How Man Utd got left behind in the tech race

When dreamy recluse Kate Bush announced she was returning to the stage to play and perform at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, she requested that fans refrain from using their phones: “I very much want to have contact with you as an audience, not with iPhones, iPads or cameras,” she sighed.

Her request echoed a number of other entertainers who have spoken out against using mobile devices at concerts, including The Who’s Roger Daltrey who moaned that people staring at acts through screens rather than at the live show “were weird”.

He told the BBC: “I feel sorry for them, I really feel sorry for them. Looking at life through a screen and not being in the moment– if you’re doing that, you’re 50% there, right? It’s weird. I find it weird.”

Manchester United bans tablets

Recently ailing football giants Manchester United went one step further by banning tablets and phablets, including iPad minis, at home matches claiming it was reacting to “security intelligence”, although the local police or Football Association deny any involvement in this decision.

At the games, smartphones were only allowed if they were smaller than 15cm by 10cm (5.9in by 3.9in). Nevertheless, sources inside the club claimed the real reason for United’s sudden Luddite tendencies were a result of fans videoing matches and star players without their permission (ie they couldn’t make any money out of it).

It’s hugely ironic then that the controversy in the UK around using mobile devices at rock concerts or football matches is a warp drive away from the American approach to using technology at similar venues.

New England Patriots – the tech pioneers

In America, the pioneers of virtual in-stadium technologies are the New England Patriots at their Gillette Stadium. Rather than banning mobile devices, the Pats (as they’re called) embraced mobile and the resulting data mobile devices gather.

From September 2013 season ticket holders were able to see the game on their tablets and iPhones inside the ground. Indeed, the NFL is using the team as a guinea pig for the rest of the league. The stadium was wired for wifi so fans could go online and see replays of the action on livestream while watching the game in the here and now. Cameras were also placed around the stadium to focus on the star players, so fans could focus on their favourite players in action while simultaneously watching the game. A two-screen approach most people tend to use these days at home.

Livestreaming as you watch the game

The livestream also allows fans to post the latest news of the game on social networks and check other games as they happen. And the story continues. This year Gillette introduced an alert system using data from mobile phones to tell people when their burgers and beer would be ready for collection. That data is now being used to understand the requirements of the fans so suppliers can zero in on what people want and, importantly, what they don’t want. So there’s a cost saving element to this.

Gillette also has plans to start using this mobile and data model at rock concerts.

The result has been hugely successful for the NFL, which has attracted new fans to the games by pioneering data and technology in diverse ways. Meanwhile, back in Olde England Manchester United fans along with rock concert audiences will have to live in a pre tech dark age until an enlightened champion like Gillette enters to cause some much needed technology disruption.