What is the Future of Sports Venues and Games?

September 9, 2020

The sports venue is so much more than just a place. We’ve all felt the magic of experiencing live sports. We’ve walked through the gates of the cathedral, and heard the crowd cheer and hold their breath in unison. We’ve seen the lights, the displays, and the raw power of world-class athletes. 

As a four-time Olympian, I have seen fans of all creeds, nationalities, and persuasions celebrate together. I’ve seen parents become closer to their children, and I know firsthand the impact athletes have in instilling hope and acting as role models for our societies. 

Quite literally, sport has the power to change the world. And the venue is where we experience these moments, with thousands of our newest friends. 

In the midst of this pandemic, however, many of these venues are increasingly empty, and sport no longer holds as central a place in our lives. Cheaper and more convenient forms of entertainment are threatening our cathedrals. There is a real urgency to change how we operate live sporting events. 

We must all rise to the challenge of creating venues where people are willing to spend the time, money, and effort to experience the power of togetherness. 

Getting people to come together frequently and enthusiastically gets harder every day, yet cracking this conundrum is key to the success of our industry. 

We know we’re entering a new age of sports where Fluid Fans™ are the path to growth. 

Fluid Fans are open to change and continuously evolving. They are no longer tied to geography, they follow individual players rather than teams, and they want to participate while they consume sports content. They want immersive experiences that are social, accessible, and interactive. Fluid Fans want to be able to flow between behaviors while consuming sports media content — whether it is betting, posting to social, or chatting with their friends — and they want to be able to do those things all on the same platform. 

Fluid Fans are tech-savvy as well. They want to learn about the game in new ways. They want technology to enhance their experience but they want the tech to be seamless as well. Fluid Fans are more socially-driven. They may not support a local team if they have different social views. Now it is about so much more than the product on the playing field.

Long before COVID-19, our industry had acknowledged the issue of “no shows” in venues. To get fans to “show up,” data needs to be shared across different steps of the fan journey. 

Although venue apps and ticketing vendors can play conductor, we believe payment vendors have the strongest opportunity to orchestrate this fan behavior. In the same way that the travel industry uses a Passenger Name Record across vendors, we expect that the sports industry will begin to use a similar style Fan Name Record to facilitate the best experience that encourages fans to continue to “show up.” Facial recognition, contactless ticketing, and mobile wallet technology will be important enablers.

Venue operators need to approach fan engagement differently and start identifying what fan behaviors matter most to their businesses. We’re not in an arms race to have the fastest Wi-Fi or the largest screens. We’re in a battle with other forms of entertainment. 

Venues that focus on making sure it is easy for fans to show up will be ready for the moment doors open again. This means facilitating the different steps of the fan journey from the moment fans buy their tickets, to their transportation, to the point where they enter the gate. 

New requirements for health and safety will complicate this process, so investing now in connectivity solutions, digital signage, and access control technology will ease the fan’s journey and let them focus on returning to the live sports entertainment they love.

Over the last year, our Sports Innovation Lab team and partners have worked to better understand and expand the requirements for operating thriving sports venues. We are on a mission to ensure the next generation of fans feel the power of community and live sports.

If we can all continue to work together as an industry to make it easier for fans to enjoy live sports, we all win. 


Angela Ruggiero is a four-time Olympian in ice hockey, winning a Gold Medal in 1998, Silver Medal in 2002 and 2010, and a Bronze Medal in 2006. She is CEO and Co-Founder of the Sports Innovation Lab, a technology powered market research firm focused on the intersection of sports and innovation with a focus on identifying trends and evaluating technology products and services that will drive the future of sport. 

This piece is a part of the Fall 2020 special issue of IL’s magazine, which collects advice and insights from 25 contributors. Read the full “Innovation Matters More” magazine.