May 6, 2016

Cavs, Budweiser and YinzCam bring virtual reality experiment to Cleveland fans

Fan testing the virtual-reality headset at Quicken Loans Arena. All photos: Cleveland Cavaliers

Fan testing the virtual-reality headset at Quicken Loans Arena. All photos: Cleveland Cavaliers

Approximately 750 fans were able to use the Cleveland Cavaliers’ stadium app and some cardboard headsets to get a virtual-reality experience while at Quicken Loans Arena for Wednesday’s playoff game between the Cavs and the Atlanta Hawks, according to the team.

Since we weren’t at the Q we couldn’t see the videos but according to the Cavs there was some VR content available Wednesday night via the YinzCam-developed team app, which if you were lucky to get one of the 750 promotional headsets that were given away, you could insert your phone and have a true, turn-the-head feel to the VR content, according to the team. Other fans could simply view the VR content on their phones, even without the headsets, the Cavs said.

Though there was no live VR content available, the canned-video experiment is just another leading-edge innovation for the Cavs at Quicken Loans Arena, one of the most technology-forward sports arenas around. According to the team it plans to repeat the VR experiment at some future playoff games, with another 1,500 Budweiser-branded headsets to give away.

Screenshot of Cavs app showing VR content tab

Screenshot of Cavs app showing VR content tab

Cleverly, the headset “easily transforms into a handy Budweiser beer holder,” according to a press release.

“We’re always looking for new ways to connect with our fans by leveraging emerging technologies that deliver unique experiences. VR was a logical next step and an area we’re excited to explore,” said Mike Conley, Cavs VP of Digital, in a prepared statement. “The technology has endless opportunity and thanks to our partnership with Budweiser and Yinzcam, we’ve been able to get a head start in the emerging VR space with the new video content available on the Cavs App.”

No word yet on how well the headsets worked (as viewing devices or beer holders) or how many fans viewed the VR content, but it is at the very least a sign that VR may be closer to mainstream than you think, and that for savvy teams it can be an easy way to add a very visible sponsorship. Oh and by the way the Cavs also destroyed the Hawks 123-98, going up 2-0 in their series.

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Here’s what the VR content looked like (kinda) in a 2D version

First round of NHL playoffs saw 8.6 TB of data used on AT&T networks

They’re smaller than football stadiums so hockey arenas aren’t going to generate wireless-data numbers as big as we’ve seen at events like the Super Bowl. But according to AT&T, wireless data use by NHL fans at playoff time took a big leap forward in the first round of the Stanley Cup action, with an average 41 percent increase in data use versus regular-season games at the same venues.

In total, AT&T said it saw more than 8.6 terabytes of wireless data used on its cellular networks at venues hosting first-round NHL playoff games, with an average of 191 GB used at each game. Winning the highest-average data contest was the Dallas Stars, whose fans used more than 379 GB per game during the first round games in American Airlines Center. In a statement that clearly needed a copy editor with sense and facts, AT&T said that the second-place Philadelphia Flyers, who play in a city that is “home of the country’s most passionate sports fans,” averaged 267 GB per game. In Chicago, where the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks took their series to a Game 7, THE most passionate sports fans used an average of 270 GB per game.

Remember, these are only AT&T stats for users on AT&T networks. And anytime the Philly-loving AT&T folks want to talk about passionate sports fans, they know where to find me. We can watch tapes of the Blackhawks-Flyers Stanley Cup finals together while we converse.

Churchill Downs picks VenueNext for new Kentucky Derby app

Screenshot of new Kentucky Derby app built by VenueNext for Churchill Downs.

Screenshot of new Kentucky Derby app built by VenueNext for Churchill Downs.

Fans at this year’s Kentucky Derby will be able to find their way around historic Churchill Downs and place bets on races via a new venue mobile app, designed by VenueNext, the app developer for Levi’s Stadium and other football, baseball and basketball teams.

Most of the standard features of the VenueNext app platform, including interactive wayfinding and digital ticketing support, will be available to all fans for the May 7 Derby Day, according to Churchill Downs Racetrack general manager Ryan Jordan. Additionally, a small number of premium-seat ticketholders will be able to order food and drink for delivery to their seats via the app, a sort of “beta test” of one of the other VenueNext app services that Jordan said Churchill Downs plans to expand for future races.

“We’re very excited to roll this app out” on Derby Day, said Jordan in a phone interview. Though the racetrack has previously had some mobile apps, Jordan said they were mainly focused on the social element of the event, with links back to the Derby website. The VenueNext-powered app infrastructure, he said, “really translates well to our venue and we think will significantly improve the fan experience at the Kentucky Derby.”

Ryan Jordan, general manager, Churchill Downs

Ryan Jordan, general manager, Churchill Downs

For VenueNext, the big-name deal is its first outside of stadium sports, and the sixth app deal overall, following deals for apps for the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, the Orlando Magic and the Minnesota Vikings. VenueNext also designed a special Levi’s Stadium app for the recent Super Bowl 50.

Wayfinding, betting, and more

One of the top features from the VenueNext app package that “excites” Jordan is the app’s ability to use a beacon infrastructure to support a live interactive wayfinding map, where app users can track themselves in “blue dot” fashion similar to Google maps for driving. Since Churchill Downs is an old, sprawling facility, Jordan said that helping fans find their way was always a challenge.

“There’s been 142 years of building this place out, and it’s not like a bowl stadium where you can just keep walking in a circle to find things,” Jordan said. “To be able to use a mobile app to find your seats, find your car after the race, and find amenities like betting windows is very exciting. We have lots of signage, but there are lots of different buildings and signs, and it can be hard to find your way around.”

For several years now, the Derby has been building its own mobile betting app, which allows fans to place bets from anywhere at the track. That app, called Twinspires, is now also integrated within the new VenueNext app, which means that fans don’t have to exit and find another app to place wagers.

Wayfinding map screenshot

Wayfinding map screenshot

To make sure fans can stay connected anywhere on the grounds, Churchill Downs and partners Mobilitie and AT&T upgraded the venue’s DAS again this offseason, adding more capacity for AT&T 4G LTE services. Though Churchill Downs does have a small amount of Wi-Fi for the main buildings like the clubhouse and the towers, Jordan said that service is mainly for race days other than the big event.

“For regular race days [when fans are mostly in the main buildings] we may have 10,000 to 20,000 people here,” Jordan said. “For the Derby, we will have 170,000.”

Starting slow with food delivery

Also included in the app is the ability for fans to order food and drink to be delivered to their seats, or to be picked up at an express window at a nearby concession stand. Jordan said that during the offseason Churchill Downs retrofitted several kitchen areas to support the delivery and express pickup options, but that the track will start small with the service and expand from there. In addition to the Turf Club and its 500 seats where delivery will be an option, another 15 sections of seats will be able to use the app for express pickup orders, Jordan said.

“There’s a lot of employee training and infrastructure [for deliveries] that’s new to us,” said Jordan, explaining the start-slow approach. “The good news is, there’s lots of opportunity to keep expanding as we go.”

(more app screenshots below)

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Twitter and the NFL: What does the deal mean for team apps and mobile video? Stadium Tech Report Podcast No. 3 tells you!

Episode 3 of the STADIUM TECH REPORT PODCAST is live, in which hosts Phil Harvey and Paul Kapustka discuss the NFL’s Thursday Night Football streaming deal with Twitter, and what that deal means for both team stadium apps in particular and for mobile video use in general. Take a listen and let us know what you think!

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PODCAST: Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes!

Let the NFL streaming battles begin: AT&T brings live streaming to basic Sunday Ticket plan

Screen shot of DirecTV Sunday Ticket app for iPad

Screen shot of DirecTV Sunday Ticket app for iPad

If you are a regular MSR reader you may remember that when the AT&T/DirecTV acquisition came to pass, we wondered how long it would take before AT&T and Verizon started battling each other in the quest to bring live NFL action to fans on their phones. The answer: wait no more, the battle’s here.

Today, AT&T announced that all subscribers to the DirecTV Sunday Ticket plan “will be able to stream Sunday afternoon out-of-market football games to almost any device” when action kicks off this fall. Previously, Sunday Ticket subscribers had to shell out about an extra hundred bucks to get the Sunday Ticket Max package, which offered streaming. Last year, the basic Sunday Ticket package was about $250; so far we can’t find a price for this season (and we don’t want to hunt through all the splash screens trying to get us to sign up for DirecTV services). Suffice to say it will still be a premium product, but one that many NFL fans can’t live without.

According to AT&T, live streaming via the Sunday Ticket plan was up 35 percent last year, a figure that doesn’t surprise us at all. We’ve been tracking Verizon Wireless and its NFL Mobile package of live-streamed games (which varies but usually includes Monday, Thursday and any weekend games, as well as Sunday out-of-market games) for some time now, and posts about NFL Mobile typically draw the highest traffic to our site. Verizon has never released subscriber numbers for NFL Mobile, but if you guessed it was among the most popular sports apps out there, you would probably be right. Even at $1 billion for four years, the rights fees seem a bargain for Verizon.

DirecTV pays the NFL more (about $1.5 billion a year, according to reports) but it gets more; NFL Mobile is exclusive to cell phone devices, meaning you can’t use it on tablets or PCs. And now thrown into the mobile mix is Twitter, whose reported $10 million deal with the NFL for Thursday-night games also includes the rights to stream to cell phones and any other device. Anyone else out there want to play?

Why is NFL action so popular on mobile devices? Mainly, I think, because of several factors, including fantasy betting and the fact that the screens have gotten so big and sharp, you can actually watch a game on a phone and it’s not painful. As many of us mobile-NFL freaks know, the best part of the deals isn’t necessarily the games themselves, but instead it’s access to the NFL’s RedZone channel, which keeps you up to date on action all across the league (and despite its name, it offers way more than just plays “in the red zone.” They try to keep live action going at all times, and NO COMMMERCIALS makes it a football junkie’s dream).

Plus, on the West coast, RedZone will often just show all of later games since there are fewer contests to jump in between. I don’t know how many people will sit every Sunday through several games on the couch, but if you can watch a few minutes or a final drive while you’re somewhere else it’s pretty addictive.

No news yet this year from Verizon on what the NFL Mobile package of games might look like, but stay tuned: This battle is just getting started. Good news is, more competition means more access and lower prices for fans. That’s something we can all cheer, no matter which teams we root for.

Mobilitie, AT&T beef up DAS coverage at Churchill Downs ahead of Kentucky Derby

White DAS antennas visible on the overhangs at Churchill Downs. Photo: Mobilitie (click on any photo for a larger image).

White DAS antennas visible on the overhangs at Churchill Downs. Photo: Mobilitie (click on any photo for a larger image).

Since it’s legal in horse racing, how about a bet? Who thinks the final AT&T DAS traffic total from the Kentucky Derby weekend will pass 10 terabytes this year? After hitting 5.1 TB during last year’s two days of racing, what are the odds on wireless data used there doubling down again? Anyone want to bet against growth?

For sure, operators of the wireless infrastructure at the track aren’t going to left behind for lack of trying — according to neutral-host DAS provider Mobilitie and DAS design partner AT&T, there will be approximately a 50 percent increase in AT&T’s cellular capacity at Churchill Downs this year, with double coverage in the 1900 MHz band compared to last year, according to AT&T.

Mobilitie president Christos Karmis said in a phone interview this week that “every year, the amount of data used has doubled,” at least since Mobilitie put in the first part of the DAS at the track for the 2013 event. Since then, Karmis said the DAS antenna count has grown from 253 to 290, and the network now has 55 sectors, in and around the track and seating areas as well as in the parking lots. In addition to AT&T, the DAS also carries traffic for Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, neither of which have reported traffic totals from the event. T

Biggest DAS in sports?

Where all the Kentucky Derby race-day social media posts go to find the Internet (aka the head end at the Churchill Downs DAS). Photo: Mobilitie

Where all the Kentucky Derby race-day social media posts go to find the Internet (aka the head end at the Churchill Downs DAS). Photo: Mobilitie

With race day drawing 170,513 fans last year, the Kentucky Derby may well be one of the most challenging events to provide wireless coverage to, with multiple spikes in traffic due to two full days of racing (there are 13 races scheduled for Friday May 6, the Kentucky Oaks Day, and 14 scheduled for Saturday May 7, the Kentucky Derby Day).

According to Karmis, the fans are mainly shooting video and taking pictures during the races, and then posting those images to social media networks during the breaks in between. And then there’s the betting, which can be done on premises via the twinspires app, which drives additional traffic. And then there’s the hats and fashion, which are worth lots of pictures themselves, especially if you see any celebrities during the red-carpet parade.

Though there is still a small amount of Wi-Fi in the main track buildings — at least there was a couple years ago when we did a profile on the new networks — the DAS is the workhorse at the venue, which spreads out far and wide and includes an infield area full of fans as well.

“It’s crazy to try to keep up” with the data demands, Karmis said.

With any luck on our side, we’ll be able to get Verizon and T-Mobile to send over their DAS stats after the event to see if the weekend of races can match the DAS total of 15.9 TB from Super Bowl 50. If the AT&T data alone has gone from 2 TB two years ago to 5.1 TB last year, what’s the total going to be for this year? Put your predictions in the comments below!