Features

5G tackles rugby fan experience head-on at the Ricoh Arena

October 23, 2019

By James Manser, Vodafone Editorial & Content team

“It’s not just about getting out there and playing rugby,” Wasps legend Jimmy Gopperth smiled, “these days there is so much technology involved.”

The audience applauded the New Zealand-born fly-half as he shared a few tricks of the game: “We use drones at training sessions to share instant feedback on each player”. He also spoke animatedly about how the team’s training, nutrition and performance goals are carefully set and monitored using real-time data – hoping that it gives them that much-needed edge on the field.

Apparently, beetroot juice also provides a competitive edge – but Gopperth was less excited about that.

The first game of the Gallagher Premiership, Wasps at home to London Irish, kicked off this Sunday. I made my way to Coventry, and to Vodafone’s Business Lounge at the Ricoh Arena, to listen to a Q&A with Wasps players – past and present.

Chris Bell, the former Wasps Captain and current Head of Partnerships at Wasps Rugby, opened the session and welcomed customers, partners, and VIP guests. He asked the players how important data and technology has become for modern rugby.

“It helps us become better rugby players,” Gopperth shot back, without hesitation.

Beyond training, tech innovation will also deliver new fan experiences, improve engagement and drive new sources of revenue in sport. In fact, according to three quarters of business leaders across sports organisations, this will be essential to future success.

I was lucky enough to see fan innovation in action; as I made my way pitch-side, I discovered I’d been lucky enough to bag one of Vodafone’s #5Gamechanger seats. Each VIP seat is equipped with a Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G phone, as well as high-definition screens to keep track of the on-field action, taking the experience of live rugby to another level.

I was able to live-stream amazing footage from three 360° cameras placed around the pitch and stadium – it was awesome, and provided a totally new perspective on the game.

I used my handset to order food and drinks which were then delivered to my (heated!) seat, an experience which I was then able to share on social media. I could even enjoy live streams of other matches.

Anne Sheehan, Director of Vodafone Business in the UK told me that “customers can now experience 5G throughout the stadium – it provides an opportunity for us to grow fan engagement with applications such as live-streaming video, mixed reality experiences, and real time access to on-pitch information.”

Vodafone has achieved this state-of-the-art fan experience in partnership with Ericsson and Samsung.

Marielle Lindgren, Head of Ericsson UK & Ireland, is excited about the implications of the new #5Gamechanger seating.  She told me “this allows customers to experience what’s possible with 5G and provides a platform that will transform the way they can interact and engage with sports and leisure activities.”

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ 5G, paired with Vodafone’s 5G network, allows fans to stream the exclusive content up to 10 times faster than 4G, with amazingly low latency.

Latency is incredibly important for delivering this kind of fan experience. Any perception of lag – or delay – between what’s happening on the pitch and what’s unfolding on your handset immediately breaks your immersion. A combination of Vodafone’s 5G network and Ericsson’s 5G Radio System has been instrumental in ensuring that we all had the best experience possible.

Conor Pierce, Corporate Vice President, Samsung UK and Ireland told me that “with Vodafone as our partners, we are bringing 5G to life in new and exciting ways – to unlock a wholly immersive experience, resetting the standard of expectations amongst our customers.”

In a nail-biting 26-29 finish, Wasps eventually lost to London Irish. However, the team knows that better things await – 5G represents a game-changing opportunity for professional sports teams and stadiums around the world.

I can’t wait to see what comes next!