Chelsea football club has signed a two-year deal with Swedish networking specialists Ericsson to give fans Wi-Fi connectivity at its home stadium, Stamford Bridge.
The latest signing of a busy transfer window for the South London football club will see a stadium-wide installation of small cell radio transmitters, ideally in time for the beginning of the new season, but neither Ericsson or Chelsea would commit to a timeframe. Ericsson will design, install, manage and maintain the service, which it calls Small-Cell-as-a-service.
Fans will be able to register for the free service, and will be automatically logged back in whenever they visit ground as if it were a home Wi-Fi network.
Speaking at the stadium last week, Chelsea's director of marketing Gary Twelvetree said of the partnership that "top line, a connected stadium allows everyday phone behaviour to be normal for fans free of charge. It gives fans access to information in a wider football context. It enables fans to create their own content live from Stamford Bridge on social media. They can plan post-match travel or their restaurant experience."
When it comes to sharing experiences online, neither Chelsea or Ericsson seemed to have an answer to the risk of fans live streaming entire games on Facebook Live. When asked about this Arun Bansal, SVP Europe and Latin America at Ericsson simply stated that "we need to find the right way to protect the digital rights of the content".
Beyond giving fans the ability to use social media while in the ground, a Wi-Fi network also has benefits for the football club. Twelvetree spoke about the possibility of fans opting in for "personalised offers", potentially via an app, for merchandising and food and beverage. The club will also be able to better track fan movement around the ground to optimise its retail locations, stock levels and to improve health and safety procedures.
Twelvetree said that Chelsea FC "will look to develop new services and apps off of this platform, but there is nothing concrete".
The length of the contract is also notable. Chelsea FC has been granted planning permission to redevelop its stadium and is awaiting final approval from the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. If the plans are approved, Chelsea could leave the stadium in a year or so to allow the work to take place. By proving its ability to implement and run the network over two years Ericsson could steal a march on rivals to kit out the new stadium.