Is Arsenal's Digital Innovation a Revolution or a Distraction?

Darius StoneContributor IFebruary 3, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 09:  Manager of Arsenal Arsene Wenger looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at Emirates Stadium on January 9, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

If there’s one thing that jumps right at you when you first visit the Emirates Stadium, it’s the sheer magnificence of the home of Arsenal FC. While Highbury was the spiritual home of the Gunners for 93 years, it was time a club the stature of Arsenal moved to what is widely recognized as one of the best sporting arenas in the world.

I was quite lucky as I worked on Holloway Road during the final years of the stadium construction, and every day, the view from my 4th floor office window looked absolutely majestic.

I remember attending a work reception at the Victoria and Albert museum when my colleagues and I were bombarded by a pompous director of the V&A. Every five minutes, this chap bragged and waxed lyrical about the view of the city from his new corner office. If I would have got away with slapping the punk, I would have decked him—but hey, I had bills to pay.

Anyway, the next time he mentioned his panoramic view of the city, I instinctively suggested that I too, had the best ringside view of one of the world’s most majestic structures. And we had a Waitrose supermarket too, so he should just stop with the verbal diarrhoea.

Arsenal was quite innovative in the way it used partnerships to build the stadium, the most obvious example being the collaboration with Emirates Airlines. Until Arsenal as an elite club did the naming rights thing, very few big clubs looked at the sale of stadium naming rights as a revenue option.

Now even big clubs like Man United, Liverpool and Chelsea are seriously considering ditching their traditional stadium names for a few bob (well, quite a few bob if I’m honest).

In the next few weeks, Arsenal will blaze the trail again by introducing an interactive digital match day service in partnership with Sony.

In a nutshell, supporters will get their own mini TV (using a Sony playstation portable) by their seats showing them action replays from selected camera angles, plus slow-motion options, live match statistics, team sheets and Arsenal player profiles and pre-match video content and editorial news.

Fans will also be able to vote for their man of the match within the Arsenal TV Match day and user base, access the league table and live scores and results from other fixtures.

I’ve got to tell you, that while such innovations are amazing and it’s great that Arsenal are showing they can keep up with the 21st century, you have to ask the question as to whether it’s a good idea.

I guess that I’m just nervous because it’s a project keeping fans in the stadium in the first place, win, draw or lose the match. There’s a new breed of stadium supporter who is unpredictable.

When you get fans then playing with Sony PSPs and analysing every detail of every move, reading statistics like how fast a player is running or the mileage they’ve done—very few PSP users (and fans around them) will end up watching the game.

There’s a serious risk that the accusation that Arsenal supporters didn’t leave the library behind at Highbury will become folklore.

Unless you’re a member of the press corps filing match reports and photos, technology for supporters should be restricted to small radios that will give an alternative commentary and perspective without distracting the primary job of supporting the team.

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