Technology’s role on and off the sports pitch

By Chris Wilcox, Head of Audio Visual at North

Technology plays an intrinsic role within the sports sector, enhancing the way fans engage with their team or favourite athlete, as well as improving the environmental impact of clubs and events across the world. From stadium management to faster and better connectivity infrastructures, we are in the midst of a transformational era of sport.

As fans, we are already familiar with how smart tech has been introduced to mainstream sport over the last few years, including Video Assistance Referee (VAR), which is used to support the decision-making process of referees.

Its controversial introduction to the Premier League and Scottish Premiership in 2019 and 2022 respectively was described as the largest tech revolution in the history of football, despite its introduction dividing the opinion of fans. Many felt that VAR slows matches down and negatively impacts the fan experience, despite it having the ability to rectify incorrect decisions. Despite those concerns, I believe VAR’s ability to monitor player data shows the potential positive impact this tech can have on professional sport longer term.

Smart technology is improving the experience for players, fans and competitors whilst simultaneously creating a safer, greener and more accessible sector.

Birmingham proudly hosted the Commonwealth Games 2022 and pledged to become the first carbon-neutral games in history, creating a positive experience for competitors, visitors and local communities alike.

Setting a benchmark for future big sporting events, Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games joined forces with North to design, develop and deploy smart sensors to monitor the air quality at prominent locations across the city connected to the Games.

As the official Smart Environments Provider for the Games, North used its low-powered, long-range network and air quality sensor-based managed service to monitor and record factors including CO2, temperature, pressure and relative humidity in real-time.

As thousands of people descended on the city, the sensors were installed at areas of high footfall including at main traffic routes and motorways, key marathon milestones, public transport stops, and at the University of Birmingham campus, which was the main athlete’s village.

In addition to this, West Midlands Police introduced mapping technology using 3D maps produced by Ordnance Survey to help keep people safe across the city. This first of its kind, digital-first approach to an international sporting event highlights the role smart tech has outside of the pitch and arena environment in improving the indirect impact of sport.

Major events and stadia have unique and complex technology needs. Whether it’s the various network infrastructures enabling TV broadcasting, Wi-Fi and digital signage/scoreboards, or the complex CCTV video surveillance and analytics to manage the safety of attendees.

By design, stadiums and events are also power-hungry. With stadium operators looking for new ways to lower energy consumption, another significant advance in smart tech is the use of energy saving public address and voice alarm (PA/VA) audio technology in stadiums. Bound by health and safety legislation to be operational at all times, and with traditional systems using an abundance of energy electricity to remain operational, a revolutionary state-of-the-art solution delivered by North means that when the PA/VA audio system is not required, the digital amplifiers automatically enter an intelligent sleep mode without creating a hazard or breaking any health and safety regulations. Subsequently, this minimises energy use and on average stadiums benefit from reduced annual operational costs of between £30,000 - £40,000.

That’s not the only behind the scenes technology that is aiding the sport sector. Many high-profile events, including The Open Championship, are consistently upgrading network infrastructures and connectivity to ensure that fans get the best experience.

As our favourite sports continue to take a tech-first approach both on and off the playing field, it’s unsurprising to learn that the global market for sports technology industry is expected to reach a valuation of £33.21 billion by 20281. However, this is just the start. Digitalisation has the power to deepen audience engagement, enhance the fan experience, generate further income and reduce environmental impact.


11 August 2023