COVID-19 has put the sports world on hold. The economic, social and cultural impact of the virus is sure to change how we design sports and entertainment facilities as fan behaviour, purchasing patterns and comfort levels with mass gatherings continue to evolve.
How can teams and venue owners plan for these changes? And what are designers learning as COVID-19 unfolds? John Rhodes, a director of HOK’s Sports + Recreation + Entertainment group in London, explores these questions.
Blending the Digital and Physical Worlds
Stadiums, arenas and ballparks have long been at the forefront of merging the physical and digital worlds. By leveraging sophisticated technology like augmented reality, teams and clubs were just beginning to find ways technology could drive fans to the stadium rather than keeping them at home.
After months of social distancing, we’ve become increasingly reliant on technology to work, socialize and accomplish essential functions. People who previously may have used technology to make a phone call or send a quick text message have now spent weeks putting technology at the centre of their lives. Former late adapters have now caught up, making technology in a post-COVID-19 world increasingly essential to the sports experience. Mobile ticketing, cashless payments and online concession ordering will be the new norm. Touchless doors and automated technology that aids in hygienic practices will also be key.
The Role of Esports
As the pandemic caused the cancellation and postponements of thousands of live events, esports kept scoring wins. The League of Legends European Championship went on virtually with minimal challenges. Game streaming site Twitch reported a 31 percent increase in traffic in March, the same month the pandemic shut down traditional sports leagues everywhere.
Now traditional sports leagues are relying on esports events to generate interest and excitement while in-person events are on hold. Formula 1 and NASCAR have hosted virtual races that have taken place at the same time as previously scheduled live events with beloved drivers competing virtually. This abrupt change in how we experience and engage with sporting events has made one thing clear: esports are here to stay and will likely find a new set of fans as a result of the pandemic. Long-term, I expect that traditional sporting leagues will continue to find ways to leverage virtual gaming alongside in-person events.
Even as technology and virtual sporting events gain popularity, the need for human connection still exists. The need to see a live event will persist as technology grows around the event periphery, making functions like parking and purchasing concessions easier. After COVID-19, I anticipate stadiums will once again fill with fans eager to support their teams and excited to make new memories with friends and family.
Sporting clubs and teams have played an integral role in the community’s response to the virus. Whether lending their stadiums or arenas for use as a makeshift hospital or supply centre or mobilizing their fan bases to help those in need, sport is as central to the community as ever. While future venues may be designed to increase community preparedness in times of crisis, COVID-19 has illuminated the essential role sports plays in bringing people together. With a renewed focus on technology, sports and live events will continue to create those human connections—ones that will outlast any temporary interruption.
About this series: HOK’s Sports + Recreation + Entertainment leaders are exploring the impact of COVID-19 on sports and entertainment venues.