Always Connected: How Shared Experiences Like Sports Games, Concerts, and Theme Parks Are Being Augmented by the Mobile and Social Web

In our ever-shrinking leisure time, we want tech to support, enhance, and augment our interaction with traditional analog human experiences, which are often shared. We attend concerts and sporting events in person, rather than watching (less expensively) online, on TV, or via recording, in order to engage in a shared experience among attendees with a common interest (fans of a team or musical group).

Our always-connected, technology-required attitude leaves a rather large hole in many of the modern venues in the US. Between poor cellular reception and lack of engaging, venue-created and supported content, the experience beyond what is occurring on the field or stage leaves a lot to be desired. In our homes, we can order (and pay for) food online from the comfort of our couch, look down the hall to determine the bathroom availability and wait time, guzzle all the data-heavy video and online content we want from our Wi-Fi, and rewind or pause a live (or recorded) broadcast with our DVRs. If we must venture outside for food, we can use contactless payment to buy snacks or drinks from the local convenience store. Why aren’t those same services available when I venture out of the home to major sports and concert venues around the country? Enter geosocial networking, or proximity-based social networks and the “smart stadium.”

In October, the Staples Center in Los Angeles, home to the LA Clippers, Lakers, Kings, and Sparks, announced a new high-definition video solution (supported by a joint partnership with Verizon and Cisco) aimed at giving the spectator the ability to customize his or her multimedia experience. The system is basically a video and content distribution system to terminals in luxury boxes and kiosks around the stadium to enhance the “e-game” experience. As Ben Bergman from NPR reported last week, the video functionality extends the user’s experience, and the joint venture plans to include content streaming to “your phone, on your laptop, everything, like, everywhere” as well as functions allowing you order food from the comfort of your seat, never missing a minute of the game or performance.

The problem with most sports venues is the lack of strong mobile phone coverage, which (based on real-world experience in New York City at the new Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, or Madison Square Garden) can paralyze your smart phone. The planning for the new Meadowlands Stadium, now called MetLife Stadium, focused on the design and deployment of a wired stadium with cellular service. ADC designed a wireless solution that allowed both Verizon and AT&T Mobility to use stadium-supported cellular services. The move to include a wireless plan in the stadium lays the framework for use of mobile phone–based applications that can enhance the spectators’ experience.

Geosocial apps like Foursquare, Gowalla, Lokust, Scvngr, Loopt, Sonar, and Color (to name a few) leverage some combination of GPS location, data connection, social network (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc), and your phone’s camera to provide a rich integration of users based on proximity to a defined location or opt-in status to one event or space. These apps, when deployed in conjunction with a sports team, venue, or musical group, can be used to share limited-edition content, provide instant replay or alternate views of a play, or simply allow people to connect and discuss what zany thing just occurred onstage.

Another angle is the lengthy list of apps associated with real-time sharing of information about guest services and attractions at major theme parks like the Disney resorts. From real-time attraction wait times to recent comments on food or hotel service as well as historical data used for forecasting and planning, the data-driven and social age changes users’ interactions with theme parks as well.

The fun doesn’t stop there. The proximity-based social experience can be extended to venues like malls (think Black Friday pain and plunder) trade shows, or even casinos––heck, even weather events like the Snowpocalypse (version 1-3) which NYC received last winter. A shared experience gives people the incentive to connect with those around them. Our phones––portals to others––coupled with intelligent apps leveraging the fullest potential of our phones, make this interaction possible, ultimately enhancing our engagement with the event or experience.

Proximity-based social networks tied with modern, wired stadiums will change the sports and concert experiences. Dated stadiums of today with their poor lines of sight, uncomfortable seats, and inadequate entrance and egress design will pale in comparison with the stadiums of the future.

One word of warning: Be aware, sports announcers, that your typically muted commentary really isn’t necessary and will be replaced by smart stadiums and dynamic content consumption.

What do you think? Will smart stadiums and geosocial and proximity-based social apps enhance our experience and change expectations for the average event?

Author: John Carew

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