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7 Stadium Technologies for Smart Sports Stadiums

Here you are, facing a tough choice, at least if you belong to the 37% of Americans who are avid football fans. Your bestest buddy just got a couple of tickets for the big game. Your favorite drinking partner and your No. 1 team – what could go wrong? Plenty, as it turns out. Attending a game at a sports stadium these days is more about survival than having an exhilarating experience while smashed on overpriced beer. It can take hours just to drive, park and walk to the stadium, where you spend another half-hour arguing with some smelly, belligerent, and intoxicated dude who has planted himself in your seat. It takes ages to get to the overpriced beer. And when you finally get to the front of the line, your favorite brand of watered-down swill is already sold out.

Wouldn’t it just be easier if you and your buddy stayed at home, rather than straining to see the scoreboard and action on the field, and watched the game from the comfort of your sofa in front of your 48-inch TV with a loaded fridge nearby? That’s what most of us do today, and that’s why TV ratings are more important than attendance when it comes to the bottom line, according to Business Insider. But what technology giveth, technology can taketh away – and vice versa. During its long history, the NFL, among other leagues, has embraced technology like instant replay and live web streaming, changing the ways we experience a game. Now they’re turning their attention back to sports stadiums through various Internet of Things technologies.

IoT Data and Smart Sports Stadiums

The crowd’s excitement and the supersonic connectedness in IoT smart stadiums create a prolific source of consumer data. Imagine the smorgasbord of personalized details companies could relish while tens of thousands of people are logged on to their devices, cheering for their favorite team, or roaming across high-tech stadium touch points to pee, eat, drink, or take a break.

Smart sports stadium market map from CB Insights.

Smart sports stadium market map from CB Insights.

We already discussed simplified connectivity solutions that support smart sports stadium networks. Remember Sigfox and startups that work on smart clothes for athletes? As spectators, we are spoiled for choice. With real-time insights into a game, we’ve all poked our inner commentator. Players are put under a tremendous amount of pressure. Muscle sensors, posture-coaching gizmos, and smart insoles are just a few of the methods to squeeze the last drop of strength from them and keep coaches and fans happy. And companies that sponsor them, did we mention those? Without a doubt, dynamic smart sports stadiums are the golden egg opportunity in the overall concept of smart cities.

Below are seven startups that are implementing innovative stadium ideas to take us from the present to the future of smart sports stadiums.

Tracking Fans in Smart Sports Stadiums

Click for company websiteWith $26.7 million in total funding, including a recent $5 million injection from a Series C round, Virginia startup Gravy Analytics has been working on advancing consumer behavior analytics for large audiences. Gravy isn’t just tracking customers, like in the example of PlaceIQ and other beacon technology startups we’ve talked about. Its AdmitOne location data processing platform uses “proprietary algorithms and machine learning to filter and categorize location signals, verify place and event attendances, and determine consumer intent.”

Gravy Analytics platform graphic

Credit: Gravy Analytics

Of course, all that data from 250 million people are collected anonymously. Clients have access to different kinds of audiences, such as Sports Fanatics and Health Nuts, which you’re probably more likely to find at a smart self-checkout health food store than a hockey rink.

Better Bandwidth for Smart Sports Stadiums

Click for company websiteFounded in 2006, Cradlepoint, with headquarters in Boise, Idaho, has raised $162.8 million to improve smart stadium connectivity and eliminate the risks of web exhaustion from multiple devices fighting to get a bit of the bandwidth. From cloud-based wireless WANs based on 4G LTE to 5G solutions that should condense smart data droplets coming from people, locations, and things, the startup works on upgradeable software that will support light, secure, and affordable IoT networks. Fox Sports is among the company’s growing list of customers. It also offers some consumer products:

Cradlepoint product

Source: Cradlepoint

Cradlepoint is inking some big deals with big players. In March, the company will roll out the first-ever Gigabit-Class LTE router in collaboration with AT&T that will make the impending 5G shift easier for early adopters. And at the IoT Evolution Expo in Fort Lauderdale this week, Cradlepoint and Microsoft just announced a partnership to offer enterprises DIY IoT solutions on Microsoft’s Azure platform.

Payments at Smart Sports Stadiums

Click for company websiteOne must ask, where does money stand in the overall picture of smart sports stadiums? A possible solution comes from a Norwegian startup Zwipe, founded in 2009, with a branch office in Colorado Springs. The Oslo-based company has raised $25.2 million, including about $14 million in a Series B this month, for a biometrics authentication technology that supports contactless payments, access control, and ID. In addition, the company had an IPO just this week on the Oslo Stock Exchange’s Merkur Market under the ticker symbol ZWIPE-ME.

Zwipe biometric payment card.

Even Zwipe is more widely accepted than American Express. Credit: Zwipe

Zwipe’s smart card is an integrated security tool and a payment processor. It’s being touted as the world’s first commercially available fingerprint-activated payment card. Here’s the coolest part: It harvests the energy it needs to work from the payment terminal itself using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. Right now, it’s being piloted in a number of European banks, but it’s only a matter of time before the footy hooligans in England become early adopters. Most of them have already been fingerprinted, after all.

AI for Every IoT Device

Click for company websiteFounded in 2012, Austin, Texas-based Mythic, formerly known as Isocline, is in its early funding stages but has managed to amass $55.2 million for AI-supported devices that use deep neural networks to interact and learn from the environment. SoftBank led a $40 million Series B last March, if that tells you anything. The technology is somewhere between a robot or a smart assistant and a smart device, almost like a plug-and-play personal robot for various devices. In other words, it’s an AI chip for edge devices:

AI chip from Mythic

Credit: Mythic

At smart sports stadiums, one application could turn battery-powered monitors into sentinels for smart security, with not just virtual eyes and ears, but the ability to discern real threats from innocuous actions, like running out of nacho cheese before the seventh-inning stretch.

Safety at Smart Sports Stadiums

Click for company websiteEvolv Technology takes sports stadium safety to the next level. Founded in Waltham, Massachusetts, in 2013, Evolv collected $42.4 million in venture capital, including from the likes of Bill Gates, to address the existential threats of free societies, as political commentary site TechCrunch put it. While you start contemplating the existential dread of having your face glued to your smartphone, let us awaken you. This visitor screening solution will not make your high-tech life more bearable – at least not in the philosophical sense of the word – but it will improve smart sports stadium safety.

Woman walks through Evolv terminal.

No need to bring the rubber gloves to work. Credit: Evolv Technology

The combined sensor and facial recognition technologies detect explosives, firearms, and knives. The tech has been tested with partnerships at Gillette Stadium and Oakland International Airport.

One Video Stream to Rule Them All

Click for company websiteThis San Francisco startup took off in 2010, with capital of $17.2 million. Joining the crowd of computer vision companies, CrowdOptic bills itself as the “intelligent live streaming” company. It can take live video streams from multiple sources – including smartphones, wearable devices such as smart glasses, drones, and fixed cameras – to broadcast a single data stream. Algorithms can analyze the data stream in real-time, understanding analytically where devices are aimed in common, whether at fixed (baseball players) or moving targets (any other sports figure). By examining device streaming and connection performance, the best video from multiple feeds can be determined on the fly.

Its other products, such as CrowdOptic AquaEye, can do sports analytics by streaming audio, video, and biometrics to help coaches make their swimmers into the next Michael Phelps.

Another Job Killed By Automation

Click for company websiteNot a major league team? Not a problem. The last startup on this list, Veo, comes from Copenhagen, Denmark. With seed capital funding just over $2 million, the idea behind Veo is to offer cameraman-less recording technology so that any soccer (or football, as our Euro readership would prefer) club, regardless of its size, can record, edit, and live stream its matches. Its AI-powered detectors independently track the ball and the players. You can see the solution at play here:

The device supports up to six hours of continuous recording, and is being used by football clubs across Europe today. If Veo ever decides to cross the pond, the 20,000 camera operators currently employed in the United States don’t have to worry about “moving on to more value-add activities.” That’s because the solution is meant to record all the games that are not being recorded today. 

Update 09/13/19: Veo has raised $6 million in Series A funding to bring its AI-powered camera for soccer matches to the U.S. This brings the company’s total funding to $8.4 million to date.  

Conclusion

While there is definitely some comfort in watching a game with your best bud at home, we are social creatures who love yelling obscenities at each other under the guise of cheering for a sports team. We also like getting the real deal. In the blurred lines between the physical and the digital space of IoT, smart sports stadiums are winning the race, promising more secure, more connected, and for sure, a more exciting sports environment. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about the crappy, overpriced beer – except maybe to invest in cannabis drinks instead.

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