The evolution of home entertainment and sports broadcasting technology over the past decade has brought viewers closer to the action than ever before. A myriad of cameras and TV channels, 3D graphics, online interactivity and social media are among the many advances that have added to the virtual sporting experience.
However, being there in person when one of your favourite golfers sinks an eagle on the 18th to win a major is something that can't be experienced via a plasma screen, no matter how high definition it is. That's why people still go to live sporting events, despite the lure of their armchair and remote control.
However, anyone who has been to a sports event that takes place over a large area – such as golf tournaments, motor racing and cycling – knows that spectators only see a fraction of the action that's taking place. The physical size of the event means individuals are often a long way from the nearest big screen, let alone the competitors.
The influence of Wi-Fi
The good news for spectators is that a new technological revolution in sports entertainment involves bringing the action closer to them. Now, thanks to high performance wireless networks, fans can enhance their experience at these events with the same kind of functionality their sofa-bound counterparts enjoy.
For example, at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club in May 2014, golf fans were treated to a raft of services and applications on their smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices, which helped overcome the traditional limitations of watching these events. Real-time player trackers enabled spectators to follow their favourite athletes around the course, while leader boards, course guides, on-demand video and interactive content all added to the fan experience.
Large fixed seating venues are also bringing enhanced connectivity to fans and spectators. For example, Liverpool Football Club implemented a wireless network at Anfield in response to visitor demand for better mobile access. To complement the live sporting experience, the venue now provides services such as in-match stats and gives fans the ability to share their photos and video in real-time with a global audience outside of the stadium through social media platforms.
Improving the spectator experience
There's more good news for sports venues, too. A richer experience for fans makes leaving the comfort of home more appealing. Once spectators are at the event, connecting with them on their devices gives venues unprecedented insight into user behaviour and preferences. Among other benefits, this allows the venue to find out what devices fans are using so they can invest in digital platforms accordingly. They can also discover more about how fans use the venue and its facilities.
Additionally, Wi-Fi can open up new revenue streams for venues and their partners. Network management systems can redirect fans to chosen content as well as tailored promotions, such as food and drink offers. At Anfield, the Wi-Fi network provides access to online retail and in-play betting in partnership with Paddy Power.
These networks are of course also used by media and sports teams alike. Journalists use Wi-Fi to upload and share videos and stories from events, while players and their coaches use the services for real-time statistics and analysis, which are essential for devising new strategies under pressure.
All of this means the wireless network is in constant, heavy demand during an event. To put this in to context, at Wentworth last year peak times saw more than 3,500 devices connected to the wireless network, with over 4,000 individual videos streamed to users. To do this successfully across a venue the size of a golf course, without a drop in quality or performance, is very difficult. It requires multiple temporary structures to be rapidly built, tested, configured, managed and deconstructed over a few days. Wireless arrays are also needed to provide extensive coverage and handle a high density of mobile devices.
Shane Buckley is the CEO of Xirrus