Athletic Club boasts one of the best stadiums in world football. In recent months, The Architecture Community’s World Design Awards 2020 has given its maximum distinction to San Mamés in the category of sports and leisure facilities. The venue was also recognised as the best new stadium five years ago at the World Architecture Festival and at the 2017 World Football Summit.
Located in the centre of Bilbao, the stadium attracts many visitors. With this in mind, the club has created the Smart Solutions for Smart Destinations Challenge, which calls for startups from across the world to present innovative products and solutions that can make the stadium a central part of new tourist experiences for the local province of Biscay.
A competition for national and international startups
To promote tourism and strengthen entrepreneurship, the competition is being promoted by Athletic Club along with the Biscay Provincial Council and the United Nations’ World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). As of now, startups both domestic and international are invited to take part in this challenge that focuses on the concepts of innovation, technology, sporting values and tourism, while also meeting inclusion and sustainability criteria.
"This project came about due to the interest of the three institutions in promoting tourism experiences that can reactivate the sector,” the club explained. “The UNWTO, the Provincial Council of Bizkaia and the Athletic Club understood it as essential to develop an initiative that would allow the incorporation of cutting-edge technologies and solutions in San Mamés that would attract tourists and improve their experience and the connection with the area. This is where the ‘Smart Solutions for Smart Destinations Challenge’ came from.”
The club describes the competition as “a call for all startups or entrepreneurs around the world who have applicable innovative solutions or disruptive ideas that can be applied to our stadium or others around the world.”
The Biscay Provincial Council, the UNWTO and Athletic Club are each promoting the competition to their respective contact networks, with the aim of achieving impact at an international level.
Connecting with all kinds of tourists
Athletic Club explain that the essence of the challenge is to work out how stadiums, specifically city centre stadiums, can be catalysts for new touristic experiences.
“There are visitors who come to Bilbao and to this area because they know about Athletic Club and want to see San Mamés and its museum,” the club notes. “In the stadium you can dine in the restaurants or bars and we also see interest in buying shirts in the stadium store with the name and number of their favourite player, as this is an experience that can’t be replicated online.”
But as the club continues: "There are other tourists who come to Bilbao who are not fans and have a principal main motive of visiting the Guggenheim Museum, experiencing local gastronomy or learning about Basque culture. These types of tourists are the ones the club intends to reach. We want them to enter the stadium and know Athletic Club, the stadium and ultimately our culture and history."
The initiative therefore aims to capitalise on the role of stadiums as promoters and catalysts of unique tourist experiences. “When you come to watch a game, or visit our museum, you have a unique opportunity to connect with the rest of the city's tourist offering, to move around our excellent public transport in the city or to enjoy an afternoon eating pintxos downtown,” the club explained.
“We are looking at how to package and connect these types of tourist experiences with the stadium as the main protagonist.”
One of the main objectives of this competition is for the proposed solutions to be repeatable in other cities. As the club said: “We hope that certain clubs, Ajax for example, could see an experience created in Bilbao as applicable to their own city. This explains the UNWTO’s role in the initiative.”
As such, the startups taking part in the Smart Solutions for Smart Destinations Challenge are asked to work towards something that could be replicated elsewhere.
One of the central elements that the club is looking to promote is retail, which is describes as “one of our strategic projects.” With five official stories in the city, the club notes: “We want our stores to be tourist spots connected to San Mamés and the rest of the city's leisure offering, promoting innovative experiences for visitors as well as generating more income and publicising Athletic Club. Therefore, specific retail challenges have been included in the competition.”
The opportunity to develop pilot projects with the club
The new experiences or solutions that will be presented by the startups can help create a new tourism that is powered by technology and connectivity.
Both new and more established technologies will be considered. “We are interested in proposals that can be rapidly implemented to solve existing challenges, for example increasing the number of visitors or increasing consumption of the full range of experiences that San Mamés offers,” the club notes. “But we will also reward projects that are disruptive and futuristic in nature and pose s new solution for the tourism sector.”
In both cases, the winning companies will have the opportunity to develop a pilot project in collaboration with Athletic Club for six months.
San Mamés: a place of reference for visitors
Athletic Club believes that its stadium, which can hold more than 53,000 spectators, can become “a strategic point in Bilbao, providing experiences 365 days a year to the city through the competition, the museum , the shop, the restaurant or the bars.”
“Its use should not be restricted solely to match days,” the club continues. “We want in-stadium activity to be promoted through all projects and initiatives that are generated through this competition. The stadium can be a centre of leisure activity for people of all ages."
The call for entries to the Smart Solutions for Smart Destinations Challenge ends on October 15.