After months of anticipation, the new Premier League season finally kicked off last weekend.
Ahead of the new season, Manchester City announced it would be providing its fans with smart scarves.
The club said the ‘Connected Scarf’ will reveal just how deeply fans are impacted by the action on the field and will power ‘a more inclusive future’.
Meanwhile, Chelsea completed its rollout of 5G around its stadium this year – giving fans ‘a seamless, connected experience on match days’ from their seats.
In the near future, more new technologies could give Premier League clubs even greater access and control of fans and their data.
MailOnline has spoken to experts to see what going to a Premier League match will be like in 20 years – and whether going to a football ground will ever be a straightforward experience again.
Connected scarves for fans, smart shirts for players and AR glasses: Here’s some of the ways the Premier League experience could be changed by technology
THE CONNECTED SCARF
Using an EmotiBit bio sensor sitting discreetly on the neck, The Connected Scarf captures the body’s bio-signals throughout the match and allows the club to shape ‘more curated, customized experiences’ in the future.
It records a range of physiological measures, including heart rate, body temperature, and emotional arousal – giving us concrete information to analyze how fans are feeling at different moments in the match.
From next season, Cisco will be bringing The Connected Scarf to fans in Manchester and around the world.
Last week, Manchester City revealed it has been testing a new smart football scarf with a select group of fans.
The ‘Connected Scarf’, created in collaboration with tech company Cisco, has a biometric sensor integrated into the fabric.
The sensor records a range of emotional and physiological responses, including heart rate, body temperature and blood flow through the skin.
Scarf data will give the club a better understanding of how fans feel at different moments of a football match and the physiological emotions they go through.
Fans could show a rise in heart rate and body temperature during crucial moments of a match – like a penalty miss or a last-minute winner, for example.
Manchester City wouldn’t reveal how fans can get their hands on one, but they could become a standard product in the club shop.
Instead of just buying a standard match ticket, fans could buy an NFT (non-fungible token) ticket, which would give them access to exclusive assets on top of actually seeing the match.
The sensor on the Connected Scarf records a range of physiological measures, including heart rate, body temperature and electrodermal activity
An NFT is a unique digital token that’s sold without any physical form, effectively providing certification of ownership. They have been hailed as a way to sell digital artwork and assets.
Tim Mangnall, CEO of Capital Block, a consultancy firm for sports brands, told MailOnline that a limited amount of NFTs could be bought online for each match – almost like a digital version of a match programme.
This NFT could link to immersive content that’s not available to access on a standard match ticket – for example, a talk from their club’s manager post-match.
‘In 20 years’ time, NFTs are going to open up a hell of a lot more content,’ Mangnall told MailOnline.
‘You can take for example a ‘manager NFT’, where you go and buy that digital product from a manager – let’s say [Arsenal manager] Mikel Arteta.
Instead of just buying a standard match ticket, fans could buy an NFT ticket, which would give them access to exclusive assets on top of actually seeing the match (file photo)
‘When you get home, you will have a private message from Mikel Arteta and he’s sitting in his office and he’s saying “we played really well” or “we played really badly”.
‘It just brings in a new reaction and a new piece of content that feels a lot more personable to fans.’
NFT tickets would be displayed in an app on a smartphone and provide an alternative option to a standard match ticket, although they would cost more money because they give access to those extra exclusive features on top of actually seeing a match.
Earlier this year, Manchester City also announced it’s working with Sony to build a virtual version of its Etihad Stadium inside the ‘metaverse’.
Other Premier League clubs are also expected to embrace the metaverse – a collective virtual shared space featuring avatars of real people, accessed via the internet and viewable on virtual reality (VR) headsets.
Entire stadiums in the metaverse would appear as digital renderings, from the changing rooms to the stands and the players running around the pitch.
Earlier this year, Manchester City also announced it’s working with Sony to build a virtual version of its Etihad Stadium inside the ‘metaverse’ (concept image)
ITALY’S SERIE A ENTERS THE METAVERSE
In May, AC Milan versus Fiorentina at the San Siro stadium became the first football match to be broadcast in the metaverse.
Fans in Africa and the Middle East were able to watch from the ‘Serie A room in The Nemesis metaverse’.
During the match, users were able to interact with the various features present in the room in-game.
Metaverse is a broad term. It generally refers to shared virtual world environments which people can access via the internet. The term can refer to digital spaces which are made more lifelike by the use of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR).
Wherever they are in the world, fans at home could enter the stadium via the internet and watch the match from their own seat in a specially-designated ‘metaverse fan section’.
For people at the ground, seats in the metaverse fan section would be empty, but from the point of view of the fans at home entering the stadium in the metaverse, they would be occupied by their very own avatar.
Tickets to access this special metaverse stand would be a bit less expensive than a ticket to enter the stadium for real, but they would grant greater access to the ground.
‘Imagine then you’re sitting at home and you go in and you buy a ticket or an NFT or whatever it is to get into the Ethiad,’ Mangnall said.
‘Then you have no-holds-barred of where you can go. And then you could potentially follow the team into the changing room.
‘You could be in there and you could be hearing that pre-match pep talk and then you come out of it and then you have your specific seat.’
Another product that could soon be available to fans is specially-designed augmented reality (AR) smart glasses or headsets.
These AR wearables would overlay digital graphics or information on what fans see on the pitch.
Another product that could soon be available to fans is specially-designed augmented reality (AR) smart glasses or headsets. Pictured, Xiaomi’s concept for a pair of smart glasses
Through AR, fans wearing the glasses could see in-game player statistics such as distance covered, shots on target and passes made, all in real-time.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AR AND VR
Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation of an environment or situation
- It immerses the user by making them feel like they are in the simulated reality through images and sounds
- For example, in VR, you could feel like you’re climbing a mountain while you’re at home
In contrast, augmented reality layers computer-generated images on top of an existing reality
- AR is developed into apps to bring digital components into the real world
- For example, in the Pokemon Go app, the characters seem to appear in real world scenarios
As a spectator sees a player score, stats and figures could be displayed about that player on the glasses, much as they do at the bottom of the TV screen on Match of the Day.
AR elements could be displayed over apps on their smartphone, providing an alternative viewing option to looking at the players on the pitch while wearing the glasses.
AR experiences are also being trialed outside the stadiums – telco EE has already launched the world’s first augmented reality superstore at Wembley Stadium to coincide with international friendlies in March.
Visitors were handed a smartphone as they entered, via which they were guided around the store by England footballer Trent Alexander-Arnold’s virtual avatar.
Cameron Worth, founder and CEO of London-based IoT agency SharpEnd, said there will be many more use cases for AR technology at Premier League grounds.
‘Integrating more AR into the match experience will mean that spectators have access to real-time game analysis, video playback and even goal-line technology – and even hear what the referee is saying to players or the line judges.
‘In fact, the spectator in the connected stadium may get an even richer experience than the viewer at home.
‘However, I think it is important to find a balance between too much phone time getting in the way of game time.
‘AR will play a big role in enhancing the live match experience, not detracting from it.’
Football shirts could also look very different in 20 years time – with technological elements embroidered into the fabric.
A very tiny camera, almost like a smartphone camera, could be fitted into the players’ kits, giving fans player livestreams of their point-of-view, likely on an app.
Meanwhile, big QR codes on the front of each player’s chest could give fans a link to constantly-updating stats.
Fans could also point their smartphone at the QR codes – which would be unique to each player – at key events in the match, such as just after they’ve scored.
In March, telco EE launched the world’s first augmented reality superstore at Wembley Stadium to coincide with international friendlies
They might also want to scan the player’s QR code to purchase a unique NFT of that moment, as Mangnall explains.
‘Someone’s scored and then maybe there’s a QR code on their shirt,’ he said. ‘Immediately you can buy that moment and maybe there’s only 1,000 of that moment.
‘If Ronaldo had scored then there’s 1,000 NFTs of that moment and you could buy them really quickly. And then that sits on your phone and you own that.’
There could also be point-of-view livestreams showing what the referee sees ‘in super HD’, according to Worth.
‘It will be so powerful that it would be possible to see beads of sweat on players or even blades of grass on the pitch,’ he told MailOnline.
MORE FAN INVOLVEMENT
Another interesting area is how clubs are using technology to give their fans more of a say on how the club operates.
Surprisingly, it’s League Two club Crawley Town that’s leading the way as far as how much power fans can have.
Earlier this year, Crawley Town bosses signed a player based on a vote among supporters on which position to strengthen.
American cryptocurrency investment firm WAGMI United bought League Two club Crawley Town in April 2022
Fans and NFT holders were allowed to decide whether they wanted a goalkeeper, defender, midfielder or attacker.
Overall, most fans wanted a midfielder, so they completed the signing of midfielder Jayden Davis.
American cryptocurrency investment firm WAGMI United bought the League Two club in April, and the owners have said they plan to ‘shake up the status quo’.
Another football club in Thailand – Futera United, created by trading card company Futera – is almost completely run by the fans.
‘Fans pick the players – they pick what position, they pick who’s going to get subbed – and it’s all through holding NFTs, coming onto the platform and then voting,’ Mangnall said.
This may be more of an initiative for some of the smaller clubs, as it could be too much of a risk to give too much power to the fans.
Fans of Thai football club Futera United get to make key decisions for the club, including match lineups and substitutions
END OF THE TRADITIONAL FOOTBALL MATCH?
All these changes would mean a Premier League match will be hugely different from what fans experience today.
But Mangnall even alluded to a world where in-person attendance has been largely usurped by a remote audience, as glimpsed during the Covid pandemic.
The percentage of football fans from a club’s local area is getting smaller and smaller – and clubs are having to provide experiences to cater to a global fanbase.
Finding ways to get fans in other countries to part with their money gives clubs an incentive to create remote viewing access.
The end of the traditional football match? Diehard fans will always want to attend a match in-person (file photo)
‘Ultimately there could be a point, a very dystopian world, where you actually have just digital screens around the stadium – fans may not even be there,’ Mangnall said.
‘Live audiences have been decreasing – we know that across all of live football. So you never know, there could be a place where it’s just digital screens everywhere.’
Hopefully, there will still be a way for traditionalists to enjoy a football match in the same way as it’s been for the past hundreds of years.
There may even be a ‘technology-free’ section of the stands where any devices will be banned and traditionalists will be watch a match as normal.
‘I really hope we’re not all going to go to the Emirates or the Ethiad and sit there with VR headsets, but who knows?’ Mangnall said. ‘It’s a bizarre world.’
CHELSEA FC BECOMES THE FIRST PREMIER LEAGUE CLUB TO ROLL OUT 5G
In February, Chelsea FC became the first Premier League club to roll out 5G across its home ground – allowing crowds to enjoy faster internet from their seats on matchday.
Thanks to its partnership with shirt sponsor Three, the club completed installation of the next-gen network around Stamford Bridge in west London.
It lets fans at the ground enjoy ‘a seamless, connected experience on match days’ from their seats when they access the internet on their 5G phones.
But the upgrade also paves the way for the ‘ultimate connected fan experience’ – for example, through augmented reality (AR), fans could study in-game player statistics such as distance covered, shots on target and passes made, all in real-time.
A Three spokesperson told MailOnline that Stamford Bridge is the first Premier League stadium to have ‘full, seamless coverage throughout’, although rival West Ham had some parts of their stadium covered, such as VIP areas.