And the Crowd Goes Wild: To Draw a New Generation of Fans, Stadiums Get Smart

January 18, 2016 • By Atlantic Re:Think • Blog Post


  • Concert arenas and stadiums are utilizing smart technology to drive crowds and keep people off the couch
  • Live performances are prioritizing enhancing the attendee experience with Big Data and providing a personalized, premium service

Sophisticated mobile apps and advanced data analytics make their debut at forward-leaning concert venues and music festivals

Attend a live performance by Taylor Swift, Coldplay or just about any of today’s hottest acts and you will see a high-tech extravaganza featuring fist-pumping sound, Vegas-hot lighting and Star Wars-worthy special effects. But there’s an even bolder digital revolution taking place offstage.

Arenas, stadiums and even some music festivals are increasingly integrating a host of smart technologies into live events so that fans can build stronger connections with their favorite artists, more easily navigate the venues and find new, more convenient ways to spend money.

Live performance is “a user experience that has not changed since Dylan went electric,” said Nick Panama, co-founder of Cantora, a small advisory and investment firm focused on the nexus of music and technology. “There is a golden age of music coming, and there is a shift in focus from, ‘How do we make this show better?’ to ‘How do we make the attendee experience better?’”

It started with sports

In many ways, the music industry is just borrowing from the playbook of these venues’ other main occupants: major league sports teams. Over the last decade, stadiums began trying to attract more millennials by appealing to their desire for unique experiences. They saw intense competition from free televised games, which offered front-row seats and reasonably priced beer from the comfort of a living room. What’s more, the rise of high-speed Internet, mobile phones and social media meant that even those attending the games were not just observers—they were engaged participants, live-streaming and sharing highlights with their friends.

“Spectating is no longer satisfying,” said Brian Mirakian, the director of Populous Activate, which creates fan engagement experiences at stadiums and arenas around the globe. “Fans want to document the event and participate in a broader social conversation.”

To adapt, arena operators started at the level of IT and communications infrastructure. Wi-Fi and 4G technologies were once viewed as novelties. Today, they’re basic requirements. In 2014, Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers and the Super Bowl, put down more than 400 miles of cabling and a Wi-Fi router every 100 seats to make sure fans would have lightning-fast connections at every game. It also installed more than 1,700 beacons, which use low-energy Bluetooth technology to dispense real-time alerts to fans’ mobile phones and collect their geolocation data. Today, almost all newly-built stadiums and arenas are wired for the digital world, and music festivals, such as Bumbershoot in Seattle, are placing temporary beacons all over their sites.

Technology’s backstage pass

Venue operators are also building out sophisticated IT to control the sites themselves, from adjusting the air conditioning and security cameras to providing real-time updates on ticket and concession sales. “They want to connect all of this into one big interface that they can use to track everything,” said George Heinlein, an arena specialist at HOK, which has designed hundreds of sports and entertainment facilities around the world.

All of that infrastructure is being overlaid with mobile apps that can provide concierge-like services at live events. Many arena apps, for example, can provide directions to the nearest restroom. Others can point you to the shortest line for food or send a text message alerting you to a special deal.

Some will even help you get a better view. Take Pogoseat, a mobile app that takes advantage of unused ticket inventory to enable concertgoers to upgrade to a better seat, just as travelers might upgrade to first class when they check in for a flight. The app crosses geolocation data on the user’s smartphone with the ticketing system to come up with a map of available seats and prices. Once the upgrade ticket is purchased, the app generates an e-ticket that fans can show the usher on the way to their new seat.

“We are entering this world where everyone wants a premium, personalized experience—everybody wants luxury in their pocket,” notes Panama. “It’s what Uber unlocked, and live entertainment can really capitalize on it.”

Enhancing amenities

Music festival organizers are deploying similar technology to reduce the number of traffic bottlenecks and minimize the amount of time that participants spend standing in line. At last fall’s Bumbershoot music and arts festival, for example, organizers got real-time updates on crowd movements thanks to a piece of code inserted into the event app that transforms attendees’ smartphones into a network of sensors. From a digital dashboard at festival headquarters, they watched a heat map showing the flow of people gathered at local transportation hubs, then used that data to project how many people would show up at the box office an hour or so later. If things got too busy, they could immediately adjust the number of on-site staff to accommodate the crowds.

“That’s just the start,” said James Cobb, the chief executive of Crowd Connected, which developed the Colocator monitoring system used at Bumbershoot. “If organizers see crowds building up at food and beverage facilities or bathrooms, they could move additional resources to meet the demand,” he said. “Or they can move the demand to meet the resources” by offering incentives such as special marketing promotions for those who head to less popular sites.

Increasingly too, smart tech is part of the show. At the Staples Center in Los Angeles, home of the Grammy Awards and more than 250 events each year, dynamic digital signage displays videos, interactive messaging and social media content targeted to the audience at the event. Using sophisticated video analytics software, marketers can fine-tune the content—in case, for example, the face-detection system finds the demographics of female fans at a Taylor Swift performance skew older than her core tween fan base.

Other arena designers are trying to attract attendees with new vantage points. One example: Glass-bottom corporate boxes atop the center scoreboard give fans a bird’s-eye view. “There are going to be so many more of these pockets for people to watch the event from,” says Mirakian of Populous fan-engagement group.

As dramatic as the high-tech revolution in concert arenas may be, though, the problem it’s aiming to solve is as old as live performance: drawing a crowd. As Cantora’s Nick Panama puts it, “We need to find a reason to get people off their couch.”


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