The recent digital transformation wave has hit the world of sports in every way, and soccer is no exception. From user-friendly and time-saving digital ticketing to interactive live streaming, the sport has successfully entered the digital era, and more exciting technological developments are waiting in the wings.
While many claimed that digitalization in soccer merely serves a niche driven by COVID-19, the 22nd World Cup in Qatar last December 2022, when the pandemic had eased up, has proven them wrong. The match was packed with networked and digital technologies, showing everyone that digital soccer is here to stay.
In this article, we’ll explore how the 2022 FIFA World Cup embraced digital technology. We’ll also unveil some of the most potential digital innovations that could appear at the 2026 FIFA World Cup in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
Digital Ticketing and Identity Verification
Digital ticketing was one of the ways technology was used at the 22nd World Cup last year. It enabled fans to buy and access tickets online through digital devices, such as smartphones and tablets, eliminating the need for physical tickets.
It doesn’t only make the process of purchasing and using tickets time-saving for fans. They also helped to cut back the risk of counterfeiting (the act of imitating something authentic, especially in order to deceive) and other fraudulent activities.
Besides digital ticketing, the World Cup 2022 also employed digital identity verification. It involves biometric authentication technologies, such as fingerprint, facial, or iris/retinal scans, to verify the identity of fans. These ensure that only authorized fans can access matches and other events during the match.
Live Streaming and Other Online Coverage
Since many fans can’t personally go to Qatar, primarily due to financial and physical limitations, the match’s live streaming was of great help to them. Many TV channels, sportsbooks like FanDuel Sportsbook, and other authorized organizations helped make online coverage of the tournament accessible to the global audience.
In addition to the live streaming of matches, a lot of fan-generated content was posted on several social media networks, particularly on Twitter and Facebook. It came with real-time updates, photos, videos of the match, predictions, game analyses, and even memes.
Mobile Apps and Other Digital Tools
The development of mobile apps and other digital tools was another way technology was used at the World Cup last year. Whether fans were at the stadium or watching from home, they made it easy for fans to stay in the loop.
These technologies provide fans with information, such as schedules, maps, and match results, and other services, such as real-time updates. Mobile apps, in particular, have functions like digital ticketing and real-time match results, significantly improving fan experience.
Another way fans’ experience was greatly improved is through advanced visualization techniques. These technologies can give useful insights to players and coaches during the 2022 World Cup.
One example of it was the semi-automated offside technology. It used fancy cameras and clever algorithms to determine if a player was offside during a match. It’s primarily designed to help referees make better and more consistent offside decisions, which can be tough to do in the heat of the game. Despite its benefits, people have mixed responses to it. Some liked how accurate it was, while others worried it might disrupt the flow of the game.
3D animation, another example of an advanced visualization technique, was also used at the 2022 World Cup. It illustrates key moments in matches, enabling coaches and analysts to easily visualize, analyze, and review players’ actions on the pitch better. It’s also useful in generating promotional content like highlight reels, making fans’ viewing experiences more immersive and engaging.
Potential Innovations at the 2026 FIFA World Cup
The 2026 FIFA World Cup is gearing up to be one of the sport’s most tech-savvy tournaments ever. Since the event is taking place primarily in North America, there’s a lot of anticipation for introducing new and cutting-edge technologies. Here are some of them:
1. Virtual Reality Broadcasting. As Virtual Reality tech gets better, fans might enjoy a virtual stadium experience, watching matches from home. The NBA is already using Meta Quest 2 VR headsets for this.
2. Augmented Reality Player Stats. With FIFA+ Stadium Experience, fans could use phones for real-time player stats, like speed, distance, and sprints, shown on their phone screens against the field.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Match Analysis. AI match analysis could give fans a deeper understanding of the game, analyzing player performance trends and making predictions for future World Cup matches.
4. Biometric Monitoring for Players. Wearables and biometrics could help teams track a player’s health and fitness in real time, preventing injuries and optimizing performance.
5. Blockchain-Based Ticketing and Merchandise. Blockchain could secure ticketing and merchandise systems, preventing fraud and making it easier for fans to buy and manage their tickets.
The future of digital sports technology appears remarkably promising, as evidenced by the innovative developments that took place at the 2022 FIFA World Cup and are expected at the 2026 FIFA World Cup. These advancements generally aim to deliver a more immersive, insightful, secure, and safer experience for fans, athletes, and coaches alike.