By John Terhune
BU News Service
Two panels of experts expressed optimism about the future of live events Wednesday at two virtual sessions at CES. The annual consumer electronics show was a fitting backdrop for the conversations, as Covid-19 forced organizers to move the event from its normal Las Vegas home to a fully remote setting in 2021.
Speaking at a session titled “Tech-Driven Solutions for Fan Safety and Engagement,” Russ Simons, chief listening officer at Venue Solutions Group, said venues would use lessons learned from the pandemic to come back stronger than ever.
Stadiums have begun incorporating technologies such as UVC disinfecting lights in response to the public’s new focus on health and hygiene, Simons said. He added that a new reliance on contactless technology and electronic ordering could make trips to sporting events easier and more comfortable by speeding movement through stadiums and service at concession booths.
“I’m absolutely positive that there will be tangible, long-term benefits to our experience,” Simons said. “You will see quicker service.”
Natara Holloway, the National Football League’s Vice President of Business Ops & Strategy (Football Operations), agreed that stadiums will be able to improve the in-person fan experience by reducing wait-times in lines and spacing crowds more efficiently. The league had already been working to fix these issues, Holloway said, but Covid has brought it to the forefront.
In a session titled, “Getting Back Together Safely,” panelists discussed how new technologies could allow for more gatherings in 2021.
Jim Mault, CEO of BioIntelliSense, Inc., explained how wearable technology, like his company’s BioButton, could help prevent the spread of Covid by continuously monitoring for certain biomarkers. Because Covid is so contagious, an event attendee may have the virus even after testing negative a few days prior, Mault said. Wearables like the BioButton, which measures a user’s heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature, can immediately alert individuals who develop symptoms so they can isolate and protect others.
Still, a slow vaccine rollout and fears about gathering in large groups will likely limit event sizes for the foreseeable future, warned Jim Digby, the president & co-founder of the Event Safety Alliance.
“I think it’s going to be some time before we’re anywhere near the numbers and capacity we were at pre-Covid,” Digby said. “We’ve got some challenges ahead of us for sure.”
But the panelists were optimistic that those challenges would come with silver linings.
“I think life is about hybrid,” said CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker. Though she’s eager for live events to return, Seidman-Becker said organizers and consumers alike will benefit from expanded remote-viewing options even after the pandemic. Opening events to online attendees will both expand audiences and potential content offerings, she said, adding that online competition will challenge organizers to improve the in-person experience.
Ultimately, venues will emerge from the pandemic ready to incorporate the best aspects of both live and remote events, predicted Seidman-Becker, who called for “a new roaring ‘20s.”
“It’s going to be one heck of a party,” agreed Digby. “And I can’t wait.”