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Connected sports venues: Futuristic microcosms of smart cities

(Image credit: Image Credit: Cassiohabib / Shutterstock)

Every city leader wants their territory to be more modern and connected. However, to achieve this goal, they’re faced with a daunting task since most of the time you don’t get to start from scratch building on brand new technology. Instead, a technology planner has to build on top of legacy technology and infrastructure that could be hundreds of years old, inhibiting innovation is some crucial ways.  

Unlike cities, connected sports venues are already building and launching truly connected spaces. They’re usually built on state-of-the-art technology and there’s a built-in budget for innovation with clear deadlines to meet. Sports venues have clear, positive impacts on their city spaces, so cities can use them as a blueprint for city-wide improvements.  

When the Sacramento Kings built Golden 1 Center – the first truly connected colosseum of the 21st century – the stunning connected venue also impacted and revitalized the entire downtown area. Cities around the world looking to modernize can learn from Sacramento to bring fast and connected smart experiences as they build new sports venues.   

Below, I’ve outlined the ways that connected venues will pave the way for the development of smart cities all over the world.  

Access to the Internet is a Right, Not a Privilege  

Sports venues figured out early on that access to fast and working internet is a must-have to enhance and retain the fan experience. Today’s consumers are mobile-first and omnichannel, and if they can’t connect right away, they get frustrated. This translates directly to what cities will soon provide to both citizens and tourists. Data access in malls and on transportation has even improved morale and can boost local retail.   

Sports venues have proven that it’s no longer reasonable for internet access to collapse every time you have a gathering of tens of thousands of people. For example, AT&T can deploy drones to augment its LTE network (opens in new tab); imagine a city with an autonomous data network that could augment a city-wide wifi program in parks and downtown with similar drones so you’ll never have trouble finding your friends at a festival or when you want to livestream fireworks on New Year’s Eve.  

A Connected Fan is a Connected Citizen  

Sports teams and sports venues figured out that there’s a lot you can do to reach a fan after they’re gone. The key to a successful experience includes every touchpoint before their visit and every touchpoint afterwards. Cities can learn from this too. If someone is coming downtown to go shopping, they will associate everything from the moment they decide to come downtown, until they get home with their experience. If you can anticipate their needs (share the weather or expected traffic) or give them a VIP experience by suggesting a new lunch spot that opened, why wouldn’t you do what you could to help improve their experience. 

Smarter Maps and Directions  

Have you ever opened up an app like Google Maps or Waze during a marathon or parade and watched it guide you directly down the route because the street has no traffic? Venues in downtown areas cause street closures regularly during larger events. Waze has built systems that allow the venue to report street closures (which may vary day to day) and monitor local traffic in real time. This same system can be used by cities to improve their transportation and mapping whenever they have street closures.  

Sports venues figured out that fans don’t want a PDF directory of concessions--they want easy, in-app directions to find a hot dog. Similarly, when someone wants directions to a business (walking or driving), they don’t want directions to the entrance of a mall or the store entrance which is on the opposite side of a parking lot. With the help of leading technology companies, we’ll see this space continue to evolve with support for temporary bus routes, street food, festivals and more.  

Smart Parking, Smart Transportation and Smart Traffic  

Sports venues and city planning have a symbiotic relationship when it comes to improving transportation, traffic and parking solutions.  

Pretty much every city around the world is stuck in a downward spiral of more traffic and less parking. And as more sports venues inch closer to city centers, they force local city and state governments to seek improvements for parking, traffic, public transportation and biking/walkability. Along those lines, when designing a new arena or stadium, it’s no longer acceptable to ignore any adverse effects it’ll have to a city’s residents. Venues work creatively with cities to find new solutions to parking and transit because ultimately it’s necessary to improve their bottom line. These solutions can continue throughout the city and will ultimately lead to better parking and transportation options throughout the region which is an improvement for everyone.  

It’s important to remember that these improvements can come in more ways than just infrastructure investments. We’ve already seen how technology has changed our experience in the last 10 years with real-time traffic, transit updates and parking availability. As data tracking and availability improve and it becomes easier to integrate disparate information, better solutions will continue to evolve.  Imagine a future where you can reserve a parking spot downtown that will auto-update as you’re driving based on real-time availability and enable garages to fully utilize their parking real estate.    

Think Green  

Every new major development for a sports venue or a technology company (opens in new tab) vies for top LEED certification. Companies across the world know it’s important to save the planet where they can. Although one could argue that this decision is as motivated by finance as by morals, nonetheless it will help improve our cities for generations to come. As each new green building replaces an existing building that pollutes our atmosphere, it is a tiny step in the right direction. Each company that invests in a new technology or develops a new technique brings further innovation to this space which can be embraced by our entire planet.  


With all of these improvements and changes coming to a downtown near you, it’s important to always think of safety. Many sports venues have started implementing safety features like cameras and facial recognition software. Cities can make these strides as well.    

Cities that install cameras, beacons or other tracking devices should make sure they’re also connecting them to their security solution. Why not patch in all the cameras into a facial recognition system to scan for terrorists or wanted criminals? Additionally, connect them to monitoring and maintenance systems to easily report and fix broken equipment and ensure visitors’ safety.  

Redefining a Multi-Use City  

20 years ago, a city would play host to at most ten festivals or parades downtown. Similarly, sports venues were only designed for games, concerts and a handful of other events.    

Today connected sports venues move closer to downtown areas and are designed for hosting 200 events/year (opens in new tab). This improves profits and ROI and will have positive downstream effects on local economies. Cities should take these multi-use spaces into consideration when building for the future.    

What’s Next?  

We’re already seeing how sports venues are tackling the hard problems we’re facing across our cities and building smarter, more connected spaces. These new community centers offer both direct and indirect improvements in every city and have a downstream impact on the availability of this same technology in a more cost-effective manner that our cities will be able to embrace for future smart-city initiatives. 

Gal Oppenheimer, Senior Product Manager, (opens in new tab) 

Image Credit: Cassiohabib / Shutterstock

Gal Oppenheimer is a Senior Product Manager at His expertise is in the sports tech vertical. Gal enables teams to build cutting edge, connected spaces that create jaw-dropping digital experiences and drive fan engagement.