About a decade ago, for an ESPN.com project about sports in the 21st century, I got in touch with a futurist named Watts Wacker. The guy talked about the future with such certainty, his ideas so polished. At the time, Wacker told me that we'll eventually see sports stadiums of no more than a couple thousand people, optimized with the perfect elements to make the perfect TV broadcast. It made so much sense to me. Over time, rights fees have increased and ticket revenue has become less of a revenue stream. After all, so few people out of the total universe watching a game are actually in the stadium, why not optimize it for the people at home?
This week, I called Watts for the first time since our conversation and asked him what he thinks is down the road in the stadium experience.
Tickets: There are many teams who give fans one card for their entire season ticket. Wacker envisions ticket holders having to carry nothing. Fans will have a chip implanted in their wrist with all their information. Seat location, credit card info and fan loyalty points are all in your arm.
Food: More and more stadiums will allow in-seat ordering and delivery. Once reserved for the premium seats, food service in stadiums will eventually be available to everyone.
TV Anywhere: Can't make it to the stadium, then take a game anywhere. Your mobile device will allow you to project a 3D holographic image into thin air. Create your own stadium environment even if you are sitting at the airport waiting for your plane to board.
Gambling: Wacker thinks this is the biggest no-brainer: gambling on every play of every game inside and outside the stadium.
Parking: Stadium parking is not currently related to where people are sitting. A self-parking car will follow an algorithm that will correlate stadium seat location to vehicle drop.
Games: Fans will be able to enter booths where they can feel what it's like to run out with the team and what it's like to get hit by an opposing linebacker. It's those IMAX shaking seats to the next level.