Football stadiums aren't the simple structures they once were. The sport's soaring popularity has led to the construction of a new generation of eye-catching, high-tech stadiums, equipped with the latest IT, security, energy and building management systems. Munich's new stadium, the Allianz Arena, is in that league.
The arena, one of 12 to host Fifa World Cup games later this year, is largely equipped with technology from hometown player Siemens, which earlier this week held a technology forum in the stadium together with the DFB (Germany's football governing body).
"Although we have installed technology in all 12 tournament stadiums and in other stadiums in Germany and Europe, we have clearly done the most in Munich," said Siemens board member Josef Winter.
The Allianz Arena, he said, is a fully integrated arena that shows the different types of technology Siemens is capable of providing, including parking and ticketing systems, video screens and lighting as well as voice and data communications, power distribution and security management.
A first-of-a-kind deployment in European stadiums, according to Allianz Arena technical director Ferdinand Reisinger, is the use of smart ticket technology. Fans seeking greater convenience can receive a smart ticket that grants them entry to the stadium and their seating block. The ticket also doubles as an electronic purse for purchasing food, drinks and other items.
Fans can book and pay for games over the internet. Customer data is handled by a CRM (customer relationship management) system, also provided by Siemens.
The stadium, which seats nearly 70,000, has an advanced closed-circuit television system equipped with more than 80 surveillance video cameras. "They're so powerful that you can zoom in and read the programme in a spectator's hand," said Siemens spokesman Harald Prokosch.
A huge network of sensors monitors everything from fire alarms and parking spaces to security systems and even the temperature of the heated football field.
Sensors are also placed in the inflatable cushions made of transparent plastic that wrap the stadium. The cushions are illuminated in red, blue or white, depending on the teams playing. The pressure of the air in them can be adapted to deal with weather conditions such as heavy rain or snow.
More than 25,000 fluorescent lights are mounted on the steel grid structure to produce the spectacular lighting effect of the stadium, which, at first glance, looks like a movie-maker's idea of a flying saucer.
Equally impressive is the audio system, which, at least to this reporter, produced a sound quality nearly as good as the stereo in his living room. A computerised audio system ensures that the system produces no echo in the 258x227x50m stadium.
An IT security systems monitors all data traffic for malicious code such as viruses or Trojan Horses. If a virus is discovered, the system can isolate it through structured IT security zones. Management and storage of individual access rights are handled by the central rights database.
All systems in the arena are monitored and controlled by a handful of technicians located in a small room, equipped with fewer than 10 desktop monitors from a mix of vendors including Dell.
Like the technicians, the players are also squeezed into a relatively small room – the size of a two-car garage at most. But this room is low-tech, or better, no-tech, with the exception perhaps of the two digital clocks located at opposite sides of the room.
For all the technology that is changing the look and feel of stadiums for spectators, football indeed remains low-tech: it's still a game of running, sweating and competing. And that's something, arguably, technology shouldn't change.