July 31, 2014

Could PogoSeat funding be the start of a sports app boom?

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 11.59.31 PMUnlike many of the app startups funded these days, ticket-upgrade enabler PogoSeat isn’t a social media thing with a goal to attract billions of users. Instead, it’s a fairly straightforward utility application, one that most likely will end up being a feature in some other bigger app, like a team or league app. So why could its reported $2.3 million in funding be the start of a much bigger boom? Because there’s lots of room for improvement in the fan experience, and we think — like PogoSeat’s investors — that simple, targeted apps that do one thing well have a pretty attractive future.

At the recent SEAT Conference in Miami, the folks from PogoSeat and the Golden State Warriors gave a brief outline of some of the results from early trials of the PogoSeat app at Warriors games last season. While the numbers weren’t Instagram-like in nature — one of the playoff games between the Warriors and the Clippers saw 52 upgrades using the app — if you start to extrapolate to the large numbers of teams and every-day nature of events, you start to see the lure of the PogoSeat power. More importantly — as a utility with a great amount of potential worth to a fan, it gives people a reason to download and actually use a team app in the first place — often one of the hardest types of customer acquisition around.

Where are there other pain points in the live fan experience that simple apps might solve? We’ve already explored the idea of a parking app, and we’ll have some more profiles coming soon, including one called AudioAir which is pursuing the relatively simple idea of using your mobile phone to listen to the audio broadcast from a nearby public TV, like in a sports bar or at a stadium. No funding stories yet for these sports apps, but with all the cash floating around in VC land, maybe we’ll have more headlines like this story’s in the near future.

Tennessee Titans pick Extreme Networks for LP Field Wi-Fi deployment

LP FieldThe Tennessee Titans picked Extreme Networks to provide a Wi-Fi deployment at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., becoming the third NFL team to choose Extreme gear for wireless connectivity.

Along with Wi-Fi integrator PCM, Extreme said in a press release Monday that it will bring both its Wi-Fi networking gear as well as its analytics software to the Titans, to provide a free-for-fans wireless network to all parts of the 69,143-seat LP Field. Previously, Extreme had built Wi-Fi networks for the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Extreme may have a leg up when it comes to securing more NFL Wi-Fi deals, thanks to a deal announced earlier this year under which Extreme is the league’s “official provider” of Wi-Fi analytics. Though the deal doesn’t automatically provide Extreme with any signed contracts, in the follow-me world of sports technology deployments one successful implementation plus an endorsement from the league means that at the very least Extreme is on most short lists when NFL teams are seeking Wi-Fi providers. The company is also known for implementing the Wi-Fi coaches idea, where network-knowledgeable employees roam the stands at games to help fans connect to the Wi-Fi.

“Our fans are our number one priority, so being able to provide an enhanced experience for them is a tremendous opportunity,” said Don MacLachlan, executive vice president of administration and facilities for the Titans, in a prepared statement. “The partnership with Extreme will not only positively change the in-game atmosphere but will also allow us to garner deeper insights into how fans interact with their devices while they are in the stadium. Extreme’s Wi-Fi and analytics solution is unparalleled and we are confident we will receive encouraging feedback.”

According to Extreme the network is scheduled to be live in time for the start of the season. The Titans’ first home game of the regular season this year is Sept. 14 against the Dallas Cowboys.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talks stadium Wi-Fi

The boss, Roger Goodell, gives his approval of Levi's

The boss, Roger Goodell, gives his approval of Levi’s

Two years ago, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made news by calling for Wi-Fi networks in all NFL stadiums. While that wish is not yet a reality, the public debut of the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium Thursday allowed the commish to stop by for a very short press conference, where he did have some interesting points to make about Wi-Fi in stadiums.

While we’ve embedded the entire answer via video below, Goodell’s main point when asked about all the technology in the stadium was to highlight Wi-Fi, about which he said that when you put Wi-Fi in a stadium, “you allow people to use a technology they already know.”

Having more technology available to fans, Goodell went on to say, “is the best experience.” Whether or not the NFL as a league will help pay to bring that technology to individual stadiums that don’t yet have it is a story for another day.

video credit: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report.

Stadium Tech Report: An MSR Geek Sneak Peek finds fast Wi-Fi, lots of cell antennas at Levi’s Stadium

A Wi-Fi access point near a section sign.

A Wi-Fi access point near a section sign.

The historic idea that big, open-air stadiums are bad places for wireless connectivity may have finally met its match. Though it still needs a test when it’s full of fans, a sneak peek at the incredibly robust Wi-Fi and distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments in the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium should mean, at least for Niners fans, that poor connections at football games are a thing of the past.

Granted, our tour of the new stadium during its ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday wasn’t any kind of official unveiling of the much-hyped Wi-Fi and cellular networks inside. There weren’t any tech reps on hand, and there were many places throughout the building where it was clear that parts of the network weren’t yet turned on (along with many flat-screen TV mounts still waiting for their electronics). But just walking around inside the concourses and clubs, a trained eye could see Wi-Fi access points and DAS antennas just about everywhere you looked. And, wow — in areas where the network was live, the download speeds were off the charts — we recorded several readings of 60 Mbps or higher, including on the Levi’s sustainable-garden rooftop court.

On one hand, it’s fair to say that our walk-around tests don’t mean a thing, because the real chore for the Levi’s network is not to impress a few random guests, but instead to handle the huge loads brought on by a sellout crowd of 68,500 iPhone-toting football fans. Over the next month or so we’ll get some more chances for proof points, especially at the Niners’ preseason games, when we hope to see the ambitious on-demand instant replay app being put through its paces, while at the same time Niners fans use their phones to order food delivered to their seats. That’s a lot of potential bandwidth and interactions. But after our tour Thursday, we’re perhaps a bit less cynical than we were before about the network’s ability to handle such loads.

SpeedTest results from Wi-Fi network inside Levi's Stadium.

SpeedTest results from Wi-Fi network inside Levi’s Stadium.

Designed for networking from the ground up

Why? Mainly, it’s the fact that Levi’s looks like the proof of what is possible when you design a stadium from the ground up with connectivity in mind. Though we could in fact see many, many exposed APs and DAS antennas, none were overly obtrusive — in fact, they all looked like they had been mounted somewhere that was expressly designed for them to be there. I’m no network engineer, but the simple lack of a lot of exposed cabling around those antennas and APs says to me that the guts of the building may be as smart as the network. Under one overhang I did see a cable run that reminded me of a data center — a wire basket carrying fiber, with plenty of room for expansion, leading into holes in the concrete that weren’t close to being filled. Again: I carry no union card. But if I can see such things and figure them out, it seems like a lot of thought went into the Levi’s network that’s perhaps not as obvious as the APs and antennas. Which, of course, is a great thing for administrators and even better for users.

Watching the British Open live on a TV inside an elevator at Levi's Stadium.

Watching the British Open live on a TV inside an elevator at Levi’s Stadium.

What else did we see that was amazing, technology-wise? The sheer number of flat screen digital displays, especially when combined with the numerous large, comfortable lounge and club areas says to us that fans won’t miss much action even if they’re not in their seats. In the plush big-bucks clubs and even in the proletariat concrete concourses there was flat screen after flat screen (or at least the mounts where more TVs will be). It’s a simple but profound way to improve the fan experience, maybe a lesson learned from Candlestick, where fans congregated outside the few concession stands with TVs just to watch replays. Sure, the phone app may be one way to get there but my take from walking through Levi’s is that if you want to stand around and enjoy a beverage with friends you will still be kept up on the action even if your phone’s in your pocket.

Like we said — there is certainly more detailed information to come, and we are betting that the folks at Aruba Networks (the Wi-Fi gear supplier) and DAS Group Professionals (the neutral third-party DAS host) are chomping at the bit to talk about their deployments… let the free advertising of the antenna pictures below suffice for now. Though it’s just the start of our planned Levi’s Stadium network coverage, it was an impressive one, right down to the glasses of Iron Horse bubbly served at the post-ribbon-cutting reception. Salut, Levi’s and Niners!

(All photos credit Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report. Copyright 2014, Mobile Sports Report. Please do not use without permission.)

Wi-Fi access points visible on outside concourse structure

Wi-Fi access points visible on outside concourse structure

Two DAS antennas above a concession stand

Two DAS antennas above a concession stand

DAS antennas mounted under overhang.

DAS antennas mounted under overhang.

A guess, but looks to us like directional Wi-Fi AP (on the solar panel roof of the rooftop garden court)

A guess, but looks to us like directional Wi-Fi AP (on the solar panel roof of the rooftop garden court)

A Wi-Fi AP mounting location that says "Death Star" to us

A Wi-Fi AP mounting location that says “Death Star” to us

Just some of the flat-panel displays in the United Lounge.

Just some of the flat-panel displays in the United Lounge.

The boss, Roger Goodell, gives his approval of Levi's

The boss, Roger Goodell, gives his approval of Levi’s

Rooftop garden view. Butterflies and 60+ Mbps Wi-Fi!

Rooftop garden view. Butterflies and 60+ Mbps Wi-Fi!

Cool/scary view of the field from behind the lights, again on the rooftop garden area

Cool/scary view of the field from behind the lights, again on the rooftop garden area

What's behind the red DAS head end door? First rule of head end rooms, don't ask about head end rooms

What’s behind the red DAS head end door? First rule of head end rooms, don’t ask about head end rooms

Watching Golf this Week: The British Open, and the Tiger Internet Channel debut

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 11.21.37 PMIn honor of ESPN fulfilling our longtime wish for continuous coverage of Tiger Woods at a golf tournament, we are bringing back our Watching Golf this Week feature. And for this weekend’s third major of the season, the British Open (aka the Open Championship) the viewing guide is easy: Just check ESPN, both on the tube and online, because the worldwide leader will give you wall to wall coverage of the action that starts Thursday morning at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake, England.

So what’s the deal with the Tiger Cam? We haven’t interviewed anyone at ESPN but it’s easy to see how this idea came about: With Eldrick finally returning to the pro golf majors scene for the first time this year after back surgery, there is an incredible amount of pent-up Tiger interest. Still easily the biggest draw in golf — just go to any tourney he’s in and watch where the crowd goes — Woods is an even bigger interest item this week, with everyone wanting to see if he is A) recovered enough to play competitively, and if so, B) if he’s good enough to start the Nicklaus majors-hunt in earnest.

While ESPN will most certainly cut to Woods whenever possible during normal telecast coverage, the idea of putting a camera on Woods only and using ESPN3, one of the company’s “Internet channels” to show streaming coverage is a masterstroke. Not only will you lure in potential “casual” viewers who might not give a hoot who Martin Kaymer is but who will watch Woods, you will also likely get golf nuts doing the two-screen dance, with the TV on the regular coverage and a phone, tablet or laptop following Woods. At the very least it’s a great experiment and one we expect will be copied (at least we hope so) in other sports, soon.

But while you might not want be so fired up to watch something like a “quarterback cam” or a “third baseman cam,” individual player coverage in things like golf tournaments is a perfect idea. In fact, most online golf efforts for the majors over the past few years have had “featured group” channels online, where they follow attractive pairings throughout a round. This is not really much different except for the focus on Woods, which some will no doubt say is unworthy, since Woods is only a single player, he’s not bigger than the game, blah blah blah. Tiger fans get it, and will (I predict) turn out in the millions to watch every shot he takes over the weekend. Here’s hoping for Tiger, ESPN and for golf that the cams stay on through Sunday. Plus you can watch it mobile, via the WatchESPN app. Good on ya, ESPN.

There will, of course, be other stories from Liverpool, including whatever magic defending champ Phil Mickelson can conjure, and whether or not we will see Major-winning Rory McIlroy finally fulfill his Open dreams, or whether he’ll continue to sputter in the big events. If I could I’d bet a few pounds on American Ricky Fowler, who has been steadily doing well in majors this year. Is this his breakthrough event? Are the British ready for an all-orange winner on Sunday? Or will Sergio Garcia finally come through? It all gets underway Thursday, and for once we’ll have a way to watch and see exactly everything that Tiger does.

BONUS: Doug Ferguson penned an excellent, technically correct article about Wi-Fi at Royal Liverpool. Hello Augusta, can you hear me now?

THE OPEN CHAMPIONSIP

ESPN COVERAGE
This is long, but worth it… what follows is the entire ESPN lineup of content from The Open (all times U.S. Eastern):

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 9.58.08 AM

FACEBOOK PAGE
Get yourself close to the Claret Jug at The Open’s Facebook page.

TOP TWITTER FEEDS TO FOLLOW
The Open’s own Twitter feed.
Geoff Shackelford — well known golf writer. If you’re not following Geoff you are missing the online boat.
Golf Channel — official Golf Channel feed
@PGATOUR — official PGA Twitter feed
@StephanieWei — great golf writer who is a Twitter fiend.
Doug Ferguson is the lead golf writer for AP. Good Twitter insights that often aren’t part of your wire-service lead.

TOURNAMENT APP
One of the better event apps, the Open’s App has everything you want in a handheld device app. iPad, iPhone and Android, even Windows. You will still need the ESPN contract to view live video, though. Still, well worth the download especially for the Thursday-Friday times when you may be at work.

WHAT’S THE COURSE LIKE?

Everything we’re reading says that Royal Liverpool (aka Hoylake) will play much differently than it did back in 2006, when Tiger did his 1-iron stinger thing, hitting only one driver all weekend en route to victory. According to an AP story today Tiger says the greens are soft, which might mean that American players unused to links golf might have a better chance. To us, it really doesn’t matter which course they use for the Open Championship. We’re so tired of TPC layouts by this time of the year that basically anything links-like is a refreshing slap in the face, like an ocean breeze. Fore, gentlemen.

WHO WON THIS THING LAST YEAR?

C’mon, do you need to ask? HEFTY!

FEDEX CUP LEADERS
1. Jimmy Walker, 2,322 points
2. Bubba Watson, 2,135
3. Matt Kuchar, 1,725
4. Dustin Johnson, 1,701
5. Jordan Spieth, 1,636

WORLD GOLF RANKINGS
1. Adam Scott; 2. Henrik Stenson; 3. Justin Rose; 4. Bubba Watson; 5. Matt Kuchar.

And… for those of you late risers who miss the Open coverage, don’t forget to watch Annika take on Michael Jordan and John Elway in Tahoe at the American Century Classic:

AMERICAN CENTURY CLASSIC TV
Friday, July 18 — NBC, 4 p.m. — 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 19 — NBC, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.
Sunday, July 20 — NBC, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.

Stadium Tech Report: Minnesota Twins tap InSite and TE Connectivity to get DAS ready for All-Star Game

Target Field, the downtown home of the Minnesota Twins. Credit: Minnesota Twins

Target Field, the downtown home of the Minnesota Twins. Credit all photos: Minnesota Twins

Even at a new stadium, getting the wireless network right is a constantly changing target. And for 4-year-old Target Field in Minneapolis, that meant an upgrade to the DAS not too long after the facility opened its doors.

“Nobody will ever have the perfect [network] install, and that’s part of the fun of it,” said John Avenson, vice president of infrastructure for the Minnesota Twins baseball club, in a phone interview with MSR. “The problem is not solvable as in, one year and you’re done. You need to be continuously improving.”

For the Twins, improving cellular connectivity was especially important since this year the club and the stadium will host baseball’s midsummer classic, the All-Star game. Thanks to help from InSite Wireless and DAS gear from TE Connectivity, Target Field’s DAS should be able to handle not just the overall growth in Twins fans’ wireless needs, but also the extra demands of a special event and all the selfies that go along with it.

“Fortunately, InSite and the carriers have been able to react quickly, and we should be ready for the test of the All-Star game,” said Dan Starkey, director for ballpark development and planning, in the same interview. “We’ll be ready to fully test the system.”

Wi-Fi and DAS, a perfect double play

Dan Starkey, director for ballpark development and planning

Dan Starkey, director for ballpark development and planning

As a new facility, Target Field was ahead of the curve when it came to Wi-Fi. On opening day the park had free Wi-Fi service for fans, with 225 access points initially available. “Back then that was a big number,” Avenson said. And while some carrier execs have been voicing an opinion that DAS is all that’s needed in a stadium, Avenson isn’t convinced.

“At this point you need both Wi-Fi and DAS,” he said.

Though the Twins do a good job of promoting the Wi-Fi service, most fans in stadiums everywhere usually default first to a cellular connection, either because they don’t know about the Wi-Fi, or don’t want to be bothered with the process or aren’t sure how to connect. Since people still think they should be able to send pictures or watch videos over a cellular connection, even at a crowded ballpark, that means the DAS – the Distributed Antenna System – needs to keep pace with all the smartphones and tablets being used.

“Some fans put their phones away [when they come to the stadium] but the younger crowd does not do that,” Avenson said. “Nothing interrupts their need for a good [wireless] experience.”

AllstarlogoAccording to Avenson, even before the facility opened the IT team new that they wanted a neutral host partner to lead the DAS effort.

“It just made sense to us,” said Avenson of having a neutral host DAS supplier, since as he said, carriers can be like siblings who have to share a bedroom. “InSite really enables the carriers, so they don’t have to fight with each other [over technology deployments].

Verizon Wireless and AT&T, the two biggest cellular carriers in the U.S., were on the neutral host DAS at the start, and were later joined by Sprint and T-Mobile. And even though the park is fairly new, Avenson said everyone involved realized quickly that wireless demands were growing, meaning that an upgrade was needed sooner rather than later.

According to the team, the most recent upgrades were to add MIMO capability for 1900 and AWS 2100 MHz bands, as well as adding four additional sectors in the bowl for AT&T. The new DAS can also support newer 4G LTE technologies, the Twins said.

“It’s just part of the evolution of DAS,” said Starkey. “Once we realized we needed additional coverage and capacity, InSite and the carriers acted quickly.”

Suite view of Target Field

Suite view of Target Field

The downtown difference

Like many other stadiums and large public facilities, Target Field had to be creative in finding space for the DAS head end equipment.

“In 2008 and 2009, we thought we’d fit it [the DAS head end] in a corner but it grew to a larger space and then that wasn’t big enough,” said Avenson, who added that AT&T and Verizon each have 10 to 12 cabinets of back-end gear for their DAS operations. “When the building was being built in 2008, the architects were not aware that we’d be needing more space. It’s amazing how much space and power a DAS takes at the head end.”

Adding to the complexity of the Target Field deployment is the fact that the field is in the middle of downtown Minneapolis, with large office buildings peeking over the roof of the stadium. According to Avenson, carriers and the team had to perform a series of reconfigurations to antennas both inside the park and out, so that the macro metro cellular network didn’t interfere with the DAS network inside the stadium.

“When the macro network wants to invade [the stadium] you have to push the macro network out,” said Avenson. “If you’re Miller Park [the baseball field in Milwaukee] and you have a big parking lot around the stadium you can control your own destiny. Parks in the middle of cities have a much different challenge.”

Editor’s note: This profile was originally published on May 1, 2014. It is also included in our Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014, which you can download for free from our site.