Long before the pandemic, during the initial stages of Tokyo 2020, the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games promised fans to deliver “the most innovative Olympics in history.”
Fans were told to expect an army of robots in the stadium, deployed just to guide them to their seats, carry their luggage, and serve them in every way possible. While everyone all over the globe was curious to see how Tokyo is going to pull it off, fans were amped up to witness the new fan experience the world had ever seen. But sometimes, things don’t go as planned, and we saw it happening in the shape of a pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its drastic toll on the world made the International Olympic Committee postpone the event for a year in view of public health and safety. While this was a much-needed step that had to be taken to combat the spread of the deadly virus, fans weren’t happy, even though the step was all justified.
This year, the committee decided to go ahead with once-delayed Tokyo 2020 despite objections in Japan and all over the world. When the news broke out, fans were happy, but they also had many concerns.
One of the concerns was how Tokyo is going to fulfill the promise it made before the pandemic. If not, how will it stand true to the fan’s expectations? And the gravest of all, how will athletes perform to their true potential without the human interaction they need while performing in the stadium.
Fast forward to today, the world witnessed the finishing ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics 2020. And things were a lot different than what everyone expected, especially for fans around the world.
Tokyo 2020 Before the Pandemic
The event was to see a number of innovative initiatives with spectator experience in mind. Tokyo 2020 earlier announced that the venue will have a school of robots to assist visitors and guests in moving around the venue, finding their seats, carrying their luggage, and other tasks.
Similarly, fans who were to travel to Tokyo would have been able to use tools and technologies, such as 5G networks, instant voice translation, and autonomous taxis offered by Toyota. There were even speculations that fans could witness an artificial meteor shower invented by Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences. However, one crucial piece of exceptional fan experience was missing from this model of Tokyo 2020, despite being in huge demand by the fans, and it was in-seat delivery.
Interestingly though, Tokyo Olympics 2020 is unlike any other game. With a complete ban on spectators, it was probably the only Olympics in history that had no or a handful of in-stadium spectators. But to compensate for the lack of human interaction and fan support, the organizers of the event came up with innovative ideas.
Minutes before the qualifying rounds in swimming, a world map was displayed on a large video screen, with a real-time ticker of 34 million fans from around the world, all cheering for the Olympians. Fans were invited to join the event through the Olympics’ official website.
White dots on the map blinked intermittently, indicating where the fans were watching the game — from the USA to Europe to Asia, and Australia.
Likewise, at various venues, the scoreboard briefly aired the videos of waving fans, which was like a Zoom call with millions of other fans. These screens also flashed the tweets of fans who supported their Olympians using the hashtag #DearAthletes. Some venues were playing recorded crowd sound to fill the pin-drop silence with fans cheering to motivate the athletes.
It’s no secret that digital fans can’t make up for in-stadium human connection. But Olympic officials’ efforts to use technology to make athletes feel supported in the stadium and give the fans an opportunity to witness the action and express their emotions were commendable.
Although the fan experience at Tokyo 2020 couldn’t be as we expected, owing to the pandemic and ban on spectators, it somehow paved the way for virtual fan experience and made sports businesses realize the need to invest in virtual technology more than ever.
That said, the fan experience is still synonymous with in-stadium experience, which means to truly enjoy a game or sporting event, fans must be at the venue. This is also important to show support for their athletes instead of waving on a large display screen, which lacks human interaction.
If you want to learn more about the changing fan experience in the current sports landscape, feel free to contact us.