May 29, 2015

NBA stadium tech reports — NBA West, Southwest Division

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NBA stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE HOOPS AND HOCKEY ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

Reporting by Chris Gallo

NBA WEST: Southwest Division

Dallas Mavericks
American Airlines Center
Seating capacity: 19,200
Wi-Fi: Yes, (310 access points)
DAS: Yes

The Dallas Mavericks partnered with Aruba and installed over 310 Wi-Fi access points throughout American Airlines Center over the last year. The upgrades have spelled success with getting fans in their seats, as Dallas sold out their suite plans this season and plans to expand the suites in coming years. The team’s mobile app, available on iPhone and Android, has brought partnerships with services like Uber, allowing fans to enter to win free tickets and rides to the arena all season.

Houston Rockets
Toyota Center
Seating capacity: 18,043
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS: Yes

Fresh off major upgrades over the last couple years, the Toyota Center remains ahead of most arenas when its comes to connectivity thanks to a Wi-Fi deployment from SignalShare. The Rockets offer a free mobile app, available for Apple and Android devices, with the standard features of promotions, box scores, and ticket information. No confirmation, however, that there is a Wi-Fi AP hidden in James Harden’s beard.

Memphis Grizzlies
FedExForum
Seating capacity: 18,119
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS: Yes

FedExForum debuted fan-facing Wi-Fi a year ago, and AT&T boosted its Distributed Antenna System last March right in time to host the 2015 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 games.

New Orleans Pelicans
Smoothie King Center
Seating capacity: 16,867
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS: Yes

Hosting the league’s All-Star game does have its advantages, as the Smoothie King Center received a significant Wi-Fi deployment from Cisco a year ago. The renovations did not stop there. The Pelicans completed more aesthetic changes, including an expanded ticket office area, to greet fans for the home opener this past fall.

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 12.10.15 PMSan Antonio Spurs
AT&T Center
Seating capacity: 18,581
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS: Yes

The Spurs and Bexar County announced a $101.5 million plan to renovate the AT&T Center. The renovations to the 12-year-old facility are slated to begin this summer, and include a boost in Wi-Fi, better seating, and a new scoreboard. The Spurs already feature mobile apps available on Apple, Android, and Windows devices to keep fans up to date.

Thinking out loud: When will stadium apps use voice commands?

Wouldn't it be great to have a stadium app that asked this question, out loud?

Wouldn’t it be great to have a stadium app that asked this question, out loud?

In the overall world of smartphones, voice commands and help-me services like Apple’s Siri are commonplace. So when will voice commands become part of stadium apps, a place where they could be really useful?

Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer and I bet if I asked Siri I wouldn’t get a clear reply. But as the kickoff column in what is planned as a weekly “thinking out loud” feature here, maybe the reading audience can chime in: Are voice commands coming to stadium apps anytime soon? What are the sticking points? Are there technical reasons why fans can’t use voice commands to help make the game-day experience a better one?

After spending a year really pondering how technology can help the fan situation, I now understand why most stadium apps have low usage rates: They simply aren’t addressing the main pain points of attending a live event, which primarily have to do with waiting in a line, or wasting time. Sometimes that line is in the parking lot or at the public transportation station, and sometimes it’s at a concession stand. Sometimes it’s a restroom line. Wasting time not in a line usually comes from not being able to find something, or somebody. I think voice commands could help make things easier, and would provide a real reason for fans to download and use a stadium app.

Listen to me, don’t tell me

As most of us who use smartphones know, the combination of features like voice commands and a powerful app like Google Maps is drop-dead simple and extremely helpful. I’m still amazed by the fact that I can sit in my car, tell my phone “directions to xxx address,” and then the phone will talk me through the way there, so I’m not endangering myself or others by looking at a screen while driving. (Which may be the stupidest thing a living being can do.)

Siri can answer lots of things, but she can't tell you why sports apps don't have voice commands.

Siri can answer lots of things, but she can’t tell you why sports apps don’t have voice commands.

So… why can’t that functionality be a part of a stadium app? Last year while attending multiple games I noticed that sometimes trying to type things on my smartphone was near impossible, especially when you are holding a drink in one hand. I also noticed that screens were sometimes hard to read in the bright sunlight of an outdoor event. Voice commands and voice replies could go a long way to making a stadium app more useful; I’m especially thinking about it when you combine it with a powerful action feature — like the Levi’s Stadium app’s ability to let you pre-order food and drink for express pickup or delivery — wouldn’t it be great if you could just click the talk button and say, “I’d like a hot dog and a beer,” and then have the phone ask you, “pickup or delivery?”

I’ve got a lot more ideas how voice commands could help improve a game-day experience — like using it to help me find friends who I know are at the stadium — but I’m interested in your thoughts here as well. First of all, from a technology standpoint is this idea doable? Can the resources that work for Google Maps be replicated in stadiums? What’s needed — maybe more beacons or some kind of better Wi-Fi location system? Chime in here. Since this blog isn’t yet voice-enabled, you can leave comments below or shoot me an email to kaps at mobilesportsreport.com. Like Siri, I will thank you personally if you do.

In-seat food delivery returns to Levi’s Stadium for Earthquakes soccer game

Screen shot from Levi's Stadium app showing active in-seat delivery option.

Screen shot from Levi’s Stadium app showing active in-seat delivery option.

In-seat food delivery, the feature perhaps most unique to Levi’s Stadium, will return this Sunday for a MLS game between the San Jose Earthquakes and the Orlando City SC, a 4 p.m. start at the 68,500-seat home of the San Francisco 49ers.

While in-seat food delivery was active for all the Niners’ home games this past NFL season, the feature ran into some issues during the Coors Light Stadium Series hockey game at Levi’s in February, a still not-fully-explained problem of either too many orders or too few staffers to deliver that led to an unspecified number of incompleted orders and angry fans. At subsequent Levi’s events like the March WrestleMania 31 event, fans were not able to order in-seat food and beverage delivery by request of the event’s organizers.

But the latest refresh of the Levi’s Stadium app by VenueNext shows an active in-seat delivery menu, though it appears only food and beverages, and not merchandise, will be available for soccer fans to have brought to their seats. One reason why it may be easier for delivery to be available is that from seating maps it appears that the 300- and 400-level seating areas (the upper decks at Levi’s) won’t be open for the Sunday soccer game, making it a smaller overall crowd.

NBA stadium tech reports — NBA West, Pacific Division

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NBA stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE HOOPS AND HOCKEY ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

Reporting by Chris Gallo

NBA WEST: Pacific Division

Golden State Warriors
Oracle Arena
Seating capacity: 19,596
Wi-Fi: Yes (185 APs)
DAS: Yes

The Warriors have the oldest home court in the NBA as Oracle Arena opened almost a half century ago. The age hasn’t stopped Golden State from making upgrades to the arena in the past few seasons with Wi-Fi and DAS available. (In fact, the Wi-Fi network is currently undergoing upgrade during this season). The Warriors are also out front with beacons, now in the second generation of using the technology to power features like store discounts and seat upgrades. The Warriors also remain one of the recognized leaders in all sports in social media outreach.

Los Angeles Clippers
Staples Center
Seating capacity: 19,060
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS: Yes

Staples centerWhile the Clippers went through an eventful summer last year, the Staples Center was busy improving the fan experience. The 15-year-old facility completed a new LED sports lighting system to the tune of nearly $7.5 million. The conversion to LED lighting allows the Staples Center to save an estimated $280,000 annually in energy costs. Those savings combined with Wi-Fi and DAS deployment from Verizon, help new owner Steve Ballmer in his pursuit to make the Clippers a championship franchise. (Which will have to wait until next year.)

Los Angeles Lakers
Staples Center
Seating capacity: 18,997
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS: Yes

While there wasn’t much to cheer about on the court this season, Los Angeles Lakers fans still benefited from sharing the Staples Center with multiple professional franchises. The Wi-Fi and DAS systems are among the best in the NBA, and more improvements are scheduled for the arena. The latest planned renovation is a retractable seating system to help the Staples Center more easily complete almost 150 doubleheader games each year between the Lakers, Clippers, LA Kings, and Sparks.

Phoenix Suns
US Airways Center (Talking Stick Resort Arena)
Seating capacity: 18,422
Wi-Fi: Yes (300+ APs)
DAS: Yes (325 antennas)

Verizon and the Phoenix Suns agreed to a long-term extension this fall to make the arena fan-friendly for years to come. Verizon plans to install beacons, and allow fans to keep tickets and arena credit in a “wallet” directly on their mobile devices. The upgrades will coincide with a name change of the arena. A Phoenix-area tribe purchased the naming rights in December. With its new moniker, Talking Stick Resort Arena will take over the rights from the US Airways for the 2015-16 season.

Sacramento Kings
Sleep Train Arena
Seating capacity: 17,317
Wi-Fi: Yes (90+ access points)
DAS: Yes

The Sacramento Kings broke ground on their new $477 million downtown arena this fall. The franchise plans to open the new arena in time for the 2016 season, and to make a splash in stadium technology. The Kings are aiming to have more per capita connectivity than the 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium. Bold. And to prepare for the new arena, Sacramento is using the aging Sleep Train Arena to experiment with new technologies. In limited pockets, the Kings took advantage of their partnership with SignalShare to make the team app more location-specific and gather data of fans’ habits that will be useful for the opening of the new arena.

NBA stadium tech reports — NBA West, Northwest Division

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NBA stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE HOOPS AND HOCKEY ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

Reporting by Chris Gallo

NBA WEST: Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets
Pepsi Center
Seating capacity: 19,155
Wi-Fi: No
DAS:Yes

The Denver Nuggets rely on DAS to help fans stay connected at games. As the Pepsi Center turns 16 years old this year, there are no immediate plans to add fan-facing Wi-Fi to the arena. No Wi-Fi means it’s no surprise the Nuggets rank towards the bottom of the league in home attendance.

Minnesota Timberwolves
Target Center
Seating capacity: 19,356
Wi-Fi: No
DAS:Yes

Still no Wi-Fi available at the Target Center. But the city of Minneapolis and the franchise are working toward an estimated $97 million renovation that would be sure to include ways to improve the experience for the fans. Any connectivity upgrades would be welcomed, as the arena enters its 25th year of existence. Maybe Kevin Garnett can help hang some APs as part of his return?

Oklahoma City Thunder
Chesapeake Energy Arena
Seating capacity: 18,203
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS:Yes

Oklahoma City installed new video boards and reconfigured suites as part of an estimated $2.4 million worth of upgrades this offseason. The updates are a nice compliment for fans, who can connect to Wi-Fi and DAS in Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Portland's Moda Center, home of the NBA Trail Blazers. Credit all photos: Moda Center (click on any photo for a larger image)

Portland’s Moda Center, home of the NBA Trail Blazers. Credit all photos: Moda Center (click on any photo for a larger image)

Portland Trail Blazers
Moda Center
Seating capacity: 19,980
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS:Yes

Owner Paul Allen delivered on a $16 million renovation plan this season, bolstering Wi-Fi and DAS in the Moda Center for years to come. It’s now easier for fans to view highlights during home games from the team’s mobile app.

Utah Jazz
EnergySolutions Arena
Seating capacity: 19,911
Wi-Fi: No
DAS:Yes

The Utah Jazz partnered with Boingo Wireless last spring to deliver a modern Distributed Antenna System to EnergySoultions Arena. The neutral DAS system is a major upgrade for fans and the 24-year-old facility. While Wi-Fi is not yet present in the arena, the franchise is patiently evaluating its needs to make it available in the future.

RootMetrics debuts tests of cell service inside stadiums

Screen shot of RootMetrics reporting app.

Screen shot of RootMetrics reporting app.

RootMetrics, a Bellevue, Wash.-based concern that has made a name for itself by conducting tests of wireless services in cities and airports across the nation, is now starting to test wireless networks in sports stadiums, which may give fans a heads-up on how their provider is performing inside stadium walls.

Though it only has visited a handful of arenas so far, RootMetrics eventually plans to test more than 100 stadiums this year, according to the company. For each venue, RootMetrics sends an unspecified number of testers to track data performance of the top four wireless carriers in the U.S., a list that includes AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile. RootMetrics’ venue testers also check performance of the internal Wi-Fi network if one is available, but it does not let Wi-Fi compete for its “RootScore Award,” which it bestows upon the carrier with best performance in the combined categories of speed and “data reliability,” basically a measurement of the ability to make and hold a connection during any wireless data request or action.

RootMetrics also doesn’t take into account whether or not any of the carriers has preferential deals inside a venue, which may give that provider a leg up on the competition. For its report on the Staples Center, for instance, RootMetrics gives its award to Verizon, which is not surprising to us since Verizon built both the Wi-Fi and the DAS network at the facility. But RootMetrics makes no mention of the business agreements at Staples or anywhere else, which is by design, according to the company.

Why can’t Wi-Fi win?

RootMetrics CEO Bill Moore said in a recent phone interview that such details about contracts and preferred suppliers really don’t matter to consumers — what really matters, he said, is how well each carrier performs in the venue.

While the “scoreboard” mentality does perform a service by presenting just what data the testers find, the RootMetrics venue surveys have some gaps that may need to be filled or changed in the future to present a fully accurate picture of stadium network performance. One big reporting gap is the fact that RootMetrics doesn’t use any iOS devices in its stadium tests, a strange omission since most stadium networks say they still see a majority of iPhones among the devices being used on stadium networks. RootMetrics also seems to unfairly leave Wi-Fi networks out of the scoring, even though in many cases so far the local Wi-Fi networks far outperform the carrier cellular links.

Screen shot of RootMetrics' test results for the Moda Center in Portland.

Screen shot of RootMetrics’ test results for the Moda Center in Portland.

For Portland’s Moda Center, for instance, RootMetrics gives its RootScore award to Verizon, since in their testing Verizon was found to have better data reliability and better data speeds than the other cellular carriers. But the stadium’s in-house Wi-Fi network was 3 Mbps faster than Verizon on the download side and more than five times faster than Verizon on the upload side — yet Wi-Fi wasn’t mentioned in the venue “scores” and only got a footnote at the bottom of the results page.

Founded in 2008, RootMetrics has (apparently) built a good business in its chosen field, since it was acquired last month by the Englewood, Colo.-based IHS, a large information and analytics concern that recorded $546 million in revenue for its most recent quarter.

In the industry, RootMetrics is well known for its wireless coverage performance map and its “RootScores,” which attempt to determine winners and losers in the wireless service game for major U.S. metropolitan areas and the nation’s busiest airports. The basic RootMetrics premise is that they measure exactly what service levels consumers see in real life, providing an independent way for customers to evaluate services in a given area. While consumers can see the high-level results of its tests — which include both internal testing as well as data “crowdsourced” from consumers who download the RootMetrics reporting app — RootMetrics also sells its information directly to carriers and other infrastructure providers.