Networking and telecoms equipment company, Ericsson, has been chosen as the official connectivity partner for Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea Football Club.
As part of a two-year partnership, and in line with Ericsson’s Small Cell as a Service model, the company will design, build and operate a carrier-grade Wi-Fi network at the stadium in Fulham, London, on behalf of the current Premier League champions.
Speaking to journalists gathered for the launch, Arun Bansal, senior vice president in Europe and Latin America at Ericsson, explained that there would be no involvement from a network operator, since “Chelsea fans don’t necessarily belong to one mobile operator, so Ericsson is providing a neutral host solution.”
A connected stadium for connected fans
For Chelsea, the deal has two aims. First, the club wants its fans to have the same experience inside the stadium with Wi-Fi as they would outside: to replay moments from a match, to hear what commentators are saying, to share the experience with friends and families, and take the game to the “global arena”.
“Today, the fans come into the stadium, they watch the game, they go home. We want to enrich that to [become] a real-life experience, which starts much before they come into the stadium,” said Bansal. These developments, he added, are driven largely by consumer demand.
For a title-winning club like Chelsea, the stadium naturally sells out for every home game, and with fans using smartphones in and around the stadium, before and after the game, the opportunity for better connect with supporters is not lost on the club.
“The experience of going to a football match and consuming football media has clearly changed with the advent of the internet and mobile phones,” said Gary Twelvetree, director of marketing at Chelsea.
“A connected stadium enables everyday phone behaviour to be just normal in the stadium experience, so it gives the fans the ability to access familiar apps and services free of charge,” Twelvetree said.
“It enables fans to access information about the match in a wider football context. It enables fans to create their own content live from Stamford Bridge using those familiar apps, so fans can be commenting on social media in real time or taking selfies and posting them in real time.”
“But the technology platform can also allow us to improve services that enhance the match-day experience. We can track movement through and around the stadium and therefore plan our merchandizing and food and beverage offer more precisely, reducing those queues, and making out-of-stocks less frequent. [In terms of] payments, it can enable us to integrate payment technology more seamlessly into the buying experience.”
By monitoring the flow of fans around the stadium, Twelvetree suggests that it will be possible to get fans away from the main concourses faster and into their seats to enjoy the game.
Chelsea online and offline
However, the partnership has wider commercial implications for the club. “This connectivity will allow Chelsea to offer a marketing platform where its partners can then take their offerings in new and different ways to fans in the stadium,” said Bansal.
“Chelsea is entertainment, offline and online,” Twelvetree added. “It’s a 360-degree marketing platform for our partners.”
Ericsson has experience here. For example, it has helped rugby union club Wasps to cater to 1.2 million fans a year at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. Here, marketing partners can see what consumers are spending and where, and then offer a personalized product via their smartphones.
At football club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), France, meanwhile, the technology goes beyond connectivity and becomes crucial for sports management. At PSG, “the coach and the physiotherapist can monitor the players and see what kind of support they need and what is their health condition, how they are playing,” Bansal said. “It’s a platform to improve their game… [and] it’s a platform where we have worked with them on improving the whole digital experience.”
A connected future for sport
At Chelsea, most of these suggestions are still just ideas. The club claims to be exploring the potential of augmented reality, and highly customized product marketing, but is keen to emphasise that any technologies will be implemented over the course of the two-year project. The companies were vague about why such a short deal has been struck, but the length of the deal is likely tied to the club’s stadium plans.
From Ericsson’s perspective, however, Bansal suggested that “this is the way that all sports are going.” As well as other emerging technologies, Bansal said, “I believe that with 5G being accelerated, we will see augmented reality as a big part of sports going forward.”