The Internet of Things (IoT) is quickly helping many organizations and enterprises find new ways to cut cost, increase revenue, and improve performance. Now, IoT is primed to change the game in the professional sports world.

By the 2020 Super Bowl, the San Francisco 49ers, my hometown team, may or may not have turned the corner on a winning season, but here is something we can guarantee – technology will have changed the way fans, players, and team owners experience the big game. Imagine, instead of only 80,000 fans attending in-person, millions could have a front-row seat at the 50-yard line through the power of virtual reality. Stadiums of the future could be so advanced with immersive, technology-enabled experiences that you might feel as much like you are at a sports-inspired theme park as at a football game.Today, that is not yet the case. Super Bowl LI (51 for you non-Romans) is next week, and it’s a great day full of friends, family, and over-eating that we all look forward to. Last year, though, total viewership fell as more content continues to saturate the airwaves competing for attention (1). Still, professional sports organizations enjoy the convenience of having not just customers, but true fanatics, who are willing to spend more time and money for that once-in-a-lifetime experience (see Deloitte’s take on fan loyalty (2)). But many sports teams are struggling to make a profit, and others even recorded multi-million dollar losses last year (3). Organizations face challenges across the board, from off-the-charts facility maintenance and utility bills, to costly athlete injuries and deflated attendance. Stadiums are already making efforts, though, offering gourmet food options and import beers. But what if the food could be delivered directly to your seat? What if it was delivered by a robot who knows your favorite toppings, your favorite player, and even your birthday? So many things can be made possible by the Internet of Things (IoT), a next generation technology connecting everyday devices to the internet via sensors, 4G, Wi-Fi, and more.IoT is already transforming the way we interact with the world around us. Currently, 5.5 million new “things” are being connected to network infrastructure each day (4). In total, IoT will account for $2 trillion of global economic benefit by 2020 (5). Companies are embracing how IoT can transform their products and business models, with 64 percent of surveyed companies saying they plan to use IoT in the near future (6). While some of these technologies are already available today, the true power lies in integrating them into one ubiquitous, end-to-end solution. In the search for profits, professional sports leagues can harness the power of IoT to manage their assets more efficiently and transform the way they interact with their fans.

Using IoT to transform the fan experience.

Attending a professional game is an all-day event. From finding a parking spot to ordering concessions to using the restroom, fans are constantly looking for more convenience. This is where IoT comes in. By installing sensors and using iBeacon technology, for instance, IoT could help fans find the shortest restroom line nearby or even enable them to check out faster when buying merchandise in the team store. One example of improving the check-out process is being piloted by a major online retailer that is testing a grocery store in Seattle that has no check-out line. Patrons simply enter their payment information into a secure mobile application beforehand, and then sensors throughout the store calculate the customer’s bill as they pick up items and leave the store (7).

Consider the possibilities at every step of the fan experience using multiple technologies:

  • RFID Parking Pass: Take the fast lane into the game with an RFID parking pass. When you are leaving the game, check the app on your smart phone to find the shortest exit route.
  • Ticketless Entry: Season ticket holders scan their fingerprint or retina to enter the game. Software sends a concierge to your seat on your special day to offer you a free beverage. Can’t make it? Don’t worry. You’ll have a verified digital copy of the ticket to sell online.
  • Connected Stadium: Proximity technology finds the shortest restroom line near you. Loyal fans can check in at iBeacons to receive personalized, in-stadium discounts and offers. Robots deliver food directly to your seat. The company Fanpics even has high-speed, connected cameras that can take selfies of every person at the game for download – over one million images per night (8)!
  • Augmented Reality: Smart eyewear, another exciting new trend in sports (9), shows real-time game statistics in your glasses in a heads-up display as you watch the game. Push notifications alert you before historical moments happen or if team records are about to be broken to make sure you are paying attention. Connect it to your social media to share it live with your friends!
  • Potential Result? A memorable, hassle-free game-day experience from start to finish.

We are already seeing some of these technologies in our daily lives, some even at the ballpark, but for the most part they are generally point, or stand-alone, solutions. The true power for engaging fans and harnessing the full potential of IoT comes in integrating each of these disparate technologies into one central and streamlined platform where data, decisions, and insights collide. (For more on this topic, see Deloitte’s “The stadium as a platform”. (10))

IoT can increase player performance.

Professional sports leagues are concerned with player health for many reasons. Clearly, they care for their players’ short and long-term health.  In addition to other professional leagues, the NFL has instituted many rule changes to reduce the effects of concussions. Another reason is that injuries can be very costly from both a financial and a competitive standpoint. To illustrate, Major League Baseball teams lost nearly $700 million in salaries to players who were on the disabled list in 2015 (11). While many voice concern and call for leagues to protect players, some angry fans critique coaches for sitting healthy players out to rest because they don’t get to see the all-stars perform. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was in fact once fined $250,000 in 2012 for benching four star players for a game (12) However, a recent study showed that an NBA player is three times as likely to get injured in back-to-back road games that require travel in between, which prompted the league to reconsider its scheduling approach in order to reduce injuries (13). Incorporating next-generation technology will enable trainers and coaches to take player safety and performance to a whole new level. IoT could help monitor and provide evidence of an athlete’s physical condition, making decisions on how to maintain their health easier. Sensors can be placed on athletes to monitor heart rate, respiration rate, oxygen level, acceleration, location, temperature, posture, and force data, to name a few uses (14). Considering most injuries occur when an athlete is mentally or physically fatigued, it is important to track these leading indicators in real-time to prevent serious harm. By using these types of tracking devices, real statistics would help back up a coach who benches a player at risk for injury. Fans are interested in player performance stats, too. The stats could include things like total calories burned by all the players on the field, which player has run the most during the game, or what the force of a tackle was.

IoT can decrease sports facilities’ utilities and maintenance costs.

Maintaining and operating massive sporting facilities is costly and complex, but a building management system (BMS) can simplify and centralize facility tasks. Most BMS solutions also allow for remote monitoring and control of utilities. Proximity or motion sensors allow for smarter lighting. Smart HVAC can locate inefficiencies or leaks in the system. Light sensors allow solar panels to move with the sun. Flow meters track water, electricity, and other utilities usage around the stadium to inform cost-savings decisions. In fact, the Baltimore Orioles instituted a utilities tracking program and decreased their electricity usage from 16 million kWh (kilowatt hours) to 11 million kWh per year, saving roughly half a million dollars annually (15). Still, not all stadiums can support the infrastructure of a large-scale IoT project that requires additional hardware. The Sacramento Kings, for example, recently put an astounding 650 miles of fiber-optic cable into their new arena, which has enough bandwidth to support 500,000 Snaps per second (16). Project leaders should consider whether or not they can retrofit their existing stadiums. If not, they may need to design a brand-new facility and include extra physical capacity to allow for future technology growth. In some cases, it may be worth starting from scratch in a new location. In fact, many organizations are reaping the benefits caused in part by constructing larger complexes. The United States Tennis Association recently increased the capacity of their outer courts by 36 percent and immediately set a new single-day attendance record in 2016 (17). Likewise, the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings also built new stadiums and are enjoying record attendance and growing values of their franchises, partially due to these amazing new venues. Because the stakes are high, it is important to start small and identify the sources of true value.

Think Big. Start Small. Scale Fast.

There are countless other use cases we could describe, and some of the most exciting ideas are already being set in motion. From enhanced interactions with fans to increased player safety to reduced operating costs, the Internet of Things is ready to knock it out of the park.With its differentiated “Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast” methodology and its exceptional ecosystem of alliances, Deloitte can help professional sports organizations jumpstart their IoT journey. To learn more, contact Deloitte’s Chief IoT Technologist, Robert Schmid at or watch Robert’s weekly coffee chats with leaders in the IoT space.Co-Authors: Nichole Alfonsi and Mark Neier are part of Deloitte’s Supply Chain and Manufacturing Operations practice. Ryan Manes and Michael Salgueiro are in Deloitte’s general management group.