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When it first opened almost 20 years ago, the arena, which is the largest in the Netherlands and home to Ajax AFC, was the first multi-purpose stadium in Europe. It is not only sporting events that are hosted at the venue, however. Today, it wants to be a guiding light for smart living and is a platform for IT startups.
Amsterdam Arena recently opened its Innovation Center, an incubator where innovative entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to test their products in the field for three months, and if they meet certain requirements they are implemented in the stadium.
“We want to be an example for the smart city of Amsterdam and other smart cities in the world. With the living lab, we want to make ‘smart’ more visible to citizens,” says van Raan. “This goes beyond smart applications for the smartphones of visitors. We also implement solutions in the areas of mobility, safety and sustainability.”
The first Monday of every month is “Amazing Monday” in the Innovation Center, where organisations pitch their innovative product or service to a panel of stakeholders. “A kind of Dragon’s Den,” says van Raan.
The teams that participate receive immediate feedback. If the product is well received by the jury, contracts and financing are awarded. Innovative organisations can go live with their project and have an additional three months to test it. If the product is really successful – generates enough revenue, adds value to the visitor and contributes to a safe environment and sustainability – it could be implemented in the arena.
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The drive for innovation at the arena does not come out of thin air. Ever since it opened in 1996, the stadium has been a multi-purpose building, staging soccer matches and a multitude of other events. That was unique in Europe at the time.
In recent years, more than 1,500 major events and in excess of 10,000 smaller events attracting a total of more than 35 million visitors have taken place in Amsterdam Arena. The close co-operation between the arena and the city of Amsterdam gave the economy in the south-east district a new impetus. As a result, the district is currently one of the most successful parts of the city.
Sustainable and smart
Van Raan says it then discussed the next step: “What can we do to make the arena and the environment more sustainable and smarter?”
For that, the organisation sought strategic partnerships with Huawei, KPN, TNO and the municipality. This “innovation deal” focuses on five areas: Mobility and accessibility; energy and sustainability; safety and security; entertainment and leisure; and customer experience.
“Every year, approximately 18 million people come to this district to work, learn or play. To ensure accessibility in the future, we must come up with the right mobility solutions,” says van Raan.
Amsterdam Arena will host some of the European Football Championship 2020 games, which gives impetus to develop smart apps, he says. At present, the number of tourists visiting Amsterdam increases by 10% every year. In 2020, however, there will be 50% more tourists than this year.
“If we also count the extra rush for Euro 2020, the simple conclusion can be drawn that smart solutions are needed to include crowd management, security and mobility.”
Improving visitor experience
Amsterdam Arena has a budget of €60m for Euro 2020. That money is not used to increase the number of seats in the stadium, but to further enhance the visitor experience. Thus an agreement was signed in 2014, in collaboration with Huawei, for a high-density Wi-Fi network in the stadium.
This network will enable 35,000 people to simultaneously stream content at high quality. “We want to expand this number in the near future, [as the arena can accommodate 53,500 people]. We note that the need for data is increasing for visitors to our stadium,” says van Raan.
“ To ensure accessibility in the future, we must come up with the right mobility solutions”
Henk van Raan, Amsterdam Arena
There is, for example, an app that streams scored goals in 360-degrees by using all the cameras in the stadium. There are also experiments planned with wearables that collect data from players, including heart rate, blood pressure, position and speed. This data is currently only available to players and their coaching staff, but Van Raan is looking into ways to make certain data accessible to fans during a match.
The Amsterdam Arena currently spends €10m on connectivity and between €8m and €10m on software. In both cases, these costs will rise due to its smart city aspirations and preparation for Euro 2020.
Savings and more revenue
A good visitor experience is essential for van Raan. Because many things are linked together in the stadium, the organisation can deliver better services.
“What is most dissatisfying for a visitor? A traffic jam on the outward and return journey, no parking spaces to be found, long queues at the toilet,” he suggests. “We are trying to take that away in a smart way. The moment visitors order an online ticket for an event, they will see who else in their postal code area is going to that event. People can then carpool, for example.
“We also offer other information, such as a list of players, so the visitor can read about what is coming.”
With a look further into the future, van Raan muses about transient apps – apps that are installed automatically when they are needed and are automatically removed when they are no longer necessary – and unique, personalised content that can be shared at an event on social media.
One of the main reasons for all innovative projects is that the Amsterdam Arena, in addition to preserving and delivering quality in the form of new services in and around the stadium, expects to save 20% in costs and generate 20% more sales, says van Raan.
“We do not see innovation as an activity, but as a strategy to improve our performance, not only in sales and revenue, but also in terms of image and the value we create for event organisers and the city of Amsterdam,” he concludes.