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Business & Economy

Opinion: Revolutionising sporting experiences: Sunderland’s vision for the future

How we experience sport is undergoing a technological revolution. And the movement has strong foundations on Wearside, where £5.7 million grant funding for the Sunderland Open Network Ecosystem (SONET) project is primed to transform live sport involvement at the Stadium of Light and British Esports’ nearby national performance campus. Here, Steve Davison and Chester King explore what it will mean for the area and beyond.

Words by Steve Davison and Chester King

Sunderland AFC chief operating officer and British Esports chief executive, respectively


Enhancing the experiences of thousands of visitors attending football matches, live concerts and esports tournaments is the latest extension to Sunderland’s leading smart city infrastructure.

Steve says: “This is fantastic news for Sunderland and Sunderland AFC, enabling visitors to stay connected and benefit from more interactive, digitally-enabled services. 

“We’re a modern and progressive organisation constantly seeking ways to embrace innovation and technology, and SONET will unlock immense potential when considering our in-stadium experience.” 

As one of the UK’s first smart stadiums, equipped with Internet of Things sensors and connected devices, the Stadium of Light is opening up opportunities for immersive experiences for visitors, which could include smart venue navigation, faster digital facilities for food orders and virtual reality and augmented reality concepts to place fans inside a game or gig. 

Chester says: “SONET is testament to broader investments and urban rejuvenation in the heart of Sunderland, steering a remarkable transformation and propelling it to one of the UK’s foremost smart cities. 

“At the core of this transformation is the game-changing power of Sunderland’s superfast 5G connectivity, a force not only redefining Sunderland’s future, but also charting a bold course for UK esports.

“As one of the leading national esports federations in the world, our flagship UK hub for development and innovation – the Wearside-based National Esports Performance Campus – will become an example for all national federations. 

“Delivering truly game-changing developments for the UK esports ecosystem, this represents a monumental leap in elevating the experience for fans and enthusiasts.”

Sunderland’s high-speed 5G connectivity promises seamless live streaming and interactivity at the football stadium and the esports campus, enabling continuous connectivity for social media sharing and instant replays, while in-depth player and team performance metrics will further enhance fans’ understanding.

Steve says: “An aligned approach continues to ensure Sunderland sets the standard nationally.

“From concerts and events to live sport, this latest transformative milestone represents immense strides forward.”

Chester adds: “Thanks to SONET’s visionary approach, we’re laying the foundation for a future where technology and innovation converge to enhance the lives of Sunderland’s residents and visitors. 

“From electrifying esports tournaments to immersive live broadcasts, every facet of the city will be touched by the magic of connectivity, bridging the gap between physical and digital.”