The 2022 FIFA World Cup kicked off on November 20th with host nation Qatar taking on Ecuador in the tournament opener at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor. The competition has had multiple twists and shocking turns so far, all to the delight of football fans everywhere.
Hopeful fans are checking the football betting odds to see if the confidence they have in their team is matched by the bookmakers. Wall charts are being unfurled and sticker books are being slowly filled up by kids and adults who should know better.
If, like every football fan on the planet, you’re becoming more and more obsessed with the World Cup with each passing day, talk to any fans in Qatar and they’ll tell you that getting into the World Cup stadiums is far from a straightforward experience.
All eight stadiums are within 35km of Doha, with four in the Doha city area. The furthest one away is Al Bayt Stadium – which is far from an easy ground to get to. It’s a stadium with virtually no public transport infrastructure and is located in the desert.
The nearest metro station is still a 35-minute drive from the ground, so fans need to get a bus after the train. The express buses to the stadium can take anywhere from 45 to 65 minutes, depending on your starting point. Even then, the bus only brings fans to a “minimum of a 20-minute walk from the stadium”.
The Mobility Operation Director at the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy Ahmed Al-Binali said: “As you can see, my country is ready”.
“We have also created around 80,000 car parks all around the stadium and fans have the options to choose between buses, metro, and taxis.”
“Spectators can take any of the 37 metro stations and utilize their bus stations to the stadiums. We also have more than 18,000 taxis available including Uber, Kareem, and Karwa. The tournament buses are free of charge to all Hayya holders.”
For locals who do drive to the stadium, the car parks are anywhere from 20 minute to 35 minute walks to the stadium.
Picture this: You begin walking up the stairs of area 104. The labels on the concrete steps read, “Section A”… “Section B”… “Section C”… until you finally reach your destination. You shuffle by the other people in the row and take your seat with a perfect view of the game. The crowd is going wild, screaming their favourite home-team chants. You’re wearing your favourite player’s jersey with a smile on your face and ready to join in the cheer. You look down at your phone and see a notification: “5 Minutes Until Game Time”
With limitations on how many fans are allowed in arenas, Qatar has had to improve and transform their venues to create the ultimate fan experience.
What is Fan Experience?
Sporting events are probably one of the most popular ways to engage large audiences. Even though sporting events have been around for centuries, changes in technology have transformed the stadium fan experience remarkably. To keep up with the current trends and remain relevant in the future, one must focus on improving the fan experience constantly.
In layman’s terms, the fan experience is how you make your fans feel when you come in contact with them. This does not limit to the in-stadium fan experience. Rather, it is the wholesome experience from booking tickets to a sporting event to being present at the stadium and ensuring that fans have a great time from the beginning to end. Before and after the game, it should linger for weeks or months, and it can mean the difference between a good turnout and a sold-out stadium. Only a small element of a larger process is the match itself. Everything from a fan’s first impressions of your website to their subsequent interactions with you on social media, phone calls, and marketing materials should be taken into account. To attract fans, it is important to consider the value of the overall experience you are providing rather than just ticket prices and other costs. It’s widely accepted that getting to know your fans and figuring out what they want and need helps you create better products and services.
As the times have changed, especially since the onset of the pandemic, sports fans want to ensure that they are having a safe fan experience in stadiums.
As a result, we must design experiences with the user in mind more than ever before. Sports organizations must use data analytics to gain a comprehensive picture of their supporters and give them information to establish better trust and more meaningful interactions with their customers.
Watching the game digitally or visiting in person isn’t enough for them; they want additional information and a place to interact with other sports fans or read constant updates. According to recent surveys, more than 50% of sports fans like to read up on the latest news and stats about the players before or during a sporting event so they may be better prepared to follow along with the action in real-time. The use of data-driven interactions and fan engagement technology, enabled by Artificial Intelligence, can help extend the in-person experience while also engaging followers throughout the world.
Once sports fans have entered the venue for the event, they want to have the most comfortable, convenient environment and know that they’ve entered one of the most interactive and cool sports venues.
The following ways stadiums are digitally transforming to create a better experience for players, fans, and employees are as follows: Digital Ticket Distribution, Stadium Wayfinding, Social Distancing Protocols, Mobile Food and Drink Ordering, Fan Engagement App, and Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality Technology.
How Technology is shaping the Qatar Experience
This was always going to be a World Cup like no other, but perception and reality are proving to be two very different things at Qatar 2022.
Major tournaments like these are often preceded by a sense of hysteria but until it begins, you never really know what it’s going to be like – and whether some pre-tournament fears are founded.
Since the tournament began, there have been some pleasant, and unpleasant, surprises for visitors.
Here’s a look at what it’s really been like on the ground in Doha — from the football, to getting around, getting a beer and the vibe around the matches and the city.
One of the unique selling points of a World Cup held in such a small country was the proximity between stadiums, meaning fans could attend multiple matches a day.
But there were questions over how it would work in reality, and fears over how the city would handle the supposed influx of more than a million visions once the tournament began.
Almost a week in, Doha seems to be coping well. It’s the thing most people ask when they hear you’re in Qatar – have you found a beer yet?
The tournament’s surprise backflip on selling beer at the stadiums certainly made things a little trickier, but in reality alcohol isn’t as scarce as you might think.
Qatar has strict rules around alcohol but drinks are allowed to be served in many of the city’s hotels and bars, which haven’t been quite as over-run as feared – perhaps as a result of fewer visitors than expected travelling.
Food prices aren’t outrageous but you’ll rack up a hefty bill by eating at the venues or hotel bars every night.
But there are bargains – and sensational meals – to be had for the more adventurous and curious with a sizable feed at a local neighbourhood Turkish restaurant, for instance Döner Kebap or Shawarma.
There were startling images and reports of some of the conditions for fan accommodation but most Cameroonian supporters, and media, have reportedly had fairly pleasant experiences.
Apartments are clean and a good size, albeit with some odd design flaws and defects that suggest things were finished off in a hurry just like the AFCON in Cameroon.
Away from the stadiums the city has certainly come alive since the tournament started, though it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. The Fan Zone, subject of utter chaos on the opening night, has since calmed down and fans in recent nights have had no issues getting in, or getting a beer and food. At the stadiums, it’s been a mixed bag in terms of atmosphere, with some incredible and some noticeably flat.
In years past, watching a game at the stadium was an experience to covet simply because TV screens were small and held a low-quality picture. But now, with TV screens more significant than ever and personal entertainment becoming increasingly advanced, stadiums have stepped up their game to draw fans out.
New pieces of technology are reshaping the fan experience, and fans are embracing the new technology.
Apart from the Al Rihla Match Ball immersed with a technology sensor to provide unprecedented insight into every element of the movement of the ball, the Semi-Automated Offside Technology to enable video and on-field match officials to make faster, more accurate, and more reproducible offside decisions, the FIFA Player App which takes into account whether a player moved to receive the ball, the pressure they applied to an opponent, receiving locations, and more, the Bonocle and Feelix Palm to enable visually-impaired fans to enjoy the 2022 FIFA World Cup, one of the features of the ultimate Qatar World Cup experience is the Advanced Stadium Cooling Technology to keep the stadium at about 20° C, an ideal temperature for players and fans. The cooling system uses a combination of insulation and targeted cooling to cool only places where people are. The stadiums are designed for cooled air to come through in grills in the stands and large nozzles on the pitch. Through an air circulation technique, warm air is sucked into the stadium’s cooling system, cleaned by water, re-cooled, filtered out, and pumped out again by the jets. This also purifies the air.
Further ensuring fans’ comfort, under-seat diffusers push air out at an angle to deliver it gently. Additionally, sensors around the stadium will keep the temperature constant and adjust air flows for seats in the shade or sun.
With the implementation of smart restrooms, Qatar stadiums can meet guests’ needs in a cleaner and more pleasant way. By monitoring restroom data and the number of users, technology can ensure that restrooms are cleaned promptly and kept well-stocked with toilet tissue, hand soap, hand sanitizer, and paper towels.
The seating positions as many spectators as close to the pitch as possible to encourage a heightened atmosphere and the most intimate and immersive experience for spectators as possible.
Projection into the Cameroon context
Times of change require investments in the future. Stadiums are chasing fans amid a sea of cheaper entertainment alternatives and increasingly lavish home viewing environments. And yet the stadium experience remains exceptional for its scale, its grandeur, and the live community that fans can’t find anywhere else. To successfully navigate the currents of change, teams and stadium owners should invest in a holistic approach to optimizing the stadium experience around the fans.
First, stadiums should upgrade their networks to guarantee fans the same service they’re used to everywhere else. They can develop networks that deliver location awareness through beacon technologies—and content delivery systems that can be optimized for screens and mobile devices.
Second, they should integrate all touch points on the customer journey by upgrading interfaces such as ticketing and point-of-sale to be digital and connected, and by developing a comprehensive data strategy that centralizes all the data from those touch points. Effectively integrating data from across can be key to unlocking its potential. Once this customer data platform is developed, it can be further integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.
Third, stadiums should unlock monetization opportunities from their customer data by developing rich personas and user profiles. With machine intelligence, these profiles can be automatically evaluated for incentives, churn, discounts, and rewards. This level of fan intelligence can enable better delivery of customized and personalized content, while supporting incentive modelling that generates revenue and attendance. As with churn modelling in CRM, such systems can suggest which incentive packages are most likely to convert a specific fan or persona to a purchase.
Fourth, successful mobile applications may be critical to staying engaged with fans. Fans will likely expect immediate and enduring value to keep them on the team’s platform instead of just opening their favourite social network. Value can be based on utilities, but it should also be delivered through discounts and rewards, as well as the opportunity for a regular fan to access a VIP experience that makes them feel special.
The fundamental challenge for teams lies in delivering truly exceptional stadium experiences that are beyond anything possible elsewhere. As stadiums become more computational, connected, sensing, and data-driven, our need to be entertained, to share, and to express ourselves will likely be met by novel technologies that surprise and fascinate. And yet the age-old excitement of physical competition continues to thrive and express itself in both old and new ways. With the help of sensing, data analytics, and next-generation digital experiences, sports teams have tremendous opportunities to support their fans’ passion and loyalty.
With the influx of technology into the stadium atmosphere, this high-energy, enjoyable fan experience is unlikely to fade anytime soon. Watching from your couch might be comfortable, but there’s nothing like witnessing the event among fans who understand your love of the game.
(The Qatar Experience written by Raymond Elume as lived by Angu Lesley, stadium announcer, Qatar World Cup 2022)
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