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Football Stadium

Are football clubs embracing Wi-Fi?

Football Stadium

Are football clubs embracing Wi-Fi?

When I first started going to football matches, there would invariably be an elderly man somewhere nearby, usually wearing a flat cap and brown coat, who would have a radio to his ear and reel off scores from other games around the country. This was especially the case near the end of the season, when clubs could be depending on results at other grounds to find out whether their team was winning leagues, going up or heading down.

Today, it’s more common to see fans on the terraces looking at sites like LiveScore to find out how things are going at other grounds. Fans will often tweet and post on their club’s forums while at matches, sharing their thoughts with other fans who are either at the game or following it from home.

The concept of ‘second screening’ is well in force among football fans. A Saturday afternoon for an avid supporter might involve having the TV on showing the latest scores, local radio booming out a commentary on their team’s game, and several tabs open on their computer or phone to follow Twitter and football forums. At matches too though, fans are looking for ways to share their views as they happen, so many have come to expect Wi-Fi at stadiums.

The social media team at Championship side Brentford was clearly less than impressed by the internet availability during their game at Leeds United last weekend. In the early moments of the game, the club tweeted the following dig at their opponents:

But are Leeds the exception or the rule? Can fans expect to receive Wi-Fi services in the grounds they go to following their club?

By and large, clubs have been slow to embrace free Wi-Fi. Manchester City, currently the runaway leaders of the Premier League, became the first club in the division to offer it in all parts of their ground in 2014, although League Two minnows Wycombe Wanderers were one of the trailblazers two years before them. Chelsea followed suit in time for the start of this season as part of a deal with telecommunications giant Ericsson.

Overall though, despite the many millions of pounds going in to the top levels of football, Wi-Fi is largely patchy or expensive at stadiums. However, some might argue this is not a bad thing. When Dutch club PSV Eindhoven introduced Wi-Fi to their stadium in 2014, some supporters were so unhappy with what they saw as a potential distraction from following their game, they unfurled a banner in protest. Reportedly, around half of the fans in the Philips Stadium that day used the service, which highlights the fans’ concerns, but also suggests the demand for the service is there.

Nobody wants to see a stadium full of fans fiddling with their phones rather than watching the match and getting behind their team, but some sort of allowance for the fact that everyone at a game can be a reporter, whether professional or amateur, can be made. Clubs need to embrace Wi-Fi, but fans need to ensure they are there primarily to support their team and conduct football-related internet browsing. If you miss your team’s goal of the season because you’re watching a funny video on your phone, you’re not going to get much sympathy from anyone!

John Murray

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