July 23, 2016

Cleveland Browns: New YinzCam analytics platform produced $1 million+ in ROI

FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. Credit: Cleveland Browns.

FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. Credit: Cleveland Browns.

In sports it’s one thing to have a great playbook, and quite another thing to have a team that can execute the plays.

You can make a similar comparison to the state of sports business analytics — teams and venues are awash these days in ways to collect digital data on fans. But not many teams have figured out how to act on that information to effectively improve the fan experience, and improve the business bottom line, making many digital-fan engagement efforts seem unfinished.

That quest — to find a return on investment for a team’s digital operations — may get a big push forward this week with the announcement of the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform, which is designed to bring together all kinds of digital fan data info in a place where teams can see it and act on it in a consolidated, structured fashion. According to early users the platform allows teams or venues to establish a highly personalized connection to the fan — while powering more efficient business processes at the same time.

At the SEAT Conference this week in Las Vegas, YinzCam will announce its new product and present a case study with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who have been testing the YinzCam software ahead of its general release. In an interview last week with Mobile Sports Report, the Browns said the YinzCam software did the one thing other existing products and services couldn’t do — help them analyze and act on the data they gathered from various digital fan interactions.

Screenshot of YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform view of fan profile. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

Screenshot of YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform view of fan profile. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

In one test, the Browns said the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform allowed the team to save more than a million dollars in season-ticket renewals by being able to more effectively target fans who might be thinking about not renewing, and to connect with them via the fans’ preferred method of communication, trying to convince them to renew. According to YinzCam CEO Priya Narasimhan, the Business Intelligence Platform will be generally available on Monday.

New direction for YinzCam

The Business Intelligence Platform is a significant business shift for YinzCam, which to date has made its name by producing team and stadium apps that focus mainly on content, either for fans at the game or (increasingly) for fans at home who want to stay connected with their teams. With more than 150 mobile apps developed for teams in all the major U.S. professional sports leagues as well as in the NCAA and in international arenas, YinzCam is by far the leader in the market of stadium- and team-specific applications.

While YinzCam’s Narasimhan said the company’s apps have always used data to help bring a better app experience to fans, the new twist in the business platform is that YinzCam can combine its mobile-app fan interaction knowledge with other team data stores — like ticketing and concession purchase information from other potential team partners, like TicketMaster or Legends — to present a single, unified view of a digital fan profile. The platform will also allow teams to construct single campaigns across multiple communication channels — like email , phone outreach and social media — without the sometimes challenging task of sharing or merging contact lists.

Screenshot of YinzCam's Browns app

Screenshot of YinzCam’s Browns app

“By combining YinzCam’s mobile app capabilities with all of our sources of information, this platform offers our team the ability to organize, understand and evaluate data in a manner that addresses our main goal of continually improving our fans’ experience by customizing it for each individual,” said Cleveland Browns executive vice president and chief financial officer Dave Jenkins, in an email conversation. “In addition to understanding our fans better and providing an opportunity to accommodate their personal preferences, the system integrates information clearly across multiple areas so our team can communicate effectively with fans, allowing our staff to work more efficiently and successfully.”

Acting on data

As more teams install wireless networks in their stadiums and increase their digital interaction with fans — via such activities as digital ticketing, concession purchases, content consumption and various fan loyalty programs — the business desire is to use that digital engagement to better serve the fan while also increasing business efficiency and support new channels of revenue. However, as our recent Wi-Fi analytics feature found, even the leaders in digital programs are still at the starting points of using analytics to power such ideas.

According to members of the Cleveland Browns’ business analytics department, the team has been trying to build a data-based approach to fan engagement for the past several years, but didn’t find what they were looking for in the way of a product or service until hearing about YinzCam’s new platform. According to the Browns, the YinzCam business platform is a breakthrough, since it provides the means to not just harvest all kinds of data, but to also bring those numbers together to be acted upon in a simple, unified fashion.

Dave Giller, manager of business analytics for the Browns, said other firms with analytics products and services only seemed to offer products that “gave us the data and a container to put it in. YinzCam was the only one who could show us insights, and that really made all the difference.”

The Browns use many methods of communication to stay in touch with fans, including group selfies. Credit: Cleveland Browns

The Browns use many methods of communication to stay in touch with fans, including group selfies. Credit: Cleveland Browns

Joe Moeller, also a manager of business analytics for the Browns, echoed Giller’s view. “There are lots of ways to get data, put it in a warehouse, and then build a fan profile,” Moeller said. “With YinzCam, we have a solution for that third step — ‘here’s what I do with the data I have.’ That’s huge for us.”

Testing the math

To find out for themselves if the YinzCam platform could help the team in a measurable way, the Browns set up a thorough pilot program around the question of season ticket-holder renewals — a business question at the heart and soul of many teams’ operations. What the Browns wanted to find out was whether or not a system like YinzCam’s could help them improve an important process — being able to identify season ticket holders who might be leaning toward not renewing, and to connect with them to try to keep them in the fold.

According to Giller and Moeller, there were two significant factors in the pilot — first trying to identify which fans might be in danger of not renewing, and second, how to best reach those fans with targeted communications. As a baseline, the Browns established control groups that put some season ticket holders randomly into groups to be contacted either by email, or phone calls, or via social media; then other groups were built using the YinzCam platform to both find ticket holders who might not be interested in renewing, and to find the best ways to reach those ticket holders.

Giller and Moeller said the method of communicating to fans and ticket holders is a primary concern these days, since many people have a preferred method of digital communication, with no single method applicable across demographic spectrums.

“Some people respond better through a particular platform,” Giller said. “We worry about whether people will get freaked out if they get a DM from us on Twitter.”

Screenshot of the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform dashboard. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

Screenshot of the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform dashboard. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

At the risk of oversimplifying the process (interested parties at SEAT can learn more details at a panel describing the Browns’ experiments on Monday at 11:30 a.m. Vegas time), what the Browns found was that using the YinzCam business platform, they were able to increase their success rate of renewals by 16 percent over a non-YinzCam method — a process that gave the Browns more than $1 million in renewal revenues compared to the non-YinzCam method.

“We report up through the CFO, and it’s his responsibility to make sure this [analytics] is a viable business,” Giller said. A million-plus, everyone agreed, was among the best ways to show a digital-program ROI.

Where does it go next?

While ticketing operations are usually the best place to show business improvements, Narasimhan and the Browns are interested in additional steps the business platform can be used for, including managing tasks like content delivery, merchandise and concessions discounts, and additional ticket purchases and upsells.

“There are more questions to be answered, like which content do we produce, and which medium should it be delivered through,” Moeller said. He added that the YinzCam platform will also allow the Browns or other teams to show engagement data to potential sponsors for team apps and other engagement platforms, so they can compare how the team-specific connections stack up against other media and engagement programs.

YinzCam’s Narasimhan said that the business platform could be customized in many ways depending upon a team or venue’s desires for outcomes. From a market perspective, the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform seems to be a significant shift in direction for the Pittsburgh-based company, one that might help fend off the growing competition from new players like VenueNext, a company whose team- and venue-app strategy is focused on fan services, like ticketing and concessions, over content, with its own analytics platform to help teams better assess the performance of digital operations.

Whether or not teams pick YinzCam or VenueNext or some other competitor to help turn data into profitable actions, the good news for teams and venues is that the biggest player in stadium and team apps is now bringing its playbook to back of the house operations; like in any sport, increased competition can only lead to a better final outcome for all.

Denver’s Pepsi Center gets Avaya Wi-Fi network

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 11.25.08 PMThough it’s been operating inside the building since earlier this year, the Avaya Wi-Fi network in Denver’s Pepsi Center is official today, with a public announcement from stadium owners Kroenke Sports & Entertainment about the deployment.

Home to the NBA’s Nuggets and the NHL’s Avalanche, the arena — which seats 19,155 for hoops and 18,007 for hockey — hosts more than 200 events per year, according to the stadium home page. Now, sports fans and attendees at concerts and other events will be able to connect to the Internet via the 325 Avaya Wi-Fi APs installed over the past year, a number confirmed by Rick Schoenhals, vice president for information and technology for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE).

According to Schoenhals, the Wi-Fi network inside the Pepsi Center has been fully operational since late this spring, the end of a ramp-up period designed to ensure full operation by the start of the upcoming basketball and hockey seasons. Though no statistics for fan use from the past season are available, the network is designed to also provide connectivity for in-house operations including video feeds, security operations, concessions and also for sideline team access, according to a press release.

Avaya said the network deployment at the Pepsi Center will also include a “fan engagement wall,” a live social-media centerpiece that displays fan social media posts in real time for arena attendees to view on digital displays. Avaya has a similar fan engagement wall at its eponymous Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., home to major league soccer’s Earthquakes and home of this year’s MLS All-Star game later this month. In addition to the Pepsi Center and Avaya Stadium, Avaya also is the gear used in the Wi-Fi network at the Montreal Canadiens’ Bell Centre.

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Fan wall at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Commentary: Venues need to think of connectivity beyond the stadium walls

MSR editor Paul Kapustka via selfie from the field-level suites at US Bank Stadium.

MSR editor Paul Kapustka via selfie from the field-level suites at US Bank Stadium.

Last month, if you wanted a seat inside US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis you needed a getup like the one I’m wearing in the picture – including what you can’t see, the steel-toed shoes and the gloves that kept me from scratching any of the already-finished surfaces. Almost ready to open its doors, I can tell you that US Bank Stadium is a beauty, and that we’ll have a full report soon. For now enjoy the “sneak peek” photo essay we posted earlier.

Outside the architecturally angled walls of the stadium, what really impressed me during a recent quick visit to Minneapolis was how well the stadium operators are working with entities like the city, state and other large public gathering places, to ensure that the large streams of humanity traveling to and from the 67,000-seat facility have the best experience possible, both before and after events.

Like most travelers, my experience with Minneapolis’ integrated infrastructures started at the airport, where I took the simple and easy to understand light rail directly into downtown. I noticed that the train already stops directly at one of the US Bank Stadium doors, unlike some other stadiums where mass transit connections are a sometimes-lengthy walk away. That the stadium already has its own stop even before it opens shows that at the very least, people were thinking and talking even before the concrete was poured.

Light rail stop at the front door of US Bank Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Light rail stop at the front door of US Bank Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR


Mass transit a priority for US Bank Stadium

Editor’s note: This editorial is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!
With no large parking lots right next to the stadium and only some scattered lots (as far as I could tell) downtown, the light rail is clearly going to be an integral part of getting fans to and from the venue, both for regular-season Minnesota Vikings games as well as for Super Bowl 52 a couple Februarys from now. To make that trip easier, the light rail also extends past the airport to the Mall of America, a key link in the integrated civic infrastructure.

Why is the mall a part of this? Mainly because it is also a transit center (it has a large space where buses, trains and car parking are all together) and because it offers free parking – meaning that fans can simply park at the mall and spend a couple bucks taking the half-hour train to US Bank Stadium (or also to Target Field, which is just a few stops farther through downtown). Courtesy of a recent deployment there is now high-quality Wi-Fi in the mall itself, and at many places in Minnesota proper there is free civic Wi-Fi. There are also plans afoot to bring Wi-Fi to the light rail trains themselves. While it might not seem like much, the idea of being able to be highly connected all the way from parking at the mall to your seat in the stadium is a fan’s dream come true, enabling all the connectivity wants or needs that can happen during a game or event day.

Having witnessed some other stadiums opening without much coordination, it’s impressive and great to hear that the Vikings and Minneapolis are already planning for things like overcrowded trains after games (since more people leave at the same time than arrive at the same time), with plans to close off one of the stadium’s bordering streets and to have dozens of buses on hand to handle the overflow. There’s also plans to have stadium TVs show mass transit schedules as fans depart, and also options to remain downtown for post-game eating or celebrations.

VTA line following Levi's Stadium hockey game in 2015.

VTA line following Levi’s Stadium hockey game in 2015.

How else are the Vikings, the city and the state planning to work together? In our interviews we heard about plans to use real-time traffic mapping to close off crowded exits and to direct fans to faster paths to and from the stadium, and to perhaps be able to communicate such directions to fans via the team’s new mobile app. While it all still needs to be done in real time on a real game day, just the thinking about the fact that a “game day” doesn’t start or stop at the stadium premises is a refreshing one, especially for a venue that will host a Super Bowl in just over a year and a half.

While we’ve heard of other, similar plans to extend connectivity beyond the stadium walls – here we are thinking of the downtown plan around Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and new plans for “fan plazas” outside such venues as Wrigley Field and Lambeau Field – the Vikings seem to have looked even farther out, to try to ensure that the connected fan experience goes as far as it possibly can. Again, the proof will be in the execution, but like the view from outside US Bank Stadium, the ideas hatching in Minnesota look pretty good.

Wi-Fi Analytics: Taking the first steps

Wi-Fi antennas at Joe Louis Arena. Credit: Detroit Red Wings (click on any photo for a larger image)

Wi-Fi antennas at Joe Louis Arena. Credit: Detroit Red Wings (click on any photo for a larger image)

Even though the physical construction and deployment of a fan-facing Wi-Fi network seems like the biggest challenge facing a stadium’s information technology team, in reality everyone involved knows it’s just step one.

While turning on a live network is certainly a great accomplishment, once the data starts flowing the inevitable questions follow: Now that we have Wi-Fi, what do we do with it? And how do we find out who’s using it, why they are using it, and how can we use that information it to find out better ways to improve the fan experience while also improving our business?

Those “step two” questions can only be answered by analytics, the gathering of information about Wi-Fi network performance and user activity. And while almost every live network operator almost instantly uses performance numbers to help tune the system, plans to harvest and digest the more personalized information like end-user identification, application use and fan engagement are just getting started, even at the most technically advanced stadiums with Wi-Fi networks in place.

What follows here are some conversations with stadium tech professionals who are already running fan-facing Wi-Fi networks, exploring how they use Wi-Fi metrics and analytics to both enhance the game-day experience for fans while also building a base of information that can be used by both technical staffs and marketing organizations inside the team, school and venue organizations.

Even this small sample seems to suggest that while Wi-Fi networks may be somewhat pervasive in the larger stadiums across the country, the harvesting and processing of data generated by digital fan engagement is just getting started, with plenty of unanswered questions and experiments that have yet to bear significant fruit. Yet everyone we spoke with also had an unshakable confidence that getting metrics and analytics right was the key to wireless success over the long haul, and all are fully engaged in pursuing that goal. It may take longer than physical deployment, but the “step two” of learning from the networks is well underway.

Detroit Red Wings: Pushing past the initial learning curve

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

Now that the Wi-Fi network at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit is coming up on its second birthday, Tod Caflisch said network administrators can relax a bit on game nights. Early on, however, he remembers “babysitting” the network during games, watching live performance stats to make sure everything was working correctly.

Watching the live network performance statistics, Caflisch said, “I could tell if there were issues. If throughput looked a little flat, we might have to reboot a switch. It was important, because there was so much at stake.”

As former director of information technology for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings (he recently left Detroit and is now with the Minnesota Vikings), Caflisch helped drive the deployment of an Extreme Networks Wi-Fi network at the “Joe.” Though Joe Louis Arena is only going to host games a little while longer — a new downtown arena is just around the corner — Caflisch said the team in Detroit is already heading down the learning curve of interpreting analytics, with big goals on the horizon.

Right now, some of the most interesting network statistics have to do with fan Wi-Fi usage, including total tonnage, which Caflisch said hit 14 terabytes of data for the Red Wings’ home games this past season. That number is one and a half times bigger per game than the first year the network was in place, he said.

Big spikes for a score

One of the more interesting results came when Caflisch mapped network data to game action, an exercise that showed that hockey games may have bigger data spikes and troughs than other sports.

“We saw that traffic spikes corresponded with scores, and we also had huge spikes during intermissions,” Caflisch said. “And there were huge craters during the periods of regular action.”

While Caflisch said “it was kind of cool” to watch the network action mapped to the game action, in the future he sees the ability for the Red Wings use such actionable moments to better engage fans.

“There’s got to be some kind of marketing potential” to connect with fans during a network-activity spike, Caflisch said. What that is, is still unknown. But using networks to more closely engage fans is a big part of the Red Wings’ road map, especially as Detroit builds out a “venue environment” around the new arena.

According to Caflisch, the team in Detroit is planning to build out a network surrounding the arena, in parking lots and public spaces, including lots of beacons for proximity engagement. Though DAS and Wi-Fi numbers can show where foot traffic goes in and around stadiums, the next level of analytics Caflisch sees as important is on fan spending behavior, on items like parking, concessions and in restaurants and bars near the arena. Future projects in Detroit, he said, might include beacon-generated discounts, like a free coffee at a nearby Tim Horton’s or a free beer at a nearby bar.

“The kinds of things you want to find out are what kind of money are fans spending, and how often do they buy,” Caflisch said. “Do they stick around after the game? Do they rush in at the start? That’s the kind of stuff you’re looking for.”

Of course to get some of that data Caflisch knows the team needs to convince fans to engage digitally, by downloading a team app and providing some information for identification. So far some efforts in that direction have been helpful in identifying fans not in the team’s ticketing database, especially fans coming across the border from Canada.

In Detroit, Caflisch said, the Wings are “now marketing to those people, trying to get them to more games for the same or less money.”

Baylor University: Enlisting fans to help pinpoint problems

When Baylor University built its new football mecca, McLane Stadium, the stadium technology department was often as nervous as a football team before a big game. Would the new fan-facing Wi-Fi work as planned? Would they be able to solve problems before they became big problems?

Baylor's McLane Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Baylor’s McLane Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“At the beginning, the questions we asked were along the lines of, ‘can we get through the day,’ ” said Pattie Orr, vice president for information technology and Dean of University Libraries and the public face of the McLane Stadium network. Now that the network team is a couple years into running stadium Wi-Fi, Orr can laugh a bit about the initial fears. But from the beginning, she said, analytics “were a big factor” in making sure the network was running right.

An Extreme Networks deployment, Baylor uses Extreme’s Purview analytics system, which Orr lauds for being “easy to use” and a “great console for real-time information during a game.”

Solving for 2.4 GHz and using fan input

Mostly that means watching the dashboards to see if any APs are causing any errors, something the network stats package can usually show clearly. One of the things the network crew learned quickly during the first season with Wi-Fi was that Baylor fans were using a lot more 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi devices than anyone had thought, meaning that there were more older phones in use that didn’t have the newer 5 GHz Wi-Fi chips.

“The first season we were about 50-50 between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, and that surprised us,” said Bob Hartland, director of IT servers and networking services at Baylor. “We had to prioritize for more 2.4 GHz.” This past season, Hartland said, the fan devices skewed closer to 60 percent using 5 GHz bands.

A Baylor "Wi-Fi Coach" helps a fan negotiate the network. Credit: Baylor University

A Baylor “Wi-Fi Coach” helps a fan negotiate the network. Credit: Baylor University

Baylor also added Wi-Fi to its basketball arena this past season, presenting a whole new set of problems, like devices trying to connect to APs across the smaller stadium. Though network analytics were a start, Baylor’s team found out that fan input could also help isolate where problems might be from a physical standpoint. Having a team of “network coaches” on hand also helped pinpoint the problems in a way that might be impossible just working from the network side of things.

This past year, Orr said Baylor added a feature to its stadium app to let fans “send a message to the Wi-Fi coach” with their row number and seat number if they were having a network problem. The coaches (part of most Extreme Wi-Fi deployments) also followed social media like Twitter to see if fans were reporting network problems.

“It’s fantastic to have the live [performance] data from your fans,” Orr said. With fan and network data and area knowledge in hand, the coaches and the network team could more quickly determine if it was a network or device problem, and respond more quickly to the issue. So more data = better solutions, faster.

“If you don’t have good access to analytics you can’t deal with fan [problems] in real time,” Orr said.

VenueNext and the Niners: Finding out who’s in the building

As one of the newer and more technologically advanced venues, Levi’s Stadium often gets noticed for its wireless networks, which set single-day records of 26 terabytes of data for combined DAS and Wi-Fi usage at Super Bowl 50.

A VenueNext beacon enclosure at Levi's Stadium. Credit: VenueNext

A VenueNext beacon enclosure at Levi’s Stadium. Credit: VenueNext

Though wireless performance is important to teams and fans, the information being gathered by the Levi’s Stadium app — built by VenueNext, the company created by the Niners specifically to construct stadium apps — may end up being among the most valuable digital assets, since it helps teams discover exactly who is coming in the building and how they are spending time, attention and dollars.

“We generate data for analytics,” said VenueNext CEO John Paul, talking about the role VenueNext plays as a stadium app partner. One of the more stunning facts revealed after the Niners’ first year at Levi’s Stadium was that via the stadium app, the team was able to increase its marketing database of fan names from 17,000 to 315,000, with even more impressive success in the details.

“We were able to find out things like how many games fans attended, and who they got the tickets from,” said Paul. Such data, he said, helps teams solve the classic problem of “having no idea who’s in the building on any given day.”

Knowing how many hot dogs can be delivered

While VenueNext’s value proposition may be centered on its ability to help teams gather such valuable marketing data, VenueNext itself relies on internal analytics to ensure the services its apps support — like express food ordering and in-seat food delivery — keep working smoothly during games.

After the first season at Levi’s Stadium, Paul said VenueNext learned that it needed to expose some of its data in real-time to fans — “to improve service during the event,” Paul said. One example is that now, if there are too many orders in a certain section, the app can send a message to fans that wait times might be longer than normal. Conversely, if a certain area of the stadium has idle kitchen capacity and runners, a team might send an in-app notification asking if fans want to order something, to create demand.

Over time, Paul said the VenueNext analytics might help teams find out where walk-up concession stands get overloaded by foot traffic, and maybe reconfigure stadium kitchen placements to assist with food delivery options. In the end, he said, it should be seamless to the fans, so that in-seat delivery becomes a regular part of a game-day experience.

“The fans should have no idea where the food comes from,” Paul said.

SignalShare assets auction postponed as SignalShare files for bankruptcy

The planned auction of assets and contracts of Wi-Fi provider SignalShare is now on hold, due to a bankruptcy filing by SignalShare in New Jersey, according to auctioneers hired by NFS Leasing, a company that is suing SignalShare for $7.8 million over alleged fraudulent activities.

In an email Thursday, the auction company said NFS was postponing the planned July 14 auction, which sought to find buyers for SignalShare assets, including software source code and Wi-Fi installment contracts for arenas including the Golden State Warriors’ Oracle Arena. Legal representatives for NFS did not comment, and no case information is yet available from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of New Jersey. We will continue to update this post as more information is obtained.

Minnesota Twins’ Target Field: Photo Essay and Wi-Fi tests

Great sight to see when you get off the plane in Minnesota.

Great sight to see when you get off the plane in Minnesota.

During Mobile Sports Report’s visit to Minneapolis earlier this summer, we had a free afternoon so we took the public tour of the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field, home of the 2014 MLB All Star Game. Though it was a kind of drizzly day we still got a lot of looks (and tests) of the thing we came to see: The park’s new Wi-Fi and DAS networks, which were operational and since it was an empty house, probably running at full capacity for all our tests.

After a short (~30 min.) light rail trip from the airport to downtown, we dumped our bags at the hotel and hoofed it over to Target Field, staying dry by cleverly using the city’s skywalk pathways. Once at the stadium it was just a short wait for the 3 p.m. tour to start, so we cruised the Twins’ gift store where the full-body Twins jammies made us think of cold September nights.

Tech you can and can’t see

Target Field from a nearby walkway. Notice the freeway running underneath.

Target Field from a nearby walkway. Notice the freeway running underneath.

I’d never been on one of these public tours before, but our group of 7 dudes learned a lot of lore from our excellent guide Rick, who had his stats down cold. The big glove outside the stadium, he let us know, is 522 feet from home plate, the longest home run recorded by Twins legend Harmon Killebrew. That home run was hit in 1967 at the old Metropolitan Stadium, where the Mall of America now stands.

Rick started out our tour by informing us that the $600 million Target Field, which opened in 2010, has a whole lot of technology under the field, pipes that heat the field and carry water away from it; there’s no dirt on the playing field, just sand underneath a very thin covering of grass. Baseball capacity now is 38,868, Rick said, though on opening day the park had 40,000+ there. That’s great stuff, man, but what about the Wi-Fi? Though I couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal outside the gates, once inside the network was clearly humming: As Rick took us through the press box, where there were Ethernet cords in front of each seat, I wondered how necessary those were with a reading of 59.26 Mbps down and 62.67 up as I sat in a front-row seat.

Twins jammies for those cold Minnesota nights.

Twins jammies for those cold Minnesota nights.

As one the MLBAM-led technology deployment deals (in part to get ready for the All Star Game demands) the Wi-Fi inside Target Field is mainly Cisco gear, at least those that you can see. The familiar white boxes (now with MLBAM ID stickers) are fairly ubiquitous. Since we weren’t able to get ahold of the Twins’ IT crew before our visit I’m not sure what the final AP or DAS antenna count is these days. But if you know where to look, and we do, you can see a lot of antennas around.

Dealing with outside-the-park interference

One of the interesting things we learned in our profile of the park prior to the All Star Game was that since the stadium is right downtown, the Twins and the major carriers had to figure out how to keep macro antennas on buildings outside the ballpark from bleeding into the stadium’s DAS. According to another source we spoke with in Minnesota, this year was the first year that Target Field’s DAS didn’t need any more alterations; as you can see by one of pictures here of the Ford Center, which is across the street from the back side of Target Field, there’s a lot of RF on rooftops in the near vicinity.

Inside the press box. Grandpa, what's that cord for?

Inside the press box. Grandpa, what’s that cord for?

Down near field level, the Wi-Fi was still cranking in the mid-40s, an excellent score for a place that’s normally hard to cover. Looking around I didn’t initially see any APs, with none on the wall facing backwards as some stadiums do it. Then after some more inspection I saw the source of the bandwidth, some well-covered railing APs mounted on the railing behind the 10 or so rows of near-the-field seats. On our way out I saw some of the distinctive AmpThink-designed sideways railing enclosures, for the open-bowl seating not covered by overhangs.

Though ideally we’d love to come back on a game day, from the looks of the physical placements we were able to see and the tests we took, it seems like both the cellular and Wi-Fi networks at Target Field are high performers, good news for Twins fans who need connectivity. And if you need to drown your sorrows or celebrate, there is also an in-stadium beer network, which supplies suds from main keg rooms through conduits that are definitely more tasty than copper or fiber. Prosit!

Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

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Target Field in panoramic view.

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A silhouette of a Wi-Fi antenna. MSR geek art.

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A Wi-Fi AP and some kind of gun antenna. Anyone know what that is?

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You bought it, you put your name on it.

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Another panoramic view, showing how close downtown is.

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The Ford Center is across the street from the back of the park. We’re guessing those macro antennas on top had to be tuned to keep their signals from interfering.

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Not Wi-Fi, but a network worth building for thirsty fans.

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Anyone want to test download speeds of these pipes?

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Great quote overheard in Minnesota: “It takes a lot of wire to make a park wireless.”

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Tour guide Rick getting set to take his “team” out on the field. BUT NOT ON THE GRASS!

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The railing APs that cover the field-level seats.

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An AmpThink railing enclosure. Rick didn’t know what those were, but he does now.

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Nice hardware in the Twins’ high-rollers club area.

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Our tour didn’t get to see inside, but we can guess what’s behind that door.

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If you can hit one here, the Twins want to talk to you.

tf24

That’s about as close as MSR will ever get to being in “The Show.” Until next time!