AI as Infrastructure

To address the essential needs of fans, sports venues need to reimagine AI technologies as a new form of infrastructure, solving problems that used to be addressed through brick, mortar, pipe, and personnel.

About Intel®  Sports Insights

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Report Introduction

The thrill of standing shoulder to shoulder with other fans, on your feet as the game clock expires, as your team buries the buzzer-beater, is inimitable and irreplaceable. It’s this feeling of shared experience and the “power of togetherness” that keeps live sports, with attendant fans, as a primary pillar of the sports industry. The global COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 that continues to shake the world has not only forced the sports industry to take a closer look at how we construct and design our live sports entertainment, it has also shaken the confidence of fans who continue to want the power of togetherness but who harbor reasonable concerns over the safety of attending live sports. The “return to play” has forced the whole of sports, from the professionals producing the contests, to the fans adoring the action, to rethink our priorities and the role technology has to play in bringing us all back together.


What is AI?

Artificial intelligence leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind (IBM, 2021). Robert Muehlbauer, Senior Manager of Business Development at Axis Communications described artificial intelligence in its simplest form as using a machine or a computer to do tasks that a human would. The benefits are myriad and significant—with AI and computation, we can make workflows quicker and more efficient. Over the years, popular conceptions of AI and Machine Learning have been shaped, for better or worse, by depictions in popular media such as film, television, games, and beyond. Sometimes presented as a seemingly endless futuristic possibility space, sometimes presented as a great threat to humanity, AI captivates popular imaginations. Not surprisingly, the realities of AI and ML don’t conform to popular media depictions. AI is neither a technological panacea nor an existential threat. AI and ML are computational tools that have the power to make us more efficient and to make us smarter. At the end of the day, AI and Machine Learning exist to make our work and our lives easier and better.

What is Infrastructure?

Infrastructure is the set of underlying systems, objects, materials, and operations that allow for the function of a venue. From the literal brick, steel, and mortar of construction, to the plumbing for the bathrooms, to the wi-fi Distributed Antenna Systems, infrastructure represents the often invisible building blocks that create the platform of an arena, upon which live events like sports or concerts can run. Traditionally, infrastructure is conceptualized in terms of materiality—the physical matter, or substrates, that comprises the roads, pipes, electric lines, and beyond that make up our world. Perhaps not surprisingly, a turn in the late 1990s and into the 2000s toward considering digital and networked “cyberinfrastructure” developed as our lives became increasingly networked and online (Edwards et. al, 2009). For the purposes of this report, and because of a focus on fan experience, we are adopting a broader, and as such complicated framing of infrastructure that is put into a human-centered context, rather than focusing on the objects themselves (Star, 1999). Infrastructure is the set of systems, physical, digital, and operational, that enable a venue to function, and as such, enable fan experience.


Key Findings


Striving for a healthy community, new AI and ML technologies are pushing the boundaries of human capabilities to trace and prevent future health crises.



From reactive to predictive, AI and ML are creating an autonomous environment where people and things flow seamlessly through a space.



Knowledge is power, with AI and ML solving problems is as simple as collecting data, analyzing data then communicating findings. Turning a potential problem to a non existent one.


Hear from Experts

“AI has proven to be an incredibly valuable tool in developing solutions that transform fan experiences. AI enables fast innovation cycles to add new capabilities using and fusing diverse information sources – cameras, network usage, and beyond, to allow venue owners and operators to make timely decisions. AI played an important role in Intel’s and our partners’ deployments in Tokyo at the 2020 Olympic Games.”

- Iddo Kadim, CTO/Director Olympic Technology - Intel Corporation

Chris Lord

Skarpheinn Hedinsson

William Baver

Ken Martin

Rob Muehlbauer

Jerome Pickett

Brian Ray

Kasia Hanson

Lance Evans

Case Studies

Health Case 2. Sell Beer Faster with AI


What: Aramark Concession company has created a “Walk Thru Bru”, to increase sales and touchless interactions. These Mashgin units, which look a bit like large heat lamps, are able to scan multiple items at once, no barcode necessary. The kiosk uses A.I. technology to recognize that you’ve got a can of Corona and a bottle of Sierra Mist and charges you accordingly. Pay with your credit card, an attendant checks your ID, and you’re on your way.

Why it Matters: Rethinking what health means in concessions AI is changing how we interact with each other and within a venue. The ability to order and self check out will decrease the touchpoints between individuals. This also increases sales and decreases long lines which will help with crowd control as well.



As fan expectations at venues continues to evolve, and with heightened awareness around health, safety, and security considerations, it is critical for the broader live sports ecosystem to embrace technological approaches to ensure safe, comfortable, and ultimately enjoyable experiences for fans. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are no longer “nice to have” technologies in the smart venue network, they are increasingly essential. AI and ML are infrastructure—critical systems that, together and as part of the broader infrastructure of a venue, provide the platform for fan experience.

Though we have reached an inflection point with AI and ML transitioning from possibility to necessity, the road forward is neither clear nor easy. As referenced throughout this report, computational technologies are best understood in the context of problems to be solved or needs to be satisfied, not as flashy or exciting integrations that simply check a technology box. Here are some considerations for sports properties and venue operators exploring how to more seamlessly integrate AI and ML technology into their operations.


Avoid Point Solutions

A point solution, or a single technology applied to one discrete problem, is an inefficient approach to addressing complex systems that can and should be supported by computation, AI, and data science. The right technology partners will help you understand that with proper and organized collection and analysis of data, myriad situations and challenges can be researched and intelligence generated to support strategy. Don’t adopt a single technology that promises to “make bathroom lines shorter”—instead, understand the challenge, and explore technologies that will help you get smarter about strategizing solutions more broadly.



Your Data is Only As Good as Your Network

Collecting, analyzing, and operationalizing fan data is of critical importance to the future success of live sports, but your ability to effectively do so depends on the quality of your network infrastructure. To put it simply, fans expect to be able to have fast and frictionless connectivity at your venue. This means that the first and most important step to making use of AI technologies is to ensure you have a robust network of DAS and Wi-Fi access points installed and ready to handle the bandwidth load of your venue at capacity.



Explore Expanded Technology Partnerships

Just as important as avoiding point solutions, is understanding that no one technology partner can address all computational and data science needs. Interoperability of data and processes, especially as infrastructure incorporates computation like AI and ML, requires technology partnerships that work hand-in-hand. To push forward with AI solutions, establish a broad set of technology partnerships, and make sure to ask about how a vendor’s technologies cooperate and function with other technologies in the marketplace. The stronger your network of technologies is, the more efficient and effective it will be in addressing needs and providing intelligence and solutions for challenges.



Give Your Technology Vision an Owner

Even the best ideas, with the most possibility for success, can only work with the proper guidance and vision. Your venue operation team needs to include a technology and innovation vision holder who can think systemically, and have a vision for how AI and ML technologies can work in an integrated way to address challenges and create new opportunities in your venue. This vision holder needs to have responsibility and vision beyond just Information Technology—they need to be thinking about fan experience, revenue opportunities, and venue operations as parts of an integrated technology system. This vision holder will be able to avoid costly and inefficient point solutions, instead opting for technology integrations that work to address multiple needs.


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End Notes

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