in their pockets. If you're having a good time and your team is winning, you're just going to keep on spending more. So, I believe technology has enabled those new revenue opportunities."

Fans are encouraged to arrive early at the new stadium to make the most of their day out. While fans arriving earlier helps boost profits, Katwa says it also helps Spurs manage the flow of customers to different areas and ensures high-quality experiences around the ground. Once again, technology plays a key enabling role.

"We do security checks at the bottom of the ramp to accessing the stadium and we use technology for that using PDAs," says Katwa. "If we didn't put the technology infrastructure in place, I don't believe we'd be able to meet that fan experience that our customers want. I think we're giving people different choices and different experiences – and I believe technology is enabling all of that."

SEE: Tech budgets 2019: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Fans at this digitally enabled stadium have a huge amount of choice. Outside the ground, the Tottenham Experience houses the Spurs Shop, which at 23,000 square-feet is the largest retail space of any football club in Europe. The Experience is home to a range of other attractions, including stadium tours, and the Club Museum and Archive.

Inside the ground, the new stadium includes a host of bars and restaurants. The Market Place is a fan zone that includes food and drink outlets inspired by London's street-food market scene. At the rear of The Market Place in the 17,500-seater South Stand is the 65-metre Goal Line Bar, which is the longest bar in Europe.

Other facilities include a series of feature bars, a specially designed family area and top-price corporate facilities. These executive areas include suites, lodges serving Michelin-Star-calibre food, sky lounges, and The Tunnel Club, a glass-walled restaurant and bar that gives cash-rich supporters a behind-the-scenes view of the players' tunnel.

These pioneering facilities are a far cry from the traditional pie-and-pint served up to football fans. But while Michelin-starred food and craft beers might sound more enticing, getting football fans to accept the shift away from a short, sharp 90 minutes of raucous support to a full day of 'experiences' will be not be easy.

Match day traditions – many of which are passed from one generation to the next – matter to football fans. I'm an Aston Villa fan and my support is all about traditions; parking our car in the same place, buying sweets from the same shop, eating over-cooked burgers from the same van outside the ground, chatting with strangers about our shared passion for something beyond our control. 

There's nothing intrinsically special about these experiences, but there's something warm, comfortable and perfect about these traditions. If the nature of football support is to change, then fans must willingly embrace that shift. It's a transformation of which Katwa is only too aware – and, while changing fan behaviours is a challenge, he believes Spurs fans will begin to relish the new experience.

"People have been coming to this area for many years, way before many of us were even born. The idea is to invite people to get here at least two hours earlier, to spend time with us and enjoy the choice. Ultimately, you give fans and customers choice, and I think that will also drive additional revenue," he says.

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