- Professor Hans Westerbeek - When we attend a live sporting event at the ‘G’ 10 years from now, we will have a radically different experience to the one we have today. Technological advancements will allow us to attend virtually, rather than travelling to the stadium.
Sporting events are a great platform to bring communities together. When attending a football or cricket match in the stadium, social and economic barriers disappear and friendly rivalry between human beings is centred on passionately supporting their team. In Australia, and Melbourne in particular, sport events are part of our way of life.
On any autumn weekend, one can choose from rugby league, rugby union, football, several AFL matches, top-level netball and basketball. On a regular basis, we can even see the likes of International Champions Cup teams such as Real Madrid, Manchester City and Roma.
The number of governments using sport to capture the attention of the world is rapidly increasing. In the Middle East and Asia, governments and corporations alike are investing billions of dollars in infrastructure and bids to attract major events to their shores to steal the sporting limelight from first world economies.
Hosting events allows those in power to show that their country matters and has arrived on the world stage. Hence, one could argue that the major (sporting) events industry will go from strength to strength during the next decade.
But will the next generation embrace live sporting events in the same way as we have? There are at least two reasons why we won’t - both of which relate to the exponential advancement of interactive technology.
Stadiums such as Etihad Stadium and the MCG are already delivering superfast wireless access. This, of course, is required to stay in touch, and also to engage with what is happening on the field – spectators can gamble on who kicks the first goal, vote on the best player of the day, order food and book an Uber car to pick them up at the gate after the match.
The challenge of new technology
The danger of course, is that there is simply too much else to do in virtual environments. Places where we can get together in cyberspace are rapidly become as real as, well, the real world. Participating, competing, or merely watching online ‘sport’ can be as enjoyable, if not more enjoyable, than the labour and resource intensive trip to and from the stadium.
At the stadium, the ‘live’ event is the only choice on offer, whereas online you can switch to another ‘field of play’ if you are bored. With the (questionable?) attention span of Gen Z, it is hard to imagine that they will sit through four quarters of football or a one-day cricket contest.
The second reason why the younger generation may avoid live events is a less painful one for sport purists like myself, as it still involves the sporting events that can be enjoyed at the stadium today.
Co-founder of Intel, Gordon Moore, predicted some 50 years ago that computer processing power would double every two years, and this ‘law’ still holds up. This means that by (give or take a few years) 2025 we have access to processing power that will allow us to create virtual environments that are ‘copy and paste’ versions of the live event.
We may need some special contact lenses or microchips implanted under the skin of our skull to log into the AFL Grand Final, but rather than it being limited to 100,000 lucky attendees, the whole of Australia may be able to virtually participate in the ‘live’ event.
The future of attending (and hence producing) sport events lies wide open for radical transformation. For the sake of humanity, and for future generations, I hope that we decide that there is no substitute for the real thing.
Technology may enhance, improve and enrich the viewer experience, but cannot be a substitute for seeing, smelling, hearing and feeling what it means to be at the stadium.