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HPE Tech Talk Podcast - The Path to Reopen with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, Episode 14

Tottenham Hotspur’s state-of-the-art stadium is a world-class experience for fans. With COVID-19 restrictions set to lift, the first football match with live fans is on the horizon.

We sat down with Sanjeev Katwa, CTO of Tottenham Hotspur FC, to talk about the path to reopen, and how technology & connectivity will help keep fans and players safe.

 

 

Also available on:   Spotify   /   Apple Podcasts   /   Other podcast apps

 

Transcript

Robert Christiansen:

[0:13] Welcome to the HPE TechTalk. I'm your host, Robert Christiansen. In 2019, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club finished construction on its state-of-the-art Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in North London, a project HPE partnered closely on. Today, we welcome Sanjeev Katwa, CTO of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, to talk about the connectivity solutions that went into the building of the new stadium. His team is keeping Tottenham Hotspur fans excited and the plans for reopening as COVID lockdowns are lifted. Sanjeev, welcome to the show.

Sanjeev Katwa:

[0:48] Thank you very much, Robert.

Robert:

[0:50] So, happy to have you here. We've been working together for quite a bit over the last couple of months, and I'm looking forward to this podcast quite a bit. So, thank you for joining us.

Sanjeev:

No problem.

Robert:

[0:59] Tell us a little bit about the role that you have as the CTO of Tottenham Hotspur?

Sanjeev:

[1:03] Well, I'm responsible for establishing and delivering our overarching technology vision for Tottenham Hotspur. With real key responsibility for our IT function, improving and driving value from what we do in our business applications, innovating with our digital products, such as the app, the website, et cetera, and what we do on our broadcast and media infrastructure. We also support our core product, which is obviously football, and we provide whatever our football teams require to enhance sporting performance. If I summarized it, really, I'm seen as someone who needs to look for innovative solutions around what we do in our digital business models. Our new technology is just to drive the club further and forward.

Robert:

[1:53] That's a really interesting role. As I think about that, especially with live events, what are the biggest concerns you have right now in this role?

Sanjeev:

[2:00] Well, obviously, the situation with COVID over the past year, our last game was in March 2020 with a full audience of 62,000 fans. So, the biggest concern at the moment is that we actually haven't had fans back in our stadium for the entire year. Apart from two matches, where we had 2,000 fans in December be at our stadium. We built a world-class venue to welcome over 60,000 fans week in, week out. And we really can't wait to do this again, such that our fans can continue to have such an incredible experience at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Robert:

[2:38] So, there's a lot to unpack there. I'm really thinking about all the things that you have on your shoulders as we're going forward here. What are some of the planning that's going on to reach those milestones? So, what do you think some of those big challenges are going to be?

Sanjeev:

[2:53] Well, I mean, I think some of the big challenges are, of course, to align in with what the U.K. Government has highlighted with regards to fans coming back into venues. At the moment what they've said is that from, I think, it's the 17th of May, no earlier they will be allowing fans back into a top of a number of 10,000 in our case. However, obviously, we're working with the Premier League, we're working with the U.K. government to ensure that we can have fans back in our venue as soon as possible. So, there are a huge amount of challenges when you're looking at trying to arrange, I would say, a safe environment for fans to come back into. And we're trying to use technology as best we can to support that.

Robert:

[3:35] So when you partnered with us, I remember it was very much a big opportunity for both HPE and Tottenham Hotspur, when we partnered closely with you to build out the stadium in order to really integrate the infrastructure from the beginning, and then weave in that technology into the very fabric of that fan experience. Tell us about that? What did that connectivity role have on that fan experience?

Sanjeev:

[4:00] Well, we opened in April 2019, and as you've highlighted, we integrated technology into the design of the stadium from its inception design with our lead architects, Populous. Populous is a world-renowned team of architects and stadium architects who worked on many venues across the world. We work closely with Populous and many key stakeholders at Tottenham Hotspur when we consider the fan experience at our stadium. For me, there were two really key important aspects that were important. The first one really was working with HPE we created one of the most connected stadiums in the world. We have over 1,600 wireless access points at our stadium and fans have a great connected experience when they come to our venue. But, we also have our four major U.K. mobile operators providing voice and data as well. So, when you look at having a totally connected venue, I believe, we're the main stadium probably in the U.K. that actually has all those key aspects.

[5:02] We did some really clever things using connectivity to support us, and one of them was really to open up the stadium as the world's first 100% cashless stadium to support what we do on food and beverage, retail, program sales, or match tickets. And so that means the only, really, thing you need to come into our venue is either a payment card or a mobile device. Now what we did over the last year, and the pandemic really accelerated that, was we've gone with 100% mobile ticketing. So, when fans and home fans enter our venue they can enter into our stadium just using a mobile device. And we believe that it truly has created that connected experience that everyone really talks about. And we couldn't have done that without the wireless connectivity that we've implemented with HPE.

Robert:

[5:56] I think that those connectivity solutions are even more important during COVID. Specifically when you're talking about cashless, not having a paper ticket in your hand, et cetera. And since the construction of the stadium has been completed could you talk about your plans that may have shifted now? Obviously, they've shifted, Sanjeev, that's an understatement. To integrate the solutions, to help people be safer and more engaged?

Sanjeev:

[6:21] The fan experience is really going to change when obviously stadiums reopen up. COVID has, I would say, accelerated innovation in all sports stadiums. And when you look at the trends that sports clubs and stadiums are considering, they're going to have to consider some really clever ways of changing that experience and creating a really safe environment for their fans and then the customers. The global pandemic has made us all reconsider and reevaluate these experiences for our fans and how we operate as a business.

[7:16] Now, the technical capabilities of our stadium mean that we can accelerate innovation. And we do that through the network and wireless capabilities we have. And this allows us to make changes at such a rapid pace. And when you talk about network technology, what that does? It gives us that foundation for these new technologies at the stadium, be that for digital signage, to support the awareness and content for our fans, to introducing things like click and collect for food and beverage or table service for our premium guests, all of that has been achieved through connectivity.

[7:50] Now, I think in the UK, especially, the accelerated rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has really given us great optimism for the return of live sports and getting back to a normal life. And the U.K. Government has announced recently the roadmap for us to do that.

[8:20] So, this will mean ensuring that the contactless experience is available throughout whilst making sure that we can reimagine the way they engage with us. I also think that sports stadiums will continue to invest in technology to power our digital channels, streaming platforms, augmented reality, virtual reality. I think all these things are really going to be coming soon and really at all the venues across the world, especially in the U.S. You can see some of the things that they've experienced and made changes to, to almost create and reinvent the experience.

[8:58] So, I think sports teams will need to continue to redevelop mobile apps to ensure that they've got unique content delivered, personalization, and experimenting with new solutions. Because I think this will constantly keep fans engaged. I really feel COVID is changing the way fans are absorbing information, be that through their now desktops or their laptops, and also obviously through their mobile devices. You're going to see a real big change in the way fans consume content.

Robert:

[9:35] It's so true. You basically really laid out what, not just Tottenham Hotspur is going through, but what many of our businesses throughout the globe are going through. The changes and how they're going to be engaging, whether they're live sporting events, whether they're office experiences, where there's a large number of people in there. This whole digitalization process has gone so much faster than anybody would have expected. And so, as you think about all this change that has happened, how have you guys maintained any kind of connectivity with fans during this pandemic time?

Sanjeev:

[10:13] Well, we decided to focus very much on our social media and ensuring that fans have a constant connection with us through all of our channels. We created some great content over the last year to keep fans connected. Be that the signing of Matt Doherty from Wolves, and of course the return of Gareth Bale from Real Madrid. So we use technology to support also our first team with remote training in March and April. And through this, we created some great content for those who are at home to enjoy and watch. To see the players that they idolize doing virtual training remotely at their homes, and having the coaching staff direct them on the best way to train remotely was something that we took to the next level, I believe. And it was a really good insight.

Robert:

[10:59] That's fantastic.

Sanjeev:

[11:00] Yeah, it was a really good insight into, I would say, life in lockdown for our players. We've used social technologies to ensure we continue this two-way interaction with our global fan base as well. So, our fans still continue to engage with us all year round. And most important is those who are near and far, who can actually absorb content because they're not at the stadium anymore. So, what we've done also is we've used social channels to disperse content that allows them to embrace all things Tottenham Hotspur. So for example, we launched a live show called N17 Live, and that show is filmed on every single match day from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with a live presenter and guests. So fans feel very close to the action, and that's available on all of our channels. We see the N17 Live show as the number one place for all Spurs fans to come and watch the buildup to the game. And no matter where you are in the world you can actually watch what's going on before the game, up to one hour before kickoff.

[12:07] We've also created a new Twitch channel…

… which is home to regular and exclusive bespoke content for our fans to enjoy as well. And it's available for all of our domestic home and away games, and the channel will also feature training tutorials, tips from our global football development coaches. And we collaborate with our club partners such as HPE. And all of this is done at our stadium where we utilize our broadcast production within the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. So once again, we're using technology which is within the stadium to create something for the fans who are not at the stadium, and who are watching us on the many channels that we've actually got.

Robert:

[12:48] It's fantastic. I think about so many, of what I call, more social outlets that have never been there before. I think of Clubhouse, and I think about all these other different things that happen that give people an opportunity to do new and innovative ways for you to keep those people engaged. And so, my next question has to do with just the shift that the organization has done back last year, from April to July, when you converted the stadium into an outpatient service for women. What did that undertaking look like for you guys?

Sanjeev:

[13:59] Yeah. From April 2020 we actually had the North Middlesex Hospital move its women's outpatient services to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. COVID cases in the UK were increasing significantly and, of course, the North Middlesex Hospital had a lot of positive cases, which they needed to look after. So, the hospital was overrun with patients suffering from COVID. But, we also opened up as a drive-thru testing center for people who had COVID symptoms. So, the stadium was used for two really important services. We were the first stadium in the Premier League to facilitate testing within our basement car park. And this was primarily for hospital staff, and key workers from the health and social care organizations, including the care homes, and of course the wider public sector. Areas of our stadium were transformed, especially, our media center and some of the other back-of-house areas to support the women's outpatient service.

[14:58] And I thought that was a really positive step that we did for the community. Our ability to convert this part of the stadium to support this was achieved very quickly on the technology side. We really work closely with the North Middlesex Hospital to ensure that they had all the IT services needed to support their operation. But, as a multi-use venue, we designed our technology infrastructure to be flexible. So, we can actually not only take care of these sort of needs that arose, but also we are very ready for other events and other services that we actually have to provide not only to the local community, but what we will end up doing for the major events that we actually have. It's a great job working with that stadium operation and events team to support what we do at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Robert:

[15:50] It's fantastic. I just love it. Love it, love it, love it. So, as the U.K. unveils its roadmap to lift the lockdowns and fully reopen by June 21st, what steps is Tottenham Hotspur taking to ensure that the safety of the stadium is in place as you guys reopen?

Sanjeev:

[16:47] So, we've had to plan for many scenarios over the past year with no fans in attendance, a small percentage of fans, or a significant number of fans. And we're very lucky at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium because we can actually segment our stadium into, effectively, venues and venues. Now, we have a capacity of 62,850 fans, and we'd love to have a full house as soon as possible. But of course, we're following the government guidelines at the moment, which is setting a capacity of 10,000 fans after the middle of May. Now, with that sort of situation, we obviously need to plan for the areas of the stadium that we need to open and follow the rules around social distancing at that point in time. From June 21st onwards, the government is saying that there won't be any social distancing in the U.K. And we're very positive about making sure we meet the numbers, which is supported by data to go and plan towards that.

[17:41] As I highlighted before we have a mobile-first strategy in place. So, this allows fans to just travel into our stadium with a mobile phone, they can get access to the stadium with a mobile phone. They can make payments via their mobile devices. But also allows them to engage with us with the immense content that we'll be producing as well. We've got a huge amount of digital signage at the stadium, and audio as well which allows us to ensure that we have continued messaging in place as required and that people can be told of all the offerings that are available within our venue. Now, we're really hopeful of the world coming back to a level of normality because we want our global fan base also to come to our venue. We have a lot of people from overseas who also come to our venue and we're really excited about welcoming them back when it's safe to do so. That said, we also need to follow all the guidelines that are in place.

[18:42] So, at our stadium, we will continue to have hand sanitizing stations in place. We will use data, and CCTV to ensure that the stadium continues to be a safe environment for all of our fans. We'll make sure that messaging is in place to ensure that fans follow the guidelines that are set at that time.

Robert:

[19:05] That's really fantastic. Thanks so very much for laying that out for us it sounds very comprehensive. And I'm really, really hoping everything works out just fantastic for everybody there at Tottenham Hotspurs.

[19:39] Sanjeev, thank you for joining us on TechTalk.

Sanjeev:

[19:45] Thank you, Robert, for having me and we look forward to welcoming you and everybody at HPE, plus our fans back to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium very soon.

Robert:

[20:02] From HPE, it's been a pleasure to partner with you on this new stadium. We can't wait until the fans are back enjoying everything it has to offer. To our listeners, I really hope you enjoyed this episode. If you don't already, subscribe and leave us a review, tell us what you think. Again, this is Robert Christiansen with HPE Tech Talk, thank you for joining us and we'll tune in next time. Bye-bye.

 


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