Sports Stadiums Vie To Win Technology Race

There is a race in sports that has nothing to do with the athletes: It's all about stadiums outdoing each other for who can have the latest and greatest technology to keep fans entertained — and create new revenue streams. Staples Center in Los Angeles — home to the Lakers, Clippers and Kings — is the newest entrant to the race. But how much technology is too much?

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There's a competition underway in sports venues around the country and it has nothing to do with how many points or runs are scored. As NPR's Ben Bergman reports from Los Angeles, it is a technology race to see which stadium or arena can be the most connected.

BEN BERGMAN, BYLINE: The Staples Center hosts some 250 events a year. It's home to two NBA teams, when they're not locked out, countless concerts and, on a recent night, NHL hockey.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Now, ladies and gentlemen, get on your feet and greet your Los Angeles Kings.

BERGMAN: The game is a sellout and fans donning black, white and purple Kings jerseys aren't shy about sharing their devotion to their beloved team.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Let's go Kings. Let's go Kings.

BERGMAN: One person here is dressed in a suit, not a hockey jersey, and he doesn't really care who wins or loses. He's David Holland, who runs the sports and entertainment division of tech giant Cisco, which has been doing a brisk business lately upgrading stadiums around the world.

DAVID HOLLAND: The venue operators recognize that, if they don't find a way to elevate the experience in the venue, that ultimately, they'll lose to the couch.

BERGMAN: So stadiums have to stay one step ahead.

HOLLAND: I'm in my early 50s and, for me, I can go to a ballgame and just sit there and watch a live event, but for the next generation fan, they really expect to have more of a integrated experience, watching a live event, but being able to surf the Internet or access social networking aspects that they engage in throughout their day.

BERGMAN: That means fast Wi-Fi and HDTV, technology that equals rather than surpasses what you'd find in many updated homes. More impressive is what Holland shows off in the luxury suite. You get to play TV director with the press of a few buttons.

HOLLAND: You can actually tailor the environment you're in and have different angles of in-house camera feeds, for example, so you can be watching from behind the net, from the corner where the boards are, but you can tailor it yourself.

BERGMAN: Staples is just the latest upgraded facility joining the likes of Sun Life Stadium in Miami and O2 Arena in London, trying to chase sparkling new shrines to sports, such as Cowboys Stadium and Yankee Stadium.

AEG, the company that owns Staples, won't say how much it paid for the upgrade, but vice president Todd Kline says the cost was worth it.

TODD KLINE: We need to compete. We're competing for fans. We're competing for a share of wallet, to get people through our doors to experience live content in an arena versus at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

BERGMAN: And what about those fans who do still trek to the arena, who endure the traffic, the $25 parking, the $10 beer, the $100 tickets? Why do they keep coming back?

MATT JOHNSTON: Nothing beats this. I mean, where we sit, you can't see the same game you see on TV, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

BERGMAN: Matt Johnston, standing in line for a beer, has been a Kings season ticket-holder for years. He loves the team. The new technology? Not so much.

JOHNSTON: I guess I'm all for the future, but I don't know. I'm pretty overwhelmed as it is.

BERGMAN: Chow Lou(ph), standing in another line for concessions, is more excited, especially when she hears what the rewiring of Staples will allow: customizable instant replays on your smartphone.

CHOW LOU: I'm a huge sports fan, so that's awesome. That's like every sportsperson's dream, to have every replay on your phone, on your laptop, everything, like, everywhere.

BERGMAN: Unfortunately, that dream will have to wait a bit longer while the kinks are worked out. So will another future executive's hope to roll out soon: ordering food and drinks from your smartphone so you can skip standing in line altogether.

Ben Bergman, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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