Sun Powers Mobile Apps at Cardiff Blues Rugby Matches

By Claire Swedberg

GCell solar-powered beacons greet users of the Cardiff Blues Match Day app, and may enable wayfinding, deliver store discounts and provide other location-based services in the future.

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The Cardiff Blues rugby team is undertaking an experiment in engagement with its own fans at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, in Wales. This season, the team will send a greeting to users of the Cardiff Blues Match Day smartphone app as they enter the park, courtesy of solar-powered beacons provided by GCell. The beacons transmit their ID numbers to participants’ phones, prompting the app to display content specific to a user’s particular location. The system is expected to expand from a simple greeting at the gate to a variety of other use cases, either later this season or in the coming years.

The Cardiff Blues Match Day app, developed by CloseComms using its VenueNow solution, already provides fans with content regarding the team and its players.

A GCell G100 beacon, shown here installed in one of the shops at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, could be used to deliver promotional offers to users of the Cardiff Blues Match Day app.

By providing location-based content, Rhys Williams, the Cardiff Blues’ commercial director, says he hopes to experiment with different kinds of additional app-driven information that fans might find useful, such as retail discounts or assistance with finding a bar to purchase beer. The data could also provide Williams with analytics—indicating, for instance, how often fans attend games, based on the number of times that the app on their phones detected one of the park’s beacons.

The Cardiff Blues’ Rhys Williams

The Cardiff Blues first tested the GCell beacons during this past spring at the park’s entrance, as well as throughout the rest of the stadium, and sent greetings to arriving app users. The same functionality will be used this season, Williams says, beginning with a game on Oct. 1 against Leinster Rugby, and will continue to be used until Christmastime, when the team will consider the next phase.

First, users must download the Cardiff Blues Match Day app, via the Google Play or iTunes website. As a user’s smartphone (with the Bluetooth functionality activated) comes within range of the beacon, he or she will receive a message via the phone’s app, welcoming that guest to the park. The location-based messages are delivered by GCell’s content-management software, says Barry Jenkins, GCell’s marketing manager.

In the future, users may also receive an audio message from the team captain or other players. At present, the gate greeting is the only notification most fans will receive, though the infrastructure is in place to expand. For instance, users could be notified, before ever entering the park, that only a specific number of tickets remain and that they should visit the gate to buy one. They could also receive notifications from the park’s shops pertaining to special offers or coupons, and could view their own location, as well as the locations of bars and other points of interest. If the fans are in the VIP section, they will be notified regarding who the special guest is at that section.

“The emphasis is on digital fan experience and digital fan engagements,” Jenkins says, noting that the goal is to better understand fan habits and provide a match-day experience without bombarding visitors with notifications and offers. “Selecting preferences and opting in is an essential part of what we are creating,” he explains. In the future, Jenkins adds, the team might also use the collected data to identify who has been attending games at the park, as well as how often they do so, and contact them to recommend they sign up for a season pass.

GCell’s Barry Jenkins

GCell was founded nearly a decade ago to provide building-integrated photovoltaic devices for installation on rooftops, Jenkins says. With the popularization of Internet of Things systems, he recalls, the company began looking into solar cells for sensor devices, including beacons. However, the firm found that sensor makers’ products did not easily lend themselves to a solar-powered solution. “You can’t easily bootstrap a solar cell to their existing technology,” he states. So instead, GCell began building its own sensor devices. In addition, the company shifted from being a hardware firm to a solutions provider offering both hardware and software.

The shortcoming of existing beacons and many other sensors, Jenkins explains, is that they require batteries that must be periodically replaced. GCell’s products, he says, use a battery that is recharged via a dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC) that captures power from indoor or outdoor lighting, and thus requires less maintenance—its minimum lifetime is about eight years. The company released its G100 indoor solar-powered beacon (about the size of an iPhone 5) in April 2016, and reports that 6 million such units are already in use worldwide at airports, movie theaters, hotels, stores and stadiums. In April, the company also released the G300, a beacon designed for installation in indoor and outdoor environments.

Cardiff Blues is now using hundreds of G100 and G300 beacons, Jenkins says. The devices are attached to walls via cable ties or brackets.