The Future of Sport Stadiums

Having spent three years now in the Big House in Ann Arbor cheering on the Wolverines (yes, I even went last season when the Wovlerines weren’t too hot), one thing has caught my attention: the lack of wifi in this stadium is a huge problem and oftentimes a big stress inducer. For other millennia like me, we rely heavily on our phones to get us through our everyday lives. I use iMessage to communicate with friends and family, Snapchat to send funny updates to friends, Facebook to stay updated on peoples lives — mainly through photos posted — and LinkedIn to network and find a job. While these are just some examples, it is clear that I use a multitude of online resources at every second of every day, making a place with no wifi accessibility seem unreal and impractical. Let’s be honest here: if it was any other building besides the Big House that lacked Wifi, would people even continue going there?

I think the answer is no. I decided to do some digging to see what would happen if sports stadiums had strong wifi available to everyone. More important is the question:

If attendees at a sports game have great access to wifi, how does this change sports reporting?

Of course, the issue of wifi accessibility in stadiums varies from sport to sport. For University of Michigan sports, there is better access to wifi in the Yost hockey arena than there is in the Big House, the big football stadium.

My interview with University of Michigan student Clare Hyde brings to light the better access in a hockey stadium, i.e., Yost, than a football stadium, i.e., the Big House.

“I think journalists are ever necessary … whether it’s via social media or print media” – Clare Hyde

For the national level teams (NFL, NBA, NHL, etc.), wifi has been a pressing concern for the past couple of years. In 2013, the On Deck Sports and Technology Conference was founded, which is “an annual event series designed to shine a spotlight on new and emerging technology that is transforming the ways that we follow, enjoy, analyze and understand sports.”

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This conference brings together executives in the sports industry, journalists and tech companies to discuss the digital issues prominent today. BuzzFeed, the Wall Street Journal, Twitter, the Huffington Post, the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball, and the Dodgers are all companies that were present at OnDeck 2015. They listened to speakers talk about the worries over meeting fans’ technological expectations and worked to come up with ideas to calm these fears.

Daniel Kaplan, a writer for Sports Business Daily, already addressed these concerns over wifi in the stadium in an article he published in 2013. He highlights that the issue of wifi is present in all sports stadium, but notes that is the large sized NFL stadiums that are suffering the most. “Large numbers of people often overload Wi-Fi systems, and the fix is expensive, usually a mid-seven-figure sum for an NFL venue,” Kaplan writes. “Some teams have invested in the upgrade, but many have not.”

Because of this, the NFL implemented new stadium standards requiring all leagues to align with new minimum wifi and cellular standards by the end of the 2014 season.“The interesting thing is that as this effort has developed, the traffic patterns among our fans has been less about our pushing data in to them…and increasingly about their pushing data out in terms of photo sharing, tweeting and activities like that,” said Bob Bowman, MLBAM president and chief executive, in Kaplan’s article.

This focus on what comes out of the stadium as a result of better wifi is what is interesting journalistically. The Dallas Cowboys installed a new wifi system into their stadium in 2013. They worked with AT&T to create additions to the stadium that would give fans an entirely new game day experience. Their upgraded wifi and DAS led to stadium-fan interaction that they never believed could happen – or at least not so soon. “Our goal all along for AT&T Stadium was to create a fan experience that could not be replicated anywhere else, and I believe we have done that today,” Cowboys Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer Charlotte Jones Anderson said in an article in 2014.

This reliable wifi in AT&T stadium led to two things:

  1. AT&T Stadium App – an app for fans in the stadium to use to find their seats, the concession stand andthe first aid area; it also lets users interact with the stadium during the game by giving them notifications about the game and allowing them to share pictures to the TV board in the stadium (http://www.dallascowboys.com/)
  2. “Unite the House” feature on the AT&T app – alerts fans during important moments of the game by buzzing their mobile phones (http://www.dallascowboys.com/)

attapp2.jpeg

The “Unite the House” Feature of the app is something that, with time, could be developed to allow journalists send their tweets about the game, and even their articles, directly to mobile phones. Thus, journalism will continue to grow with time. Despite the fears that live-tweeting journalists will be unnecessary during games once everybody has access to wifi, the journalists will actually still be needed to send updates via apps like this one. The way they do their work will change since everyone will have access to wifi during the games, but their work will still be there for them.

Here is a video about AT&T’s new stadium:

Now that we’ve seen what stadiums are doing to meet the needs of the people, it is important to look deeper at how these changes are affecting the future of sports journalism. Taylor Soper’s article, “How smartphones will change the experience of watching sports in a stadium“, emphasizes the intense amount of human to phone interaction. When you have to pee, you check your phone for the length of bathroom lines; when you are hungry, you order food to be delivered to you; the list goes on. Yet, she also mentions that, “once the game ends, instant replays of every big play are available on your phone to watch. There’s also a live stream of the post-game press conferences you can access.” Thus, once again, the increased digital use in the stadium affords easier access to journalistic work rather than replacing it altogether.

I spoke with Kaitlin Regan, an undergraduate student at University of Michigan, about her experience with wifi in a big sports stadium, the Big House. She talks about her frustrations with not being able to connect to wifi in the Big House. Soper’s article talks about people being able to check their phone for instant replays while still in the stadium, something that would interest Regan since she mentions that she watches instant replays once she’s home and away from the game.

Regan brings good ideas to the topic of the future of stadiums and their wifi  accessibility.

“I think you would still need sports journalists because their specialty is sports. As much as I love football I don’t know what’s going on some of the time…even my boyfriend who loves sports, he doesn’t know what’s going on some of the times… journalists know the history of the teams and the plays and know what the refs will call” – Regan

“Ill update my twitter because I follow Michigan football and they update every play” – Regan

To try and gather a better understanding of at least University of Michigan undergraduate students and their thoughts on this subject I created a survey and polled 43 students. I tailored the survey to University of Michigan students by asking questions about wifi in the Big House, the UM football stadium. Like Regan, many undergraduates want their to be reliable wifi in the Big House.

Important results from this survey:

  1. Snapchat is the most used social media platform at UM Football games
  2. 95.4% of the students polled want to have reliable wifi in the Big House for the entire duration of the game
  3. If the students DID have this reliable wifi already, only 11.6% would live-tweet the game.

Takeaways: Even if every stadium had a good wifi system, something that all stadiums are working towards, not everyone would immediately take to their phones to live-tweet. This is important because it shows that people live-tweeting would not replace the journalist’s job of live-tweeting to keep fans updated. Even the people in the 11.6% that would live-tweet the game could not replace the journalist’s job because these tweeters do not have the credentials that journalists have worked so hard to establish and maintain.

In a twitter guideline for journalists created by Mu Lin, he highilights the difference in journalistic tweeting and personal tweeting. “When a reporter is assigned to live tweet an event and to feed tweets to the news media’s Twitter account, he or she should write tweets in a way different from the (casual and cursory) writing style of his or her personal Twitter account,” Lin said.

I agree. Journalists tackle assignments in a professional and usually unbiased manner and for that reason, their live-tweeting form of reporting during games will continue to be invaluable even when every sports stadium in America has reliable wifi.

As for the Snapchat aspect of this survey, almost everyone admitted to using snapchat during the game, or wanting to use it if they could not use it because of wifi issues. For the future of journalism, news outlets can take to Snapchat to provide updates on the games as an alternative, or in addition to, live-tweeting. Tanya Sichynsky is a USA Today Sports social media editor and wrote an article for the Nieman Lab, “What USA Today Sports learned covering the Final Four on Periscope and Snapchat.” In her article she lists the four things she learned using Snapchat in a journalistic setting:

  1. Use screenshots of snapchat story posts on twitter
  2. Avoid posting context-free photos to your story
  3. Record snapchat story view counts to monitor growth
  4. Give the audience a unique experience it can’t get elsewhere

(Sichynsky, Nieman Lab)

Her work covering sporting events via Snapchat shows that already journalists are relying on new digital platforms to reach their audience. Moving more towards journalism like this shows what the future of journalism looks like. With strong wifi in a sports stadium, fans at the game will be able to view these snapchat stories to receive updates about the game right away if they don’t understand what’s happening or just want to see something from a different perspective or in an up-close view.

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(Sichynsky, Nieman Lab)

Live-tweeting done by journalists during the game will still be necessary. Sports reporting will become perhaps more integrated with the audience, or at least while at the game, and the future of sports journalism will only get better and more interactive with stronger wifi in all sports stadiums.

I also attempted to interview University of Michigan sports journalist, Steve Kornacki, to get his opinion on the future of sports journalism. 

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I tweeted at him, since I couldn’t find an email address anywhere online, and was ecstatic when I got a response. Unfortunately, due to some miscommunication and busy schedules, I wasn’t able to hear Kornacki’s opinion on this topic. However, maybe reading this blog will help shift him towards — or keep him of — the opinion that the future of sports journalism will be very interactive and still prominent, despite all of the technological affordances.

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