Liverpool FC's Wi-Fi woes show football clubs are still struggling with unproven technology

John Reynolds, a former Campaign, Marketing and Media Week journalist who now freelances for titles including The Guardian, casts his eye over the big stories in sports marketing.

Stadium connectivity for football fans had been hyped as the next big thing.

Wi-Fi has not taken off as hoped at Anfield

But unless any provider becomes the de facto gold standard then it is in danger of being discarded and cast aside, next to Kenny Sansom.

Like a home tie against San Marino, Wi-Fi connected football stadiums offer bags of opportunities - sponsorship tie-ups, in-play betting, e-commerce, data storage.

But the harsh reality is that these potential riches to clubs have been offset by unproven technology which few clubs have adopted, despite years of mania about its prospects.

An unofficial investigation into the quality of the Wi-Fi roll out at Liverpool Football Club’s 12,000-seater Centenary Stand offered a damning verdict of “speed limitations” and technology which was incapable of delivering “rich content”.

Liverpool’s initial press release, issued in April, claimed the Wi-Fi roll out, provided by Xirrus, marked the first phase of the project.

But the club now says it has no plans to roll it out across Anfield. How much did Liverpool pay for this technology? A lot. It can cost up to £1m to kit out a Wi-Fi enabled stadium.

It is hardly surprising, though. Quite simply, the high-density of people in an enclosed space of steel girders and concrete does not lend itself to high-speed internet connectivity through Wi-Fi.

The alternative to Wi-Fi, connectivity through 3G, is similarly problematic and networks were unable to cope with the surging activity at half-time. 4G will likely suffer the same fate.

Liverpool, along with Manchester City, are two of the first clubs to try rolling out Wi-Fi in the Premier League; the suits at the other clubs aren’t convinced by shelling out so much on unproven technology, especially given that clubs have Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules to comply with.

Celtic appear to be meeting with some success with Wi-Fi at Parkhead, through technology provided by Sports Revolution.

Should one provider hit the jackpot, then it basically opens up a treasure chest of Premier League and Football League clubs to choose from. If not, then it will be a horrible own goal.

There are some alternatives doing the rounds.

Brighton & Hove Albion launched a government funded app, called Digital Stadium, which it is talking to the Football League about rolling out across the division.

The app, which is still in test phase, works by enabling smart phones to act like mobile computers and build networks with other phones in the crowd.

Around 500 fans - soon to be doubled to 1,000 - have been tested in an average home attendance match of 27,000.

But the fact is that stadium connectivity lends itself better to others sports, such as cricket and horse racing, which are more open and less densely populated. That is why it is expected to be a lucrative revenue stream for Lords and Ascot.

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