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Opinion | How Venue Twin makes fans (and teams, sponsors and broadcasters) love your stadium

OnePlan founder and chief executive Paul Foster took his experience working on competitions seen by billions and turned it into a set of digital tools that can make everyone - fans, athletes, advertisers, broadcasters and owners alike - get more out of sports.

29 July 2021 Guest Contributor

We all know the adages like “measure twice, cut once.” But most of us still try to wing it half the time. Why? Because it’s a pain to plan everything just right and it seems impossible to anticipate everything that might happen. Now take your home improvement project and multiply the people involved by a hundred thousand, make the decisions involved life or death. Even when the stakes are higher, errors are constantly made by the biggest organisations in the world.

Now, what if all that planning – for broadcast television sight lines, racecourse barriers on city streets, crowd flow and security, constantly shifting Covid-19 protocols, even planning for wind and rain – what if they could be held all in one place, with real time collaboration, and seamless integration with the best 2D and 3D maps and data available? Then you’d plan the hell out of your competition, right? It might even be fun.

“It’s a hybrid world now,” says Paul Foster, founder and chief executive of OnePlan, the London-based company he founded in 2019. “I actually think that culture’s exposure to virtual worlds has increased the expectation of instantaneous customisation. If a kid doesn’t like something in their Animal Crossing or Minecraft world they change it, they try it ten different ways in a couple of seconds if they need to. People involved in live events, whatever side of the planning table they’re on, want that same power. We’ve given it to them.”

OnePlan’s platform is a suite of linked collaborative tools that event planners and venue owners of all sizes can use. The company, which recently announced a US$3.8 million Series A raise, counts Premier League clubs Chelsea and Arsenal, the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, World Triathlon and Canada’s biggest open-air stadium in Edmonton as clients. Foster’s previous experience in event planning is very real, having worked on six Olympics and Paralympics, two Commonwealth Games and the Qatar 2022 Fifa World Cup. His expertise in moving huge crowds has even found him advising Interpol on crowd management, training officers from over 60 countries on safety and security in stadiums.

But despite all Foster’s gritty, hard-edged experience, OnePlan’s integrated Venue Twin solution took the virtual world culture shift to heart. The company co-opted technology from the gaming world to deliver a tool that isn’t just centimetre perfect – it’s cool.

“For example,” Foster says, “it used to be if you were a stadium owner, you’d hire a designer and a CAD specialist to mock up potential targets for naming rights. Then you’d wait a week and, god forbid, you needed a change in the meantime. Venue Twin is a hyper-realistic 3D simulation of your stadium (or arena, or racecourse, or dojo). Its fly-through virtual tours make it easy to put up sponsor names and logos and check them from every angle, in all kinds of lighting. Outside, you can even make it rain and check it out that way.

“Here’s another example. A stadium we were working with said the sideline TV crews needed some cover for their monitors. A structure was designed to give them the shade they needed. It was plugged into Venue Twin and bam! We were able to see the proposed awning was blocking a big chunk of the pitch for some very expensive seats. Adjustments were made.”

The pandemic has accelerated the acceptance of virtual site visits – people are even realising there’s a sustainability benefit by not having to fly a team out to, say, Qatar, six times in a year – but hand in hand with that are heightened expectations for quality and precision. The more you can do, the more you want to do.

One client that has fully embraced the power of virtual visits is Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Canada. At 55,000 capacity, it has held major Fifa events, Rugby World Cups, Canadian football’s biggest games, not to mention the occasional Rolling Stones or U2 concert.

“They said OnePlan was a game-changer for them,” says Foster. “They started using it for everything and say they are selling better to sponsors and advertisers using Venue Twin’s visualisations.”

Jason Fesyk, Commonwealth Stadium’s supervisor for stadium and major events facilities, says: “Coming from an event background, I’ve had slides, dot plans and spreadsheets and none of them integrate.”

The need to be everything to everyone means that real-time collaboration is even more crucial.

“There’s a lot going on in our complex all the time,” adds Fesyk. “Outside of the stadium itself, there are parking lots, a 5,000-seat soccer stadium nearby, a fully operational recreation centre, and so on. The opportunity to integrate our environment and create a Venue Twin so that we can see operationally what it’s going to look like is a pretty big move for us.”

Fesyk can switch between 2D and 3D modes, and visualise everything for every type of event – all without having to send it out to a graphics team. But it goes beyond planning for smooth operations. Commonwealth has also gone all-in on using Venue Twin as a marketing tool. Advertisers and sponsors also want to be able to visualise what they’re getting for their money, and Venue Twin does that too.

“It gives sponsors a much better view of what their brand’s going to look like in our venue,” explains Fesyk.

And what about the ultimate feat of salesmanship: landing a once-every-four-years event that will be watched by a billion people?

“Believe me,” says Foster, “I came from the world of massive global events and I know what goes into convincing the federations and governments that you’re ready. This was part of my vision. I want OnePlan to be easy to use by a non-profit running a 5K, or even a pie eating contest somewhere, but I also want to help whole cities and countries realise their biggest dreams.”

Venue Twin’s ability to do everything at once, to prepare for every contingency, and make it all look both realistic and beautiful, does exactly that. OnePlan is working with a number of big bids around the world, and its tools were key to Commonwealth Stadium’s play for the World Cup in 2026. The final decision should be made later this year, and Fifa’s venue visits are starting now.

“To meet Fifa standards, many venues have to do major infrastructure upgrades, add bleachers, and improve security,” says Foster. “Commonwealth Stadium is 40 years old. Being able to visualise the completion of those renovations that might take years, and come in many stages, and how they’ll affect all the pieces of the puzzle, is my ultimate test for whether Venue Twin is a success.”

Fesyk adds: “We’re very excited to be using Venue Twin to show what our stadium will look like in 2026. We’re using OnePlan and Venue Twin to meet Fifa standards. We can take our 2D plans, and then show a real-time, realistic virtual walkthrough of the stadium in 3D.”

OnePlan and Venue Twin’s seamless integration with 3D maps of cities and surrounding terrain is crucial in an event of World Cup stature, where the federation takes into account transportation, nearby facilities for training, and crowds traversing city streets.

“We just launched a triathlon planner in partnership with the World Triathlon international federation,” notes Foster. “Being able to map city streets from every last fire plug and roundabout is crucial for that kind of race. And being able to factor in terrain, shores, even views of famous landmarks in the distance, can really inspire everyone involved. The triathlons platform is free to organisers and the goal is to help more triathlons get planned in a simpler and better way.”

Making planning more efficient opens up creativity for people – and that’s Foster’s passion.

“If we’ve made planning less geeky, less about being the guy with the protractor who is always saying, ‘we can’t do that’, then we’ve opened up a world of possibility,” he says. “Whether it's next week or in the year 2030, we want you to be able to go for it.”

Find out more by visiting the OnePlan website.

Owen Phillips

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