If the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™, Australian Open and Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour are anything to go by, it’s clear that Australians love live events.

We love supporting our favourite teams and artists. And we love the atmosphere created with our fellow fans. But are we getting the best possible experience? One that is improved and enhanced by digital technologies and connectivity? With the number of high-profile global events coming to Australia, such as the Lions Tour, the Olympics, concert acts, on top of our AFL, NRL, Football and Cricket seasons, it is a good time to assess our position.

Insights into the needs and expectations of fans were uncovered in a recent research report by our sister company, Boldyn Networks. Surveying eventgoers in the US and UK, the report found that fans increasingly want and expect to see innovations like in-seat food and drink ordering, live replays, and stats on their phones, and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) interactions. It’s a wake-up call for venue owners and operators here to provide the connectivity infrastructure that will enable these kinds of innovations — and the associated monetisation opportunities.

What does a next-generation fan experience look like?

Boldyn Networks asked fans about their behaviours and preferences before, during and after an event. How they get in the door, how they use their mobile devices once inside, and the sorts of venue features that make them want to return to the venue again and again.

According to the findings, a next-generation live event experience is one that uses connectivity-enabled digital technologies to enhance every stage of the fan journey. Some of the key statistics show opportunities for improving the fan experience, and increasing revenues for venue owners and ecosystem partners:

93% of event goers surveyed recognise live events offer an experience they can’t get at home, and at the heart of this is connectivity:

  • 77% said they hate when there is no mobile coverage during an event.
  • 68% said AR/VR technologies have become an integral part of the fan experience.
  • 87% post to social media while at an event.
  • 77% access their tickets digitally.

Venue owners have huge revenue opportunities:

  • 81% would spend more if there were more convenient food, beverages, or merchandise ordering options.
  • 85% would like to be notified of ticket availability and upgrade their tickets to the event through a mobile app.
  • 57% will spend more if they could order food and beverages from their seat.
  • 73% would download an app to pre-order things at the event.
  • 81% enjoy sponsored activities at events.

When asked who is to blame for poor network coverage at venues:

  • 42% said their mobile network provider.
  • 35% said the stadium or arena owner.
  • 15% said the home team or performing act.

The report also detailed how connectivity-enabled technologies could enhance the fan experience in other ways, like Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that detect when rubbish bins are full and smart cameras that scan crowd movement and behaviour, so fans stay safe. In Australia, we are seeing some technology-led enhancements, like the use of AR/VR at big events such as the Australian Open.

The report also offers insight into how fans in the US and UK use venue Wi-Fi. Most do, with 72% saying they connect to Wi-Fi to share photos/videos or post on social media. But, if given the choice, Australian fans would prefer to use 5G connectivity over Wi-Fi, as seen during the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ when users at the event venues spent just 15% of their time on Wi-Fi.

Barriers to even better fan experiences in Australia

Many of the services and innovations highlighted in the report require ubiquitous, high-performance mobile connectivity. But that’s not always available, especially in some of the smaller venues across Australia. For instance, my local sporting venue has no cellular capacity during game day, meaning I must use the Wi-Fi to access stats and play SuperCoach. It’s especially problematic when I need to access and show an electronic ticket or pay for food using my phone or call my family. Anecdotal evidence from the recent Eras tour highlighted that while there was coverage in the stands, there was a low coverage on the pitch, where many fans were seated.

The reason for this appears to be a lack of investment and/or a business case to provide that level of connectivity. That said, most venues in Australia are aware of the issues and would like to make the upgrades necessary to offer an amazing fan experience. However, one key difference between Australia and the US/UK is the structure and ownership of the venues where many are privately owned allowing single point control over investment. In Australia, most venues are government owned, which makes it challenging to get venue owners, mobile network operators, sporting codes, sponsors and service providers all aligned on an investment model and connectivity plan.

Next steps for venue owners and operators

What the Boldyn Networks report makes clear is that the expectations of fans, business partners and other venue users are growing rapidly as technology improves. Given the scope and speed of connectivity-related investments being made in the US and UK, there is a growing gap in the fan experience in Australia. Venue owners and operators in this country need to put in the work to catch up and get ahead. Otherwise, they will miss out on the benefits that come with the many use cases enabled by high-speed connectivity, including greater revenue through higher attendance numbers as well as more merchandise, food, and drink sales.

What venues need is a holistic connectivity and digital plan that encompasses multiple technologies (not just cellular coverage) — and the right partner to help put it in motion, starting with an assessment of the venue to understand the connectivity gaps and possibilities. That’s what we do at BAI Communications. We consult, design, deploy and operate shared communications infrastructure such as private mobile networks, Wi-Fi, and distributed antenna systems, then work with venue owners and operators to enable the full ecosystem of technology partners to drive an amazing fan experience.

Reach out to us to discuss how we can help improve connectivity at your venue — and set the stage for unforgettable live events.