What are Smart Stadiums and How Do They Work?

We’re exploring automated control systems for stadiums—like IoT devices—to find out how stadiums can operate intelligently.

As sports fans make their way back to stadiums and arenas in a post-COVID-19 world, they are likely to notice some changes in their favorite venues. Now more than ever, owners and leagues are investing more money into their stadiums to provide superior guest experiences. For a lot of fans, it is far easier and less expensive to watch the big game from the comfort of their home, which means that these stadiums need to continuously innovate to keep fans coming through the turnstiles. That’s where automated control systems come into play—through the implementation of IoT (Internet of Things) technology, stadiums can easily upgrade the guest experience while taking advantage of the money-saving opportunities provided by IoT devices. Stadiums and arenas are using smart technologies to improve lighting control systems, fan engagement, food service, cleanliness, and more! Today we’re going to be looking at just a few of the many IoT applications for stadiums and arenas. Let’s find out exactly how stadiums have upgraded their tech as a way to improve attendance and increase efficiency post-lockdown.

What is a Smart Stadium?

Before we can discuss the different automated control systems we need to take a look at the definition of a smart stadium. Smart stadiums are designed to benefit guests, employees, and building managers.

A smart stadium is a venue that has upgraded its old systems using automated solutions like advanced network connections, building automation systems (BAS), and IoT devices. These IoT devices can range from lighting controls to cameras and sensors that help the stadium run more efficiently. Using these devices connected to a robust network, up-to-date information is constantly being communicated to the BAS which can send out commands and make instant adjustments to the different operating systems within the stadium. In practice, this means that intuitive automated control systems can control critical aspects of the stadium without any human intervention. IoT devices are not just for the benefit of the stadium managers and owners, they are also able to create unique and memorable experiences for guests. For example, sensors placed around the stadium can give guests updated information about restroom availability, parking availability, ticket upgrades, and other valuable information that streamlines the guest experience.

Automated solutions also help large stadiums conserve energy. In fact, the Department of Energy encourages the installation of automated IoT devices in large-scale applications like stadiums because of the energy-saving advantages.

Why Are Stadiums Using IoT Technology?

Stadiums are using IoT automated control systems for one key reason—cost. IoT devices require an upgraded network connection.

Though there are a whole host of advantages that are associated with IoT devices and automated control systems, there is one main reason that stadiums are using IoT to upgrade their operating systems—the cost of the devices and installation. IoT devices—as opposed to hard-wired devices—are far less expensive to install. To upgrade a stadium using hard-wired devices, the stadium would need to undergo extensive and invasive renovations that lead to expensive periods of downtime. For most stadiums returning to full capacity post-COVID-19, this is simply not an option. To run these IoT devices, most stadiums will be required to upgrade their wireless network. While it may seem costly to upgrade a wireless network, it is far cheaper than upgrading all connected devices in the stadium. IoT devices are relatively inexpensive too. Devices like occupancy sensors are hugely beneficial for stadiums, yet they are super low-cost and do not require professional installation. Because these devices are the least expensive option to completely upgrade outdated stadium operating systems. That way, even stadiums that do not have huge budgets can introduce automation to their building managers, employees, and guests. 

How Does IoT Technology Make Stadiums Smart?

Automated control systems for stadiums ensure that all guest’s needs are met during their visit. There are so many ways that stadiums can integrate IoT technology.

Now that we know what smart stadiums are and why so many venues have chosen to upgrade their automated technology, it’s time to look at a few common applications.

Food and Drinks

The first application we’ll be talking about is for food and beverage service in stadiums. We’ve all been there—trapped in a long line for a drink and a snack just as halftime is about to end. Long lines are frustrating for guests, and in some cases can make or break a guest experience at a venue. That’s why one of the biggest innovations regarding automated control systems and IoT technology is for food and drink service. Using IoT-equipped tablets, VIP customers can now place their food and drink orders on a tablet located in the club or VIP section. Once their order is placed, the tablet will send their food order to the kitchen while a smart refrigerator unlocks the drink order placed by the guest. The IoT-equipped tablet is also able to start a tab for guests in VIP areas and process payments. This provides a unique automated ordering experience for VIP guests that eliminates the need for food and drink lines and expedites the time to deliver the food and drinks. In this use case, drinks are delivered to the guest immediately without needing an order from an employee at a bar. Additionally, this system also presents both money and energy-saving opportunities for stadiums as they need to rely on fewer employees and less energy output per transaction. 


To optimize guest experiences inside the venue, stadiums need to install robust wireless networks. These networks allow not only for better guest connectivity—which is essential for any sporting event or concert as guests will want to share content with their friends and family—greater wireless connectivity also allows for more IoT devices. In general, the better the WiFi connection in the stadium, the happier guests will be and the faster these IoT devices will be able to communicate with the BAS. This is the only part of IoT technology that requires hardwiring because the antennas used for internet connection need to be hard-wired. However, upgrading a hard-wired WiFi network is much easier than upgrading all of your hard-wired internet-capable devices using power over ethernet (PoE) technology. Once the stadium’s network is upgraded with increased access points for guests and IoT devices, the stadium will be far more connected making automated solutions possible and providing superior internet connection for all visitors.

Mobile Applications

Due to the increased connectivity allowed by powerful wireless networks, guests can use applications on their mobile devices to interact with the stadium. In this case, each guest’s mobile phone is the “device” in the Internet of Things. Using their smartphones, guests can look at ticket upgrades, buy tickets to future events, and place food and drink orders remotely from their seats. Mobile ordering has greatly decreased the wait time for food and drinks at stadiums much in the same way automated tablet ordering does, as we just discussed. In some use cases, the time it would take for a guest to get a drink after ordering decreased from 5 minutes to less than 2 minutes. 

Mobile applications integrated with a robust IoT are also useful for guests when it comes to wayfinding. Often, large stadiums are confusing for guests—especially if it is their first time visiting. With a strong network connection, stadiums can install IoT capable beacons to pinpoint the location of guests within the stadium and offer them suggestions. For example, using an app guests will be able to see which restrooms or vendors are nearest to them. The application also helps guests find their seats, which helps relieve congestion and minimize guest confusion when they enter the stadium. These may sound like minor conveniences for guests, but they are actually able to improve the efficiency of the entire stadium as guests can more easily find where they’re going, preventing crowding in common areas. Preventing large crowds is also beneficial as the COVID-19 situation continues to change every few months. 

What is the Process for Retrofitting Stadiums With IoT Capable Technology?

To access the full spectrum of IoT capabilities, stadiums need to increase their network connectivity. Fans benefit from an upgraded WiFi network.

While IoT devices are powerful pieces of technology, they will not be able to function properly without a strong network. Before stadiums can start integrating both physical and application-based IoT features for guests and employees, most will need to majorly upgrade their network. As we previously mentioned, upgrading a stadium network is far less expensive and offers more value to stadiums than hard-wired connectivity. So, even though the initial upgrade is expensive, it is a far cheaper and easier installation process than using hard-wired devices. Not to mention, hard-wired devices are unable to support the automation coming from individual smart devices, which eliminates application integrations. 

After the network is upgraded, the stadium is then able to choose the automated features they want to integrate. As we’ve demonstrated, there is more than one way to automate food and drink ordering and delivery depending on the demands and output of the stadium. From there, stadiums can install sensors and tablets while introducing applications that improve fan experiences. If stadiums are unable to develop an application, there are always opportunities for physical installations that can perform the same automated capabilities—just without the convenience of having guests access automation directly from their smartphone.

Overall, it is in the best interest of the stadium and anyone who works or visits the stadium to upgrade to an IoT system. Utilizing a powerful network connection makes the experience of watching a sporting event or concert better for the guest and makes all operations more efficient. Depending on the use of the space and the existing infrastructure and operations, some stadiums will require different devices than others. Right now, the current options for IoT devices are nearly limitless. What we’ve just covered is far from a comprehensive list of ways that stadiums can be improved. That’s why, in a post-COVID-19 world, all stadium managers and leagues should be searching for ways to improve guest experiences while optimizing all operations.