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This is not your grandfather’s ball game. Or concert, or state fair, for that matter. And it’s not just the pandemic that’s changed the way we think about attending big in-person events. Technology transformation has the power to do away with the lost ticket, the flat beer, the endless line for the bathroom (dare we hope?).
But it turns out that the road to the show must be paved with fiber-optic cable first. Joe Costanzo, CTO of global technology-solutions company PMY Group, takes us through it. He discusses the process for transforming physical and system architectures for sporting organizations, major events, and venues. He also addresses privacy concerns and talks about how event technology is transforming venues to provide audiences safe, fulfilling, and immersive event experiences.
How has the pandemic encouraged your customers to evolve?
The stadium-market landscape has evolved pretty dramatically over the past 10 years—really as a result of significant advancements in technology. But the COVID pandemic has accelerated the rate of adoption. Health and safety concerns that can be leveraged through technology are a starting point to focusing on technology. There’s a baseline consumer expectation right now around ensuring a safe and secure event.
A lot of things that we’re seeing around crowd intelligence, around smart and connected stadiums—pre-pandemic that was mostly conversation. Then a lot of venues and event owners started focusing on technology because they didn’t know what it was going to be like when the crowds came back, and they felt technology would help.
What strategies and technologies are your customers looking for right now?
We’re seeing technology focused around four pillars. The first is a need to create and maintain a digital connection with fans, and to develop a comprehensive understanding of the audience based on data insights. The second pillar is the enhancement of the fan experience via multiple digital touchpoints, such as interactive content and immersive experiences like AR and VR—which could also be used to engage the fan who isn’t there on-site.
And even before the pandemic there was this third pillar around safety and security and having a user-friendly event—seamless actions like frictionless entry for operations both inside and outside the venue. When you’re inside that includes being able to get food and beverage and have it delivered to your seat, or order from your seat and go pick it up. Or it could be understanding what the quickest route is to get to the restroom, get your beer and hot dog, and get back to the seat so you don’t miss any of the event.
The fourth pillar is using this technology to increase revenue and profitability. It’s not enough to just get back to pre-pandemic levels of revenue, because people have lost years of revenue stream. So they ask: “How can I use technology to increase profitability? How can I build positive commercial outcomes—whether it’s via partnerships, commercial, or just opportunities for me to transact more seamlessly with my fans?”
How do you talk to your customers about using technology to enable those four pillars?
The way to make technology transformation easily consumable for our venue owners and operators is to break it down into four key areas: connectivity; immersive-experience technologies; data and analytics (which encompasses AI); and then safety, security, and operational tech.
When we say “connectivity,” I think the first thing that comes to most people’s mind is wireless—Wi-Fi, 5G, small cell—but it’s really around core infrastructure. It’s not the sexiest thing to talk about, but even in new builds we see the most failure around not having enough power, enough fiber-optic, enough cabling. And it can be as simple as, “We need it up on the ceiling because that’s where our LED displays are going to be, but it was only put in down on the ground.”
Whenever we talk about technology and technology transformation, we really encourage our customers and venue owners to focus on that core infrastructure, that connectivity component. Because if you get that right, it’s really the foundation of your house. You can do a lot of building on top of that.
How are you moving toward edge computing with Intel®?
We look at edge in two different ways. We look at it truly on the edge—right there with a chip set inside that data-capture device that could be a CCTV camera or an IoT sensor. But there’s also another aspect of the edge that we refer to as the on-prem or on-premises edge, where everything isn’t necessarily going out to the cloud. We’ve been working really closely with Intel® on those two aspects of the edge.
One of the things that has emerged through the partnership with Intel® is the use of platforms like OpenVINO™ that allow us to do our computational modeling right within the chip set. That way we don’t have to move massive amounts of video up to the cloud; we can do it on-prem. In some instances, we can do it right on the edge in a smart camera. So we get rid of the privacy concerns.
I think, pre-pandemic, people were very leery around computer vision–based technologies because of privacy concerns. When we talk about AI, there is the perception that it can be misused, misappropriated. But I think COVID helped everybody understand that there are aspects of AI that can be utilized around safety of operations if you use the technology right, if you use the data right.
Technology can help us add seamlessness to an experience. And when it’s seamless, people are more accepting of it, because they don’t see it happening. When the technology creates friction is when we see problems.
How does a venue or event owner achieve this seamlessness?
We talk about a five-phase approach toward the delivery of a technology transformation. First and foremost, there has to be a strategy—and it has to involve all the business units and business objectives—laying out your technology vision and commercial strategy and valuation. And then, sometimes right up-front in that process, you have to look at the investment in funding. The technology isn’t necessarily expensive, but it’s also not cheap.
Once you’re aligned from a strategy perspective, then you really focus on design. You have to map that back to the objectives and to the vision. Then you have a solid foundation to go out into the procurement phase, where you can put briefs and RFPs and specifications and the tender evaluation, negotiating the contracting, and then commercial partners.
“Whenever we talk about #TechnologyTransformation, we really encourage our customers and #venue owners to focus on that core infrastructure, that #connectivity component.” – Joe Costanzo, CTO, PMY Group via @insightdottech
And then you go into the implementation and delivery phase—installation, integration, commissioning, and handover. And then you’re onto management operations. But if you don’t get those first three areas right—strategy, design, and supporting procurement—that’s probably where a lot of transformation projects and technology projects are going to fail.
Can you give an example of a successful project?
We had a partner in Australia that runs a big event that’s like a state fair in the U.S. Previously, they had always used a manual process for managing revenue sharing with the concessions. Then they were able to launch a technology platform around crowd management, people counting, and occupancy, so when it came time to have that revenue-share conversation with the concessionaires, it was pretty black-and-white. As event owners, they were able to say, “We know that there were this many people, not just through the gates, but in this area and this area. We know how the food courts were utilized. So, from our perspective, the revenue share needs to be this.”
And it wasn’t that the concessionaires were trying to be underhanded; but they were just using eyeballs and point-of-sale receipts to get an understanding of what was going on. So using data, using metrics around the crowd intelligence and crowd movement and dwell times—that can change the revenue outcome.
How do you integrate existing technology with the new overlays?
We’ve created our own smart operating platform that takes into account all the things that events and venues have to go through—whether it’s input from our design team, our advisory team, our delivery teams—we’ve tried to incorporate all that. In most instances, this means a data-fusion layer. Having a data-fusion engine allows us to connect to other data assets—whether that’s ticketing, whether that’s point of sale—and then to quickly deploy computational models on top of that data.
That’s not to say there aren’t instances of gaps in the data-collection capabilities where we have to bring hardware into play. But we want to limit that, and to establish ROI through connecting those different data systems. I think what’s critical is having the ability to acquire data from a lot of different systems, and having the ability to place software and technology to leverage existing systems. It’s a big challenge, but it’s one of the things that we’ve been able to do pretty easily with the Intel® team.
What are the expected KPIs in terms of deploying these kinds of systems?
We break up data into three buckets within a venue or an event environment. There’s crowd intelligence, which sits on the bottom and provides a foundation layer. Then there’s operational intelligence—whether it’s the concessions, or security teams, or that type of thing. A beer vendor is a good example, and they might ask: “What type of cost savings are available to me by monitoring the operations?” The answer is that it could be as simple as placing IoT sensors within the draft lines to ensure that the beer is at an optimal temperature. Because if it is, you’ll get less foam and you’ll get more pours per keg. We talk about bridging the physical and the digital: Technology doesn’t just reside in the IT department anymore.
Last, there’s the commercial intelligence, and that can be: “How many new versus returning visitors do we see? How many people have the opportunity to see the activation compared to the number of people through the door? How many people engaged with the activation, and how many people returned?” When you bridge the physical and digital worlds, you can understand better what’s going on with them, which is an output of the technology, which allows you to communicate better with your asset owners.
It gives you the data you need to understand what’s going on, and allows you to be proactive. More than just the KPIs, what you’re trying to do is get to a point where you’re consolidating and analyzing data, because that leads to revenue uplift and cost savings.
To learn more about transforming event experiences, listen to Using Event Technology for the Win with PMY Group and read AI Innovations Are a Winner for Tennis. For the latest innovations from PMY Group, follow them on LinkedIn at PMYGroup.
This article was edited by Erin Noble, copy editor.