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Trends in Stadium Technology – Featured in FC Business

This month’s FC Business magazine features an article by ADI Founder and CEO Geraint Williams on his thoughts and trends around Stadium Technology this year.

We’ve reproduced the article in full below:

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It’s nearly 30 years since we installed our first stadium LED screens at Villa Park and we’ve been speaking with Club Owners and Directors about their digital stadium platforms ever since.

The evolution of stadium technology has been consistent and significant, but it doesn’t happen within the vacuum of the stadium bowl. Back when then we started, these were the early days of the Premier League. Clubs were responsible for their own broadcast teams, so part of the package we provided was a four-camera outside broadcast team who would provide the feed that was then couriered to the BBC ready for Match of the Day, which was the first opportunity that many fans would have to see how their team had got on that day.

We now live in a world of multi-camera remote production workflows – the EFL just announced a new contract that will see a minimum of six camera coverage in the Championship, with four and two in Leagues 1 and 2 respectively. Today, content is as immediate as it is pervasive; available on multiple platforms in many different formats and lengths.

So the modern matchday LED platform has a dual role of catering for this massive global audience, whilst simultaneously creating an exceptional experience within the stadium. It has the responsibility of providing a platform for activating sponsors as well as engaging fans in the stadium.

The duality of purpose has always been a feature of stadium LED projects, but just hold that thought for now, as we take a look at the most current stadium tech trends that we are seeing from Clubs:

Prolonging the Matchday

Almost every club we speak to has the same ambition: attract more fans, make them stay longer, spend more and return more often. Increasingly – and with a focus on a more family orientated demographic – prolonging the matchday through investment in fanzones is an obvious way to tick most of those boxes.

We’re seeing more of a focus on adding value to the pre-match fanzone – at its most basic it’s dedicated LED screens to show the early kick off or other entertainment, but increasingly it’s also more interactive engagements such as mass-audience gaming, fan selfie walls or quizzes. All of these combine large screens with the much smaller screen in fans’ pockets; increasing interactivity, and engagement with club app platforms as well as a suitable medium for prize giving and data capture.

LED as a Building Material

LED is now a mature technology in a mature market. 30 years ago, the first wave of screens were heavy, low resolution screens, suited only for distance viewing and prone to random failure. The SMD revolution brought drastically reduced pixel pitches, improving picture quality and making screens suited for close range viewing. As this has moved towards a zero endgame, recent years have seen the focus shift to continual improvements, with the biggest changes being on reliability, efficiency and effective ways to reduce weight.

By way of example, our range of MT LED modules are around 50% lighter and slimmer than those we were installing five years ago. These lightweight panels require far less structural support and can effectively be used as an alternative to building cladding, but one that can change and evolve continually. It means pretty much any surface can be digitised, moving away from considering LED just as a display or screen.

MT Series LED Module

Of course, these types of vast digital deployments aren’t uncommon in the global context, but typically they are part of a new build and factored into the stadium design. The UK is home to some of the world’s most historic stadiums – they may have been modernised and augmented over the decades, but most stands weren’t built to take excessive additional load.

New lighter product means we are seeing an increasing trend in venue owners utilising the technology to modernising their existing infrastructure instead of perhaps committing to a completely new construction project, which comes with significant cost in the current climate.

We’re seeing this outside of the stadium world too. We recently completed a landmark project with Manchester’s Printworks, which is now home to Europe’s largest digital ceiling. Again, this is a project that simply couldn’t have happened with the much heavier technology of five years ago, or without the fire-rated screens that we have recently developed, adding an additional level of fan safety into the technology.

Content is King - At Every Level

We’ve always been clear that the technology platforms we install for clubs are just giant blank canvases – it’s great content that brings them to life. One of our strengths has always been that ability to create and deliver content for clubs, but we also appreciate that not all clubs share that desire, particularly in lower leagues. Lower costs of computers and cameras has seen the democratisation of content creation in recent years – our role in these cases is twofold: advising and providing a suitable playout solution and also to provide ongoing support and assistance along the way.

It’s certainly true that the shape size and scale of the platform plays an important role as well. We’re all used to content being delivered in the 16:9 ratio of our televisions and – to an increasing extent – the portrait style format of the phone in our hand. We’re seeing more varied shapes and sizes of screens going into stadiums – in particular the 32:9 “Superwide” screen is a popular format. It’s a natural fit for stadiums (especially when installed on a canopy) and allows for far more creatively and commercially-friendly use of the screen. Normal in-game use provides a “standard” 16:9 screen in the centre along with 2 8:9 “wings” which can be used for brand promotion and match activities (subs, scores etc). Then, at certain times of the match, the screen can be used as a single epic, superwide canvas, either for atmospheric content or for brand takeover.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Port Vale FC, who embody the above outlook. We installed a superwide 70m2 at Vale Park last season, which they create content for and operate themselves. It was incredible to see the starring role the screen plays in the matchday and the Club have got a great balance of immersive content and promotion for local business partners. By all accounts the fans love the value that the platform brings to the matchday, while it’s proving to be such a hit with advertisers that the club are projecting the screen will be fully paid for within three years.

Port Vale are a club who have both understood and mastered the dual role that their stadium LED platform needs to perform in order to deliver and add longterm value. And that’s before the new multi-camera broadcast deal has even begun!

You can read this article in the latest edition of FC Business Magazine shown below – you can also read the feature on the Selhurst Park digital upgrade on page 26!
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