0 Twickenham’s £76m makeover has made it the most advanced rugby ground in Europe

twickenhamEngland's HQ, which reopens for business against Fiji on Saturday, is now the most advanced rugby ground in Europe.

Twickenham's major overhaul is aimed at improving the fans' experience and providing England with a '16th man'

The RFU wants to turn Twickenham into a "fortress" by encouraging supporters to adopt the role of "England's 16th man". It has hired brass bands to walk with supporters from Twickenham train station to the stadium and will have extra volunteers to greet fans. It also plans to give away flags so there is more white visible in the stands, while two new bars and women's toilets have already been installed to enhance the supporters' experience.

"The atmosphere during the Ireland match was amazing and I am sure they can create that same buzz during this series," says England coach Stuart Lancaster. "To have 82,000 people - and the whole nation - behind you is very powerful. You can't underestimate the effect their support has on those players."

The HD Wi-Fi will also allow the RFU to increase its communication with supporters via social media such as Twitter and Facebook on match days.

"Going digital has been a big focus for us," says Sophie Goldschmidt, the RFU's chief commercial officer. "It is how we are communicating with our current and new fans. We now have greater access to our players, giving us more unique content. On match days, we want to push that out to supporters via their mobiles."

Connected stadium

The RFU is to install new TV screens in all of the stadium's concourses to allow supporters to watch unique content before, during and post matches. As well as replays of the match, the screens will be used to show 'RFU TV' or fan messages or discounts in the shops. Every screen can show something different, which can help manage crowd flows. "We want to engage fans at all the different touch points," says Goldschmidt.

High density Wi-Fi

Twickenham will be the first stadium in Europe to install high-density Wi-Fi, which will be free to use for supporters when the infrastructure is put in place by the end of next season. It will be "unlimited" in capacity so will allow supporters to upload and download significant amounts of data during the match. "At the minute it is pretty hard to make a phone call or send a text on match days," says Goldschmidt. "Most people now want to watch highlights on their mobiles or send videos or pictures and high density will allow that. "Thirty to forty per cent of the stadium will be able upload serious amounts of data at the same time". Fans in the future may also be able to order drinks to their seats via their phones.

New pitch

The RFU has spent £1.2 million installing a new DESSO pitch in June, which head groundsman Keith Kent says has made the Twickenham surface the best in the world. "The old pitch was the old 1910 allotments, with four inches of fibre-sands on top with five-metre drains," said Kent. The contractors dug out 18 inches of soil - 9,000 tonnes in total and installed undersoil heating and irrigation under the new surface. The artificial grass, which makes up just three per cent of the surface, stabilises the pitch because the roots wrap around it while bigger sand particles can also be used. "The pitch draws water at 123 millimetres an hour, so if the England v Poland football game had been here, we would have played," added Kent.

LED screens

The most visible aspect of the first phase of the overhaul on Saturday will be the installation of the mid-tier LED screens. Twickenham has become the first stadium outside of America, where they are commonly used in NFL grounds, to use the technology. The strip will be used to relate messages to supporters and encourage them to support England during breaks in play. "It is about Twickenham engaging with our fans and communicating directly with them," said Richard Knight, stadium director. Messages will be used to encourage the supporters to get behind the team during breaks in play and remind supporters of their core values, with some "activation" by sponsors O₂. Once HD Wi-Fi is installed, the use of LEDs will be expanded further.

Ticketless entry

A new access control is to be installed to keep pace with rapid developments in ticket technology in the next 18 months. Supporters can currently print their tickets at home which are checked by stewards. The new system of turnstiles will allow supporters to gain entry simply by swiping their tickets over a scanner. "In the future supporters could gain access by swiping bar codes from their mobile phones," says Knight.

England's call

When ticketless entry comes online, the RFU say the new data collected will be used to enhance the supporters' "home to stadium" experience. The data will allow the RFU to establish who actually comes into the stadium and information will be used to communicate with them again before future games.

"Information could include a message from Stuart Lancaster, squad news, travel information and offers and promotions from sponsors," says Goldschmidt. "The next phase is to try bring the match to life even more for the millions watching it on television."

Article sourced from the The Telegraph

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