The pandemic has affected businesses across the spectrum, with sports being no exception. For an industry that depends on packing stadiums full of people, the chaos that has befallen us as a result of COVID-19 really threw a wrench into the machinery of the sports world. Re-inventing the wheel has become crucial to the survival of an industry that relies solely on fan engagement during a time when engagement is exceptionally difficult. Technology and particularly AV have stepped in to save the day and to provide new opportunities for sports to find their way amongst the turmoil of present day as well as into the post pandemic future.
With many venues either reducing or eliminating in person fans, it quickly became apparent that there was something lacking in the excitement for both fans and players. To remedy the situation, crowd noise was piped in to provide the typical cheers that emanate from the audience. Not only does this generate the missing atmosphere, but also serves to mask strategy that may be discussed from opposing teams across the way.
While this provided a solution for crowd noise, the fact that there are thousands of empty seats was still somewhat of a disturbing view to sports fans and players alike. The NBA featured a virtual fan sign up, where fans can be displayed via teams on seventeen-foot tall LED screens that surround the courts. Fans join via Microsoft Teams and are able to communicate with other virtual fans during the game. The NFL has modified camera angles and equipment to eliminate the need for camera operators. PTZ cameras that can pan and zoom automatically or remotely are being utilized in many venues to ensure the up close and personal feel that fans crave.
Ticketless entry and contactless payment are both trends that the pandemic has accelerated. No touch solutions to everything from wayfinding to ordering a drink are in high demand and your next visit to a sporting venue will most definitely render a more touch free experience. Digital signage will continue to be essential in directing crowd flow and in disseminating pertinent safety information.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a constant guiding presence during the pandemic, stated in December of 2020 that unrestricted crowds at sports stadiums will be “the last thing[s] that you’re gonna see.” However, technology is providing the much-needed bridge to the masses and will continue to provide crowds with safety and in all likelihood, an even better experience in a post-COVID world.