MADRID--More than bull-fighting, cured ham, and sangria, Spain is best-known for football--or soccer to Americans. The home of Europe's most victorious team Real Madrid will soon be one of the most innovative sports stadiums in the world.
Real Madrid will be the first football club in Europe to employ the "Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi solution." Cisco Systems and the Real Madrid Football Club signed an agreement this week to create an "interactive stadium." The 67-year-old Santiago Bernabéu Stadium will become the first football stadium in Europe to install a high-density WiFi network able to support the heavy traffic only a nearly 85,500-seat stadium could expect. This WiFi system should effectively off-load most of the data traffic, freeing up other cellular networks for calls and texts.
Santiago Bernabéu does not currently boast many screens, except for posting scores and substitutions. Part of the upgrade will be high-definition displays placed throughout the stadium, possibly even in the restrooms and at concession stands, so fans will not miss a moment of the frenetic matches. These screens can be used to display player statistics, action replays and explain referee rulings, which are now only explained on radio and television. Real Madrid plans to display some material that would be exclusive to those attending the match, which would not be seen by television viewers.
This communication platform will also be used to increase contact among Santiago Bernabéu's staff. Real Madrid's stadium is already heavily-guarded, as the entire field is lined by security guards dressed in yellow, but this should improve communication between security and other operational services. It will also improve connectivity for media.
One of the main goals is to create a better-connected fan base that can use its Smartphones, iPads and other mobile devices to access specialized Real Madrid applications. They could Tweet or post their firsthand experiences to be shared both on screens within the stadium and with fans worldwide. Cisco says their customized applications will allow Real Madrid fans to interact on a totally new level.
Spanish football fans are known to, in a matter of minutes, go back and forth between deep professions of love for the players and explicit profanities, making certain that the in-the-moment postings are sure to be colorful. Only time will tell if these posts will be filtered.
Die-hard Real Madrid fan Remi Maza Bareiro was extremely enthusiastic about the possibility of in-stadium on-screen playbacks. Originally from Paraguay, Maza has been living in Madrid for ten years now. He grew up watching "El Clasico"--special matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid. He called himself a "fanatico de Real Madrid," holding his hand over his heart. He goes to a live game at Santiago Bernabéu every chance he gets, which is only about five times a year, due to both the high prices and his limiting schedule as a bartender. Maza and his friends do not have any interest in the other smartphone-friendly features of the stadium upgrade.
The yet-undiscussed assumption is that these upgrades will raise already-high ticket prices. With season tickets consistently sold out, individual Real Madrid tickets can cost spectators anywhere from 40 to 1,000 euros.
At the start of November, the Madrid City Council also approved the Real Madrid Football Club's bid to invest 200 million euros into building an entertainment complex, featuring a commercial center, a 600-space underground parking garage, and a themed resort. This construction is set to begin in two years, and the Madrid government predicts it will create about 3,000 jobs.
There is no question that these innovations, no matter what the cost, will only help to sell out tickets for one of the most popular teams in the world. Real Madrid is simply equipping its stadium for its next generation of fans.
Photo: Real Madrid