Sports and second screens: How stadium designers and broadcasters are dealing with the smartphone revolution

Joe Hall
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Newcastle United v Aston Villa - Premier League
The smartphone revolution has fundamentally shifted the way we view live sport (Source: Getty)

Pep Guardiola isn't the only figure in elite sports for whom the prevalence of smartphone use has disrupted business as usual

The Manchester City manager has cut off 3g and Wi-Fi connection from the club's training complex in order to pull his players' gaze away from screen and back onto the team.

Yet for broadcasters, rights holders, club owners and even stadium designers, retreat is not an option from the myriad challenges presented by the second screen revolution. Not when some estimates suggest that four in five UK adults use a smartphone and Ofcom calculate that the average user will spend two hours a day on their phone.

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Diego Simeone shares celebrations with family through his smartphone (Source: Getty)

"What's happened in music is certainly happening in sport, that disruption's taking place," Andy Meikle, chief executive of social media platform Sportlobster told City A.M.

"Products are evolving and changing fan behaviour. I don't think they're shying away from that.

"We’ve always found that clubs such as Crystal Palace and Rangers are recognising what Sportlobster are offering and are using us because they’re realising that the traditional way of communicating with fans is changing. So if we can jump on board to be a part of that fully immersive experience with fans whether they’re sitting at home, in the stadium or at the shops, then all the better."

The shift in fan behaviour facilitated by smartphones is even shaping the design of future stadiums.

The stadium — Managing crowds through smartphones

Sports stadiums may often be seen as sacred spaces for the converted to express devotion to their favourite teams, yet whether or not they admit it, fans are increasingly inclined to use their smartphones while at the game — even the silent shrines of the cinema and theatre are no longer immune with 45 per cent of smartphone owners telling Ofcom they used the device inside.

According to John Rhodes, director of the sports practise for HOK — an architectural firm that has designed numerous stadiums for football and NFL teams — clubs increasingly want their fans to have access to the same level of smartphone content as they would slumped on the sofa at home.

And by making stadiums smartphone savvy, HOK have found well-connected stadiums can be built to new dimensions altogether.

“There is this sort of stadium vs sofa battle going on,” Rhodes told City A.M. “And the second screen thing is a vital weapon in that battle for the stadium.

“That direct connection can be used for selling merchandise, can be used for selling food and beverages,” he said. “And then you can start looking at the wider spread of infrastructure across the stadium. You can manage a crowd in real time.

“Being able to manage queues in real time means that, as this technology develops, you can reduce that infrastructure which is invariably always designed to cope with the maximum situation.

“You can let the crowd know that there’s a block on aisle six. And that invariably means the stadiums are going to be more efficient and there’s going to be less over-provision of amenities with random peaks and flows.”

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The broadcasters — Living with live streaming

For broadcasters, second screens has empowered a new rival for fans' attention and even custom — the social media companies.

Twitter caused a splash by securing a deal with the NFL to broadcast one live match a week on its platform to its 313m monthly active users, many of whom cause a headache for broadcasters and rights holders by illegally sharing content.

Rather than close shop and keep their content strictly behind a subscription paywall, BT Sport have reached out to the massive online community by sharing premium short form content such as a Champions League goal or UFC knockout for free.

“It’s been a very positive trajectory and lots more rights holders are accepting and aware of the opportunity rather than the risk,” BT Sport’s digital executive producer Mike Norrish told City A.M.

“What we hear is people love the ability to sit down at home and watch large chunks of matches. The fact they’ve seen a short form clip doesn’t detract from that.

“I think social platforms are looking to joint priorities with broadcasters rather than buying the rights themselves.

“For example, BT Sport putting the Champions League final free-to-air on YouTube worked well for us, worked well for YouTube, worked well for Uefa. That’s the model I predict in the next year or so rather than YouTube coming here and putting a billion pounds down for a set of sports rights.”

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