Evolution- a word commonly used to describe advances in sports technology. It captures innovations in player safety or new programs for tracking training to help athletes prepare more effectively. However, it is not typically associated with the other side of sports- the fan experience. The people off the court, the ones in the stands or on their couches at home, have gone through a period of evolution all their own. Gone are the days of over-crowded stadiums and almost-nonexistent concessions, of blurry televisions and limited viewing capabilities. Technology is making it easier than ever before to be anything from a casual fan to a diehard.

According to Computer Weekly, close to 94% of sports fans own a smartphone, which presents the opportunity to access that second screen (i.e. taking advantage of both your tv and your smartphone simultaneously). One benefit of this is being able to work with apps provided by major sports network entities. We’ve all run into the problem of having two games we care about air at the same time, so why not watch them both using a streaming service? If the only way you’ll go to a game in person is if your name finally gets called from a 30-year long waitlist, this tech might be your style.

To really put viewers “on the field”, technology like Intel’s True View camera systems have been implemented in stadiums, including one of CenturyLink’s partner teams, the Minnesota Vikings. Using an advanced network of cameras and imaging technology, True View allows fans to remotely watch plays with a 360-degree view. By giving them the opportunities to have a world-class viewing experience from their seats at home or on the go, leagues are making watching sports more accessible to every range of fan.

Technology today helps fans get closer to the game than ever before. Formula 1 cars now have cameras placed all over the cars at several different angles, so you can watch what the driver sees and what they can’t see. While this is not truly immersive, it does give viewers the opportunity to analyze the race how they want and make calls based on what perspectives they have access to on their screens at home.

In order to help fans, both casual and devoted, get a better sense of the game, many leagues are integrating virtual reality and augmented reality capabilities into their sports. While AR has been used on TV for years, most famously in football playbacks, VR has been making a name for itself in the sports world as well. The best example right now is the NBA League Pass. This subscription affords fans the opportunity to re-watch games in a full VR setup, allowing them to be completely immersed in the competitive environment. In fact, according to the website, NBA League Pass VR “gets you up close in virtual reality at select NBA games.

However, if going to games is more your style, your fan experience could be vastly improved with some of the next few technologies, and if you’re lucky enough, some of them may be available at an arena near you.

Lack of cell and Internet coverage is a common problem for most venues.  Sure, teams may say they provide WiFi, but in some arenas you have a better chance of catching one of the t-shirts launched out of those cannons than actually connecting to the Internet. However, one of the biggest advances in the in-person fan experience is the creation of “smart stadiums”. These tech wonders provide top-of-the-line enhancements and a glimpse into the future of sports and how we watch them. The Sacramento Kings currently have one of the best examples of these incredible arenas, providing Internet speeds that are unheard of in terms of stadium experiences. The Golden 1 Center has the bandwidth capabilities to send 500,000 Snapchat images a second. Although fans may never actually need that speed, it’s amazing to know that there is essentially no limitation in getting you connected.

In terms of tech and aesthetics, the new Atlanta Falcons stadium is at the forefront of the in-game fan experience realm. Gone are the day of having to lean forward and block people so you can see the big screen with scores and playbacks. Now, with the new developments made in stadium construction, fans will now have the availability to watch all of that on the 360-degree screen inside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The $1.5 billion price tag may seem absurd, but fans are treated to the beauty of the retractable roof over the field to protect them against Atlanta’s unpredictable weather.

Even though not every stadium has modernized, many of our favorite hometown arenas have made service improvements to make fans’ experiences easier. Many arenas have implemented delivery capabilities of sorts so that can fans can order food and drinks to be brought to their seats. So, instead of having to correctly time when to grab a bite so you miss the smallest amount of the game, the food comes to you. Also, minor reconstruction in many fields and arenas have also provided fans with in-seat charging abilities so they can snap pictures the whole night long while they watch the game.

Regardless of how you prefer to watch sports, the fan in all of us wants to do so in the most comfortable way possible. Even though technology sometimes seems as though it might act as a threat to the way we interact with our teams and the level of tradition that goes with it, this tech is indeed doing more good than harm. All of these developments have made it easier for fans anywhere and everywhere to be more engaged with the sport and with their teams, which is what we all want in the end- to be as close to the action as possible.

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Stephen Bennett

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