Football directors

5G could transform the sports stadium experience.

Large crowds at sports matches may seem like a distant memory but when they return 5G may make the whole experience quite different. Firstly, 5G should prevent the collapse of the mobile networks – 4G can handle around 2,000 connections for sporting events, 5G promises to support 1 million connections.

Beyond this, there are numerous opportunities for new services and revenue streams from spectators inside the stadium and at home. Some ideas in development include: fully immersive broadcasts offering 360 degree views, previously inaccessible viewing angles (such as from the coach, referee or even the players), a deluge of new data (such as real-time player heart rates, heatmaps etc) and all kinds of new sports betting opportunities.

The technology is already under trial at various European football stadiums including Barcelona’s Nou Camp, Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena, Milan’s San Siro and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

Latin America is far behind, a technology specialist at ESPN tells us, “Today there are not even regular 4K broadcasts of football matches in South America and no stadium has a Wi-Fi connection, not even to support the press.”

“Today there are not even regular 4K broadcasts of football matches in South America.”

ESPN, Technology Specialist

One major barrier is the investment required to roll-out 5G to sports venues, and football clubs in much of Latin America are not in a financially strong position. The ESPN specialist continues, “There needs to be a large international event for the country to invest in 5G infrastructure, in football this means the World Cup, Americas Cup or the Olympics. Tourism income from these events justifies the investment in technology but domestic football by itself does not, not even in Brazil.”

Another challenge is that football, unlike other sports, has complicated broadcasting rights and agreements, even some of the data streams are proprietary. A football journalist in Peru explains, “There will have to be so many new agreements between the teams, software providers, various international media companies and even the telecommunications companies, it won’t be easy.”

“There will have to be so many new agreements […] it won’t be easy.”

Football Journalist, Peru

The culture around Latin American football is also very different to Europe. The journalist explains, “More data might not be a good thing with ‘hot-blooded’ Latin American spectators in the stadium because it will just create more debate and argument, VAR doesn’t even work well here because the spectators create such a fuss.”

So, 5G may not revolutionise the experience of football spectators in stadiums but both of our sources agreed that there are several promising early applications of 5G technology. Firstly, to enhance the experience of viewers at home and secondly to improve stadium security and general connectivity.



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