Ahead of a new season, football teams are trending across digital platforms as they compete to share their latest news. New players, managers, fees and line-ups are dominant themes across social media and beyond, but this year has seen the creation of one partnership which is set to drastically change the experience of spectators at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea Football Club’s new partnership with Ericsson has drawn widespread attention, as the telecommunications giant unveils the latest in its growing portfolio of connected venues. With a host of new opportunities to improve the fan experience and generate new marketing prospects, the Connected Venue is the latest step in the path of sports venues worldwide to bring sport’s biggest fans closer to the action. Figaro Digital spoke to Patrik Jakobson, Head of Network-as-a-Service at Ericsson, to find out more about the potential presented by this new connectivity.
Network-as-a-Service is a combination of Ericsson’s products and services, sold as an all-encompassing service model that brings its portfolio of connected venues and networks sharply to the forefront of digital innovation. With large-scale venues like Legia Warszawa in Poland and the Wasps’ Ricoh Arena in Coventry already on board, it is clear that these high-traffic venues are moving towards a digitisation that will change the way spectators can engage with their respective teams. “We are seeing a rising interest, because obviously these are areas with a lot of people meeting. There’s a high need for digital services and connectivity, and we can see that there are currently a lot of unmet needs,” says Jakobson. Streamlining the connectivity of the crowds at these venues is a concept which can be leveraged in a variety of ways, from both an operational perspective and a fan experience view.
Connecting The Crowds
Chelsea FC has already begun its own digital transformation journey, creating two apps designed to bring the fans closer to the game and the venue itself. With the CFC Express catering app, and a hospitality app to distribute maps, venue information and on-site amenities, Chelsea FC was already well on-board with the process of digital transformation to enhance the ‘match-day experience’. But the consumer’s ability to use these apps onsite was limited, due to the lack of connectivity available at the stadium. Ericsson’s Connected Venue provides the spectators with high-quality, carrier-grade Wi-Fi across the venue, which can be used to engage with the app, broadcast User-Generated Content (UGC), and get real-time information concerning the match, players or other important updates.
The Fan Experience Of The Future
But more than this, Chelsea FC’s partnership with Ericsson paves the way towards a future filled with new solutions for the needs of spectators today. “We’ve carried out research with Ericsson Consumer Lab and identified the areas within Connected Venues where there are a number of unmet needs,” explains Jakobson. “Those include areas like safety and security; for these huge capacity venues that is really high on the agenda, but also personalisation, and more real-life experiences. I think that’s where we’ll see a great deal more development going forward, where the connectivity forms the foundation for new areas like virtual and mixed reality.”
The Fun Never Ends
But what does the Connected Venue mean for the everyday fan when outside of the stadium itself? Jakobson explains that it’s all about extending the fan experience. “We’re working towards that full-day experience, before and during the game, but also after.” Rather than condensing the fan experience into a frantic two hours onsite, Ericsson is working on the means to extend its Network-as-a-Service beyond the boundary of the arena gates. “We are designing a Wi-Fi or a Mobile Broadband network on the premises, working together with the national coverage networks so we can support, operate and integrate these into their networks. So the user gets a seamless experience when they use the mobile network at home or travelling to and from the venue.” This seamless digital experience turns every fan into a broadcaster, able to share, connect and enhance every part of the day, and by extension, the Chelsea FC fan experience.
Experience Inspired By The States
So how will Ericsson’s platform change Chelsea FC’s current offering to fans? “One of the opportunities we bring to Chelsea FC is a new avenue to work with advertisers,” says Jakobson. Similar to the work at the Wasps’ Ricoh Arena, the Connected Venue will bring Chelsea FC more in tune with the fan’s needs, wants and pain points. “One of [Wasps’] key drivers for having a connected venue was to get to know who their visitors are, where they are and what they are doing, so that they can tailor different services and advertising towards them, and I think that will be part of the foundation here as well.”
With the option to selectively target fans in a way that adds value, is relevant and most likely to drive conversion, Connected Venues are taking on a role similar to that of the American sporting venues. “Personalisation is one of the areas where there was an unmet need, and that was based on feedback from the consumers themselves, not the venues,” explains Jakobson. “But I think we will see a similar evolution in Europe and Asia as we have seen in the US. I would say they are ahead of the curve, because they have such a culture around these events- they are where you spend time with friends and family. And a baseball game takes 4 hours! That’s why there are so many opportunities, not only for sport, but for these arenas to become ‘mega venues’. Casinos, hotels, exhibitions, concerts- the Connected Venues are morphing into areas where there are a lot of potential digital experiences ready to be opened up to the consumer.”
The experience of the Stamford Bridge Spectator is being transformed, offering an entirely new way of engaging with the team, the club, and the wider fan community. Ericsson’s Network-as-a-Service is changing the way venues are able to engage, protect, listen and market to their visitors, and this is only the beginning. “What we bring to Chelsea FC is our previous experience, which allows us to benchmark these developments. We have learned what does and doesn’t work, and we can be a partner in this digital transformation with them, bringing the connectivity needed to turn their already savvy digital offering into something truly innovative and extraordinary.”
Photography by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images