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How To Architect The World’s Most Connected Sports Venues

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Building a connected space that will be relevant in 25 years is tough, but that’s what sports teams are tasked with when they’re building a new venue. When you’re spending over half a billion dollars on a new building, you need it to make a splash in the news, ensure it works as promised (which is easier said than done), exceeds expectations and impresses every day, all while ensuring investment protection so that your tech doesn’t become obsolete in a few years. In 1992, do you think anyone building an arena thought that every fan would have an internet connection over 2,000 times faster than the building they were constructing in their pocket?

So how then do you plan for your technology needs in a quarter of a century? Below are the key steps I’ve found that help sports venues set themselves up for success before building a connected space that will build-in innovation and the ability to infuse new technology on the fly to stay relevant.

A recipe for success

If you’re looking to build a connected space that will support future iterations without breaking the bank, particularly in the sports world, consider this step by step guide.

Step 1. Begin at the end

Begin at the end and then work backwards. The first thing to do is select your target launch date. Remember, it’s great to push boundaries and shoot for the stars but you have a hard deadline so be realistic. If you decide to open for a specific season, you’ll have tens of thousands of fans in your arena on opening night even if you don’t have working WiFi. You’ll obviously see the regular setbacks in development timelines but with connected venues it’s much more than just a regular building construction.

Step 2. Define your top goals

Now you’re really getting started. Defining the top three goals for your venue. This will help set you upf for success. When defining your goals, we recommend getting everyone with a say in one room: owners, managers, c-suite, etc. to collectively create the core goals of the new venue. While completing this exercise, it’s just as important to define things that are not important to avoid feature creep over time.

Step 3. Hire people who are smarter than you

It’s important to remember that you’re connecting a bunch of specific pieces into a smart, connected venue and there isn’t a blueprint for that (yet). You’re trying something new so you’ll hit roadblocks and problems that no one else has even tried resolving. How do you solve the problems you don’t know about, don’t understand, and don’t have anyone to turn to for help? By hiring people smarter than you.

Make sure to hire experts in infrastructure, connectivity, hardware, software, integrations and more. If you don’t have budget for internal headcount, find partners with a proven track record and an understanding of your vision. Everyone needs to understand the core goals of your connected sports venue because they will individually make trade-offs and decisions that you need to trust align with your core goal. Know what you don’t yet understand and make sure to learn enough to figure out what questions you should be answering, answer them, and then start building.

Step 4. Invest in an iPaaS

People generally agree that building a smart, connected venue isn’t easy, but they’re mistaken when they think all the technology needed is readily available. Most of the individual building blocks you’ll need to fulfill your vision do exist today, but they aren’t usually ready to be connected, and they most likely aren’t production ready yet. That’s the reality when you’re building the future. This is the phase in which you’ll need to integrate everything. Don’t waste any more time or resources by trying to build this infrastructure yourself; instead invest in a good, enterprise-grade integration Platform-as-a-Service so you can get started immediately in connecting all of the microservices, IoT devices, and products your team will leverage to build your event space.

Most of the systems you’ll try to connect are going to buggy and lack the proper connection end points. You’ll need to deal with all kinds of hardware, every software technology and programming interface. While whiteboarding your game plan, one of the phases will be “connect system”. That sounds easy, and you may even allot a whole quarter for the integration, but don’t kid yourself. Integrations almost always take three times as long as planned and cost five times the expected cost. When you’re doing something that’s never been done before, remember to double that.

Step 5. Make sure you’re vetting your vendors with due diligence

It’s absolutely critical that you pick the right vendors early in the selection process. Because of the sunk cost and the drop dead date for opening day, you won’t be able to change your mind. ever trust a PowerPoint presentation or documentation that says something’s working; insist on seeing a vendor’s working POC. Even if you’re partnering with a billion dollar tier-1 provider who’s been around for a decade, that’s absolutely no guarantee that their tech will do what you want or that it’s modern and dependable in the way that you want it to. They may have a strong sales presence and a stellar professional services group, but even a 15 second delay is an eternity when the NBA outputs game stats every 5 seconds today. Who knows, in 10 years, you may be tracking a player’s heartbeat with 10 millisecond delays. At that point, a 15 second delay will be laughable.

“In 10 years, you may be tracking a player’s heartbeat with 10 millisecond delays. At that point, a 15 second delay will be laughable.” - Gal Oppenheimer

Step 6: Choose your core technology

When picking your technology, there’s a few core components you absolutely have to get right from the get go. First, plan for as much bandwidth as feasibly possible. There’s a reason every connected venue you hear about is planning for twice as much bandwidth as the previous venue: data created doubles in size every 2 years. That means data created will be 5,000 times larger in 25 years than it is today.

Second, wifi needs to be available everywhere, it needs to be fast, reliable, but most importantly, it needs to be easy to connect to and use. If you require the user to agree to terms every time they connect, by the 5th time their iMessage will fail to send, they’ll just disconnect from your Wifi. That means they’re on a cellular connection which likely sucks and instead of sharing more on Facebook, and Snapchat (or whatever VR/AR tech takes off), they’ll complain about the connectivity.

Step 7: Build-in data harvesting to make agile decisions

You need to invest heavily in the tools that will help you succeed. Promote collaboration across teams, vendors, and partners through realtime data integration. Once you have the data you need, learn how to analyze it and act on it quickly. This allows you to invest in quick bets alongside your long-term project. If you’re trying something new, maybe something for fans, launch it in a single section or on a single floor and see how it takes. If you wait until it’s absolutely perfect, you wasted cycles, budget, and time. It’s better to launch something with a few bugs that you can iterate and fix than spin cycles on something that you thought was revolutionary but ultimately had no need.

Step 8: Build-in the “wow” factor

It’s important to remember that you’re building for consumers. If it doesn’t “just work” people won’t try very hard to make something work. That doesn’t mean that everything needs to be perfect. Your fans are human and they can’t wait to try something new that no one else has done. For example, selfies are really hot right now, but they probably won’t be in a few years. Tease the future, build a unique new experience for fans quickly. But remember you’ll need to find something new after a month when it won’t be cool or exciting anymore. This approach works great for fan experiences, but it would kill your momentum if applied directly to a connected space rather than as an add on. Luckily your iPaaS has set you up for this; you can quickly build in or swap out technology to test, iterate or incorporate on the fly.

Step 9: Build-in a continuous, microservices approach to avoid technical debt

The biggest takeaway is to remember that everything you build now will be obsolete within 10 years of launch. Many would argue that the best way to plan for this reality would be to plan a remodel every 10 years to patch up the cracks and set yourself for 10 more years of a great connected venue. I disagree with this approach. Why would you want to shut down your core business every 10 years, to make a remodel successful you’ll spend 2 years defining the vision, 2 more planning for the remodel, do the actual remodel, and then spend 2 years finishing things up. At this point you’re spending 70% of your arena lifecycle improving it.

Instead, think of your connected venue like code because in reality, your venue is only as smart and successful as the cloud-based microservices and hardware connecting it. Facebook recently shifted to a continuous deployment model with great success. Rather than have monolithic releases, every minute of the day, Facebook is releasing new code. You can apply this same principle to a connected venue. You should look at every piece of the puzzle constantly to rethink and rebuild it. Your arena is never complete, it’s never fully “connected” because there will always be something more you can rebuild and improve.

“Think of your connected venue like code because in reality, your venue is only as smart and successful as the cloud-based microservices and hardware connecting it." – Gal Oppenheimer

Building for the Future

If you continuously reassess your goals, needs and technology of your connected venue, and act on it to “one-up” yourself, you could embrace the continuous development process and continually renew your arena.

In 30 years, this will be the standard practice when developing connected venues, but we won’t think of them as connected because that will be the baseline in new construction.

Connected cities can look to connected sports venues as both a stepping stone towards building the future.

“In the near future, a connected venue will just be considered a venue. Connected spaces will be a baseline for construction.” – Gal Oppenheimer

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