Proptech Gets Into the Game

More companies are providing digitally driven access and amenities to sports arena owners and fans

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From courtside, rink-side or field level, to the nosebleed seats and the luxury boxes in between, sports stadiums and arenas have long embraced technology in their design and construction.

Now, though, proptech startups are competing to provide fans with digital experiences that make attending sporting events as easy and pleasurable as watching the game at home, experts in the field said.

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Two areas of in-person sports attendance that have attracted proptech innovation focus on easing access to sports venues and enhancing amenities, bringing fans light-years beyond the old-school standards of ticket-taking, turnstiles, and a hot dog and a beer.

One proptech startup addressing seamless but secure access to sporting events is Wicket Software, a computer vision technology for ticketing, access control, frictionless payment and credentialing.

Founded in 2020, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company uses facial recognition authentication to replace the physical and digital ticketing process, said Jeff Boehm, chief marketing officer at Wicket.

“At its core, it is a computer vision algorithm that in less than a second can identify or match somebody’s face to a previously submitted selfie or picture of yourself,” said Boehm. “A series of integrations allows us to then identify who that person is in relation to ticketing accounts like Ticketmaster, or credentialing accounts for access control that connect to security gates and other hardware systems used to unlock or open doors, or let people into secure areas. It has very broad applicability.

“Sports and stadiums are by far our biggest market, but we’re also used in other live events in corporate facilities in a variety of industries.”

Wicket’s 30-person workforce is focusing on research and development right now as it continues to build out its technology, said Boehm. However, as early as the COVID pandemic in 2020, the startup snared the NFL’s Cleveland Browns as its first customer, he said.

“People were starting to be allowed back into stadiums in 2020 and [the Browns] sought a solution that could get fans into the stadium while keeping face masks on [and] while minimizing touch and interaction,” Boehm said. “We were able to prove out our technology so that people -— even with face masks on — didn’t have to pull out their phones, didn’t have to touch anything, didn’t have to pass a physical ticket, and could get into the stadium safely.”

Since then, Wicket has added the practice facility and corporate offices of Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, the Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes Benz Stadium, and the New York Mets’ Citi Field to its client roster of about a dozen stadiums, said Boehm.

Wicket’s use is generally free to fans, as the company’s software as a service costs are paid by the teams who are its customers, he said.

“Teams can do whatever they want,” said Boehm. “If they want to charge for this as a premium experience, they could do that. As of now, I haven’t seen any teams charging for it. We’ve actually had a few teams be able to sign up sponsors because of it. A great example is at Mercedes Benz stadium, where fans love using this and it gets them into the stadium faster.

“The stadium actually signed a major partnership with Delta Airlines and called it the Delta Fly-Through Lanes. Other stadiums have done the same thing, including the Cleveland Browns’ stadium.”

Another proptech company that sports arenas and stadiums have used since its inception in 2011 is Manhattan-based SocialSign.in, which leverages its guest Wi-Fi technology to learn about visitors and build relationships with potential customers.

We are a later-stage startup that enables sports stadiums to transform the amenity of fan-facing guest Wi-Fi into a first-party marketing, ad and sponsorship channel, turning an operating expense into a revenue-generating asset,” said Mike Perrone, CEO at SocialSign.in.

The company helps stadiums personalize their Wi-Fi interactions, deal with regulatory requirements around privacy and consent, and more effectively monetize audience channels, said Perrone. 

SocialSign.in has clients in all U.S.-based professional leagues, as well as some foreign leagues and collegiate sports. These include soccer’s Premier League, the Golden State Warriors, the Buffalo Bills, Liverpool FC, the Miami Marlins, the Edmonton Oilers, Inter-Miami FC, and the University of Southern California.

Another proptech startup, SOS, is addressing fans’ more personal needs, said Susanna Twarog, co-CEO and co-founder at the 3-year-old, Boston-based SOS.

“We are hyper-focused on delivering products and an experience across health, wellness and beauty categories,” Twarog said. “So products like face wipes, deodorant, sunscreen, chapstick, hair ties — and, very importantly, free period care — in every machine location.”

Providing wall-mounted cashless smart vending machines for its customers, the company has been in sports venues such as the Red Sox’s Fenway Park since 2021, and expects that such facilities will be an increasing percentage of its business in the near future, said Twarog.

SOS also has its machines in the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars’ TIAA Bank Field, and NHL arenas such as the Florida Panthers’ FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Fla.

 

“We fit into the proptech vision and ecosystem in that we’re delivering an experience and an enhancement for managers and the facilities side of the business, while also driving new commercial opportunities within that organization,” said Twarog. “We are also a channel and have a product that is tech-enabled, collecting and capturing a tremendous amount of valuable data for the brands that we work with.”

Aunt Flow is another proptech startup addressing women’s personal needs in stadiums and arenas. Founded in 2016 and backed by JLL Spark Ventures, an arm of brokerage giant JLL (JLL), the Columbus, Ohio-based company’s products are in the Arizona Cardinals’ State Farm Stadium and 26 other professional sports venues, which have implemented its organic cotton tampons and pads from free-vending dispensers in bathrooms.

Demand for Aunt Flow products is driven by clear-bag or no-bag policies, which limit what fans can carry into a stadium. That often forces women to scramble to fit an appropriate amount of period products in a pocket, said Claire Coder, who self-describes as CEO (chief estrogen officer) at Aunt Flow.

In addition, the company believes that as toilet paper is free and many venues are moving toward cashless transactions, women should not be charged 25 cents for a period product. Venues focused on increasing their female fan base are implementing freely accessible Aunt Flow period products in bathrooms, Coder said.

Aside from digitally enhanced access and personal amenities, sports facilities also are using proptech in a wider, more traditional construction aspect.

What’s now generally known as contech — the use of technology in the design and construction of the built world — has been around for decades in sports. Today, one proptech startup is focused on using artificial intelligence (AI) as the next step in such work.

T2D2 is a platform that uses artificial intelligence – computer vision powered by deep learning – to identify and assess damage and deterioration to building envelopes and structures through drone and ground-based images,” said Jonathan Ehrlich, chief operating officer at Manhattan-based T2D2. “We build digital twins of facilities along with a condition assessment dashboard that is updated on a recurring basis.”

The company’s technology is being used by a growing number of stadiums and arenas, including the Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium and other MLB, NFL and collegiate venues, said Ehrlich.

By using hundreds of geo-tagged images of damaged conditions and ranking them by severity, Ehrlich said facility managers can get a detailed picture of where to focus preventive maintenance efforts to avoid higher downstream repair costs as well as potential safety issues.

“T2D2’s artificial intelligence allows stadium management to capture a snapshot of their building condition at a given point in time and monitor any potential concerns on an ongoing basis,” he said. “This helps stadiums develop comprehensive maintenance and repair plans, especially when it comes to preserving any corroding concrete or steel.”

Philip Russo can be reached at prusso@commercialobserver.com