Stadiums Can Rise Post-COVID by Tapping New Technology (Part Three)

This is the final article in a three-part series exploring what lays on the other side of COVID-19 for businesses. Click here for part 1 and part 2.

Arenas that would have been shaking with the excitement of NBA and NHL playoffs, March Madness, and big-band concerts have been silenced by COVID-19. 

While teams have tried to support venue workers during this time, the overarching economic impact remains massive. For Major League Baseball, we don’t know what the season will look like – but we do know it’s a $12 billion annual industry of which stadium revenues are a sizable chunk. Some predictions peg losses for the concert industry at $9 billion for 2020, with notable tours, concerts and festivals from Bieber to Bon Jovi on hold or cancelled outright.  

As months pass, stadium owners will forfeit millions of dollars in gate revenue and untold more in missed concession sales. Even if professional sport leagues do restart without fans in seats – and it looks like the NHL might be the first in North America to make that leap – it hardly improves matters for those who own those seats.  

What we do know, is that one day sports will return and major live events will resume. Stadiums will rehire staff, reset operations, and aim to generate revenue as quickly as possible to begin offsetting the momentous losses that have been sustained. 

It won’t be business as usual. Owners must modernize their stadiums in strategic ways so they operate more efficiently and provide a great experience for ticket holders -- and also one that is safe. One key method, which InnerSpace has proven can work, is to measure the movement of people using indoor location technology. 


Indoor location technology ensures a safer fan experience 

By most accounts, we’ve effectively lost an entire year of seeing fans in stadiums. But just as construction continues on SoFi stadium and others, so does logistical planning for the eventual return of humans in seats.  

There is no question that physical distancing measures will be a new reality for the foreseeable future – and fans will demand assurances that their safety has been taken into account. As it is, some fans simply may not return until a vaccine is found; a recent poll revealed that 72 percent of Americans would not feel safe attending games without one.   

Just as offices will need to get creative with how physical distance is maintained, so will stadiums – and indoor location technology will be a key enabler in ensuring the fan, player and staff experience is as safe as possible.  

Stadiums may first open in smaller urban centres where the virus has plateaued. Fans may be allowed to return to stadiums, in reduced numbers, akin to what we may see in movie theatres. Like what we’re seeing with transit systems, seats may be blocked off to enforce social distancing. Masks may be a requirement, and gate and concession lineups will likely remain six-feet apart.   

InnerSpace’s InFORCE platform leverages existing WiFi signals to capture data on density and movement of people inside a building that can be analyzed and actioned upon in real time to ensure safety requirements are met. 

With InnerSpace, fans can be directed via the safest, least-congested route to their seats, concessions, or the bathroom. Managers can quantify how fast lines are moving, what the average wait time at a specific gate or concession may be, and even how many people are actually in the line. This enables operators to adjust staffing and social distancing in real time, feed such intel to fans via the app, and even adjust gate management tactics for crowd flow. Meanwhile, directing special promotions and perks to their smartphones while they wait in a line – doable! – is a simple, personalized way to show appreciation for their return. 


Future-proofing for 2021 and beyond   

As normalcy returns, the onus will be on stadium owners to keep fans happy, entertained, and safe, while abiding by any public health measures still in place. Future-proofing in this sense means welcoming fans back with a superior experience that stretches from entry to food to lineups to security.   

Equipped with indoor location technology, owners can use their custom data platform to understand the tendencies of local fans as well as fans of the visiting teams who eventually come back to town – and adjust operations to proactively suit those tendencies. For example, they can shift more concession stands to higher-traffic areas, diversify menu choices, and deploy security and caretaking staff more strategically. Enhanced fan experiences boost much-needed revenue and trim cost. 

This is not just conjecture: In our 2019 study, we uncovered more than $1 million/year in missed sales for a major sports and entertainment facility. We found this just by analyzing the performance of a subset of its retail and food environments, and the behavior of fans waiting in lines.  

Stadiums can become Smart stadiums with less effort than it might seem. Long before fans return, owners must urgently put measures in place to ensure consumers and officials have confidence in a large public venue’s ability to respond safely to a game-changing health crisis. Acting now will cement profitability in the future.