Publications

- January 1, 2021: Vol. 8, Number 1

The three-screen fan: Why so many stadiums are racing to install 5G

by Mike Consol

Stadiums across the country are empty, thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Still, the temporary emptiness has not stopped stadium owners from investing on behalf of their fans, namely, in equipping their spaces with 5G technology in venues such as SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

Why invest now? They’re betting on a future that will not only have people back in the stadium, but have them experiencing live sports in a different way.

“Bandwidth usage on 4G within an 80,000-seat stadium creates more latency; 5G will help deal with that,” observes Matthew Quint, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Brand Leadership. While older fans may be content to simply watch the action, today’s typical attendee at a sporting event is increasingly a multitasker who is “on social media or on a sports website looking at stats and data, or sharing information about being at the game, or chatting with people on Twitter,” Quint says.

Indeed, despite the many amenities loaded into new stadiums, the amenity that’s likely to please the greatest number of fans is one that none of them will be able to see, writes Robert Klara in Adweek. It’s SoFi’s 5G network, the chief component of a two-stack matrix (the other is wi-fi 6 wireless broadband) that, once fans are finally allowed into the house at some point in the post-COVID future, will tickle them with a 2.5-gigabit-per-second data transmission speed that’s faster than the services in 99 percent of households in the United States.

SoFi is part of a small but slowly growing number of large arenas committing themselves to 5G broadband. On Feb. 8 of last year, AT&T Stadium claimed to be the first big venue to adopt it, even though the coverage was “limited.” Not to be outdone, Verizon announced that its own 5G network would be up and running in 13 NFL stadiums that same Sunday, reports Adweek.

While experts like to speculate on all of the yet-to-be-invented technologies 5G will enable, the most immediate benefits are the obvious ones. Even though they’re paying big bucks to attend a live event, fans still love to be in the virtual world simultaneously, opening their social media accounts to share content in real time.

Kenneth L. Shropshire, the Adidas professor of global sport at Arizona State University, believes 5G will enable the rise of what he calls the “three-screener” fan. “You have the game, the scoreboard and whatever you get on your phone,” he said. “So, it enhances the viewing experience in a way that differentiates it from the viewing experience at home.”

Enabling greater connectivity doesn’t just make fans happier; it’s ultimately better for the venue. “Social media is basically turning our guests into sort of mini media empires,” SoFi’s chief technology officer Skarpi Hedinsson told Adweek. “They are tweeting. They’re posting. In the stadiums, the upload is more important than the download.”

 

Mike Consol (m.consol@irei.com) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.

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