As the list of Internet-connected devices grows seemingly every hour, companies seeking an edge in this space are beginning to find fertile ground when it comes to one of the biggest entertainment drivers in the world – sports. But while users are warming to the idea of experiencing live events via smartphone or smartwatch from their seats, the lack of app and inter-device communication is creating headaches for an industry where a common standard can be as tough to find an affordable home in booming Silicon Valley.
A sense of where the Internet of Things (IoT) is headed could be found this week at the IoT Influencers Summit (presented by Appnation), which was not held in a corporate headquarters, hotel or conference center, but rather in a club space deep within the confines of Levi’s Stadium, the Santa Clara, California home of the San Francisco 49ers and site of the upcoming Super Bowl next February.
The choice of a football stadium was fitting because if consumers want to see a full range of Internet connected technologies in action these days, the sports venue offers plenty of opportunities.
“People don’t want to be disconnected from the world for six hours,” said Al Guido, the chief operating officer for the 49ers. “This is where the future of sports is headed.”
At Levi’s, stadium attendees can sign-on to an app that lets them find open parking spaces, view replays of on-field action, and even order food. Guido claims attendees can get food and beverage delivered to their seat in seven minutes, “faster than any pizza delivery service.”
The Levi’s stadium app was developed by VenueNext, a company seeking to capitalize on growing interest by sports teams in cultivating mobile fan engagement. According to John Paul, VenueNext’s CEO and founder, about 30% of game attendees used the app last season, which isn’t a bad start, but as he put it, “We’ve got to go further.”
The zeal for Internet connectivity isn’t limited to fans in the stands. Zebra Technologies has formed a partnership with the NFL to capture streams of in-game data from players on the field by sewing radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking tags and location beacons into their uniforms.
Half of the NFL stadiums implemented the system last season using a network of sensors positioned throughout the venue, and the data (player speed, yardage covered, etc.) was shipped instantly to broadcast networks. The league ultimately plans to make this data available on apps to fantasy league fans as well. “There’s a lot of ways that you can engage with your team that have nothing to do with winning,” said Jill Stelfox, a general manager for Zebra Sports.
Other sports are diving into the IoT revolution as well. Twenty of the thirty major league baseball stadiums are now equipped with tracking beacons tied to in-venue apps that will sell you a hot dog when you walk past a concession stand or guide you to your seat. “I like to think that this kind of technology, when done right, makes it better for all of us,” said Kevin Hunter, chief operating officer of Gimbal, a Qualcomm-developed company that has emerged as one of the key players in the beacon tracking space.
Tennis has gotten into the act as well. During last month’s high profile Wimbledon tennis tournament outside of London, 50 fans equipped with smart bracelets, attended games at the two largest courts and had their energy and excitement measurement data captured by sensors positioned inside the venue.
This new use of technology, facilitated by a company called Mindshare, is designed to let tennis fans unable to attend the event themselves, get closer to the actual ball whacking experience. The data captured from the fans was analyzed and visualized in real time, then sent to a website and various social media outlets on every day of the two-week tournament.
As rapidly as IoT is apparently advancing in the sports world, there are still growing pains. The venerable Madison Square Garden (MSG), Manhattan home of the New York Knicks (basketball) and New York Rangers (hockey), is only just beginning to provide new in-game experiences for its fans. Although MSG has installed tracking beacons, they haven’t turned them on because the technology staff has had difficulty getting the various data sensing equipment to talk to each other across multiple platforms.
“This is really tricky stuff to work with,” explained Tom Tercek, the arena’s head of digital strategy and products. “These things just don’t play nice together.”
This lack of what is known in the tech world as “interoperability” has led to the rise of whole companies whose mission is to solve this problem. One such firm – AnyPresence – is providing enterprise customers with a backend service platform for apps that works across multiple devices and connectivity standards.
“The exact same problems we saw with enterprise communication are repeating themselves in the IoT space,” said Richard Mendis, chief product and marketing officer for AnyPresence.
As the Internet of Things has evolved, consumers have been slow to embrace the term itself. If you stop ten people on the street and ask them to define IoT, chances are good that you’ll get a few blank stares. “It’s creeping into our lives faster than the name is going to creep into our lives,” said Tom Bedecarre, chairman of AKQA, a large independent digital advertising agency.
Perhaps, this is indeed the present and future of IoT. It may be slowly adopted in the home and other locations, but with a ticket to your favorite sporting event, you can experience it in all its glory today.