One month after Liverpool Football Club became the first top-tier British club to roll-out WiFi in its stadium, Manchester City has announced it too is to start rolling out WiFi, in addition to a real-time mobile-video streaming service.
The Manchester, England-based football club has a history of innovating in the digital realm. For example, it has previously partnered with Foursquare, broadcasted fans’ tweets during games, signed a YouTube content deal, and introduced pre-match Google hangouts.
But on match day itself, with fans in the stadium, there has always been an inherent problem: connectivity.
As anyone who has tried using their mobile phones at football games will attest to, perennial 3G issues in and around the stadium due to the mass concentration of mobile phones often restricts what fans can actually do with their pocket rockets. That’s why Man City previously suggested fans try texting their tweets during matches.
The new WiFi service will be provided by O2 and Cisco, and the club is claiming the roll-out will transform it into the “Premier League’s most technologically fan-friendly stadium.”
Manchester City’s 47,000-seater Etihad stadium will be kitted out with Cisco’s Connected Stadium Wi-Fi “in the coming weeks,” and the so-called intelligent high-density WiFi network will be delivered by O2. It will be available in and around the stadium.
In addition, Manchester City says it is to offer Cisco’s StadiumVision Mobile too, which is capable of delivering live video and other event information to fans’ mobiles. This may include something like replays of key action on the the pitch, alternative angles, or real-time player statistics. The potential for this is pretty significant, and could transform the live-match experience. How this is delivered remains to be seen, but it would likely entail a second-screen app of sorts.
As you’ll no doubt know if you’ve ever attended any busy sporting event, mobile phones can often be useless for anything. As such, Man City’s tie-up with O2 will see the Etihad Stadium equipped with technology that should improve mobile phone connectivity overall, including voice calls and text messages.
“With the ground and its immediate vicinity offering ubiquitous connectivity, we will soon be able to provide full talk and texting capabilities, while paving the way for exciting new mobile data applications and services – such as mobile video – that will ensure a visit to the Etihad Stadium continues to be one of the best sports experiences available anywhere in the world,” explains Tom Glick, Chief Commercial & Operating Officer for Manchester City.
At the beginning of April, Liverpool became one of the first UK clubs to install WiFi in its stadium, though League Two’s Wycombe Wanderers has been offering WiFi for the past season.
The US is making small strides on this front too – The New England Patriots (American Football) has previously gone WiFi, deploying the NFL’s first stadium-wide, free WiFi network. And to counteract lagging attendances, the NFL is dangling a giant WiFI carrot in front of fans across the country, as it looks to have full connected stadiums in place by 2015.
In terms of high-density wireless, this differs slightly from standard stadium wireless as it’s designed specifically for high-concentration of people. While Liverpool, for example, is planning to expand its WiFi beyond one stand, Manchester City is going straight in with the whole stadium, including outside surrounding area outside the grounds.
The Etihad Stadium becomes the first in the English Premier League to install Cisco’s high-density wireless technology, joining the likes of Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu and the Brooklyn Nets Barclays Center.
“The underpinning ICT delivery is something we are really excited to be working on, and will result in the provision of high-speed connection anywhere in the stadium for fans, allowing them to capture and share their experience in a digital way – something we are passionate about as a business,” says Paul Lawton, General Manager of SMB at O2.
The WiFi will be open to all fans (both home and away), and will be free to use post-registration.
With the end of the English Premier League season on the horizon, it’s not yet clear whether this will be in place by the last home game of the season on May 19. Certainly, it will likely be in place by the beginning of the new season in August.