John Brams of Extreme Networks on how to take advantage of the “goldmine of data” that can be mined from digital fan activity


Remember when cafés first began offering free Wi-Fi for no apparent reason and people thought they were mad? Well, now we know there’s a good reason – a great reason, in fact – behind this seemingly frivolous act of charity: user data and engagement.

It may not have been about data initially, but it is now. And sport leagues are one of the top industries taking advantage of the goldmine of data that awaits in the network. US sporting arenas are leading the development of the ‘blended stadium experience,’ where digital experiences underline the in-person experiences fans have in a stadium. Everything from ticketing to payment is going digital; fans can order food and drink from their seats using their phone, get live updates, betting options, and so much more.

Sports leagues aren’t the only ones benefitting from the data that can be mined from digital fan activity. Clubs can offer a more engaging experience for fans by using data to identify where the crowd chokepoints are, where they need to improve security, and which areas are underutilised in terms of fan traffic and activity.

Although the UK and Europe are a bit behind leagues in the US, progress is happening. Manchester United is currently integrating Wi-Fi 6 into every corner of Old Trafford stadium and soon fans of the Red Devils will be able to enjoy high-speed, stable connectivity at the Theatre of Dreams.

In any case, the digital revolution over the last decade has created far more sophisticated and demanding fan consumers, both in the stadium and at home. No matter where they’re watching the game, fans are constantly seeking stats, insights, and new ways of engaging digitally. Consequently, fan engagement outside of the stadium is high on the list of priorities for sporting clubs. They’re seeing consumer trends such as live streaming, betting, stats, NFTs, and more facilitate some incredible opportunities for both sides.

On the flip side, the hybrid experience demands connectivity. This has so far posed a challenge for the plethora of iconic and history-rich sports stadiums in the UK and Europe: they weren’t necessarily built with wiring in mind. Instead, they’re dense, crowded, and often undergoing repairs.

Luckily, wireless network technology (Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E, specifically) is only advancing further and is showing no signs of slowing down. Powerful new connectivity and creative stadium network design enables leagues to roll out reliable Wi-Fi for fans and staff, even in older stadiums. Additionally, network data is aggregated and anonymised, so fans can enjoy the benefits of free high-speed Wi-Fi without being concerned that their identities or personal activity is being tracked. It’s a win-win.

The only remaining challenge is convincing clubs to adopt network infrastructure. And if clubs don’t feel it’s worth it yet, they will soon. The potential of a hybrid stadium experience in the future is staggering.

Imagine, fans can potentially wear VR glasses to see things like player names, how far they’ve run, jumped, tackles made, passes, shots, top speeds, and points scored, not to mention the potential for live replays in different angles – which could be used to rewatch a spectacular feat of athleticism, a goal, or an ongoing referee decision. On top of that comes the potential for sharing content like fan footage and live decibel levels from a POV perspective, which will no doubt entice fans at home to visit the stadiums.

But whether it’s VR goggles, live betting, or simply having the connection to share the experience with family and friends, the best thing about all this is that it’s mutually beneficial. It’s fun for the fans, and it’s good for the clubs.

In other words, the blended stadium experience is coming to stay.