March 29, 2015

Analysis: NBA, NHL teams getting into Wi-Fi without league help

So who needs a league-wide stadium networking strategy, anyway? Neither the NBA nor the NHL has such a beast, but it doesn’t seem to be stopping the deployment of fan-facing Wi-Fi services that now reach almost every NBA arena and almost two-thirds of NHL venues.

The two biggest leagues for professional indoor sports in the U.S. may share a lack of a coherent, public league-wide networking strategy, but they also share a similarity that may make such strategies unattainable, even if they existed. Namely, because the venues that the teams play in are almost always used for multiple purposes – like concerts and other events – it’s hard for one league or one team to exert control over what goes on inside.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 4.38.32 PMThe “we’re just a tenant” point was made to us directly by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, during his live visit to the Coors Light Stadium Series game between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings at Levi’s Stadium in February. In a great non-answer answer, when we asked Bettman directly if there was a league- wide plan to bring Wi-Fi to all stadiums, he answered, “All our arenas are being upgraded [from a technology standpoint]. From bigger video boards to Wi-Fi we know our fans want what they want, when they want it.”

In other words: Gary gets it, but you’re not going to get him to issue any kind of Roger Goodell edict for league-wide Wi-Fi that still hasn’t happened, three years after it was said. He’s too smart to pin himself down like that. But with 19 out of its 30 arenas already having free fan-facing Wi-Fi, and more on the way, Bettman and the NHL are making pretty good progress when you consider that the league doesn’t have as much income as the other large U.S. pro sports.

NBA Wi-Fi getting more publicity

Editor’s note: This analysis is part of our new Stadium Tech Report HOOPS AND HOCKEY ISSUE, available for free download. In addition to this story it contains additional profiles and team-by-team tech capsules for all 30 NBA teams. Download your copy today!

On the hoops side, the NBA still seems to be trying to figure out exactly what it wants to say about a league-wide strategy for stadium networks. After patiently asking NBA officials several times for an interview or at the very least some kind of public statement about stadium networking, all we’ve heard out of Adam Silver’s new regime is silence. Maybe it’s because the league doesn’t want to mess up a good thing that is already happening?

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 4.38.39 PMWith 24 out of the NBA’s 29 venues already wired for Wi-Fi, having such a “strategy” may already be somewhat of a moot point. On the promotion side, things have improved a bit from last year, when our look at NBA stadium Wi-Fi found that while many stadiums had Wi-Fi, only a few had any information about it on their team websites.

As the calendar changed to 2015, almost half of the teams with Wi-Fi now have some kind of information about the service on their team web pages, although only six teams (representing five facilities) have a note about Wi-Fi in the all-encompassing “A-Z guides” that are probably the first place a lot of fans would look for such info. While the lack of online information about Wi-Fi in NBA stadiums is still puzzling, we’ve also come to the conclusion that it may not matter that much if teams have in-arena promotions for the Wi-Fi services. One message on the arena big screen, for example, is probably a lot more effective at getting fans connected than any web page item.

Upside and downside of the scattered approach

While it’s easy to point to the hundreds of millions in revenue dollars generated by Major League Baseball’s unified digital and stadium-networking approach as a barometer of success, there may be a lot of benefit in letting individual teams chart their own paths when it comes to in-building networks and the digital access that follows. Even the limited look at the league-wide deployments found in our most recent profiles sees four completely different ways of reaching toward the same goal, of using wireless networks to build an improved fan experience that can also be tapped for more granular marketing data.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 4.44.11 PMSince no single technical or software platform has yet established dominance in the stadium Wi-Fi, DAS or stadium app marketplaces, the competition right now can only benefit stadium owners and operators, since it increases the choices available while keeping pricing down. The flip side of that equation is that venue owners and operators need to arm themselves with either better education or a qualified partner to help sift through the choices to find one that makes fiscal sense, as well as the capability to handle the still-growing demand for wireless data bandwidth, which as of yet shows no signs of plateauing.

With any luck, the information side is one place where we can help, with our stadium profiles and other supplemental reports like our annual State of the Stadium survey, which once again this year will be delivered at the SEAT Conference, this year in July right here in San Francisco. In addition to our quarterly reports we have some other projects in the works, including a focused report on beaconing technology, which is rapidly finding converts for its ability to hyper-locate digitally connected fans. Stay tuned to the MSR website and sign up for our email newsletter to make sure you don’t miss anything. And if you have a story to share, by all means give us a holler so that others can learn from your successes, as well as from your lessons learned along the way.

Nationwide Arena tops 1.3 Terabytes in weekend wireless traffic for NCAA games

Nationwide Arena. Photos Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Nationwide Arena. Photos Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Like big events in other sports, the opening rounds of the popular NCAA men’s basketball tournament are producing lots of wireless data use by fans at the games, with one venue — Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio — recording more than 1.3 terabytes of combined Wi-Fi and DAS traffic during its two days of competition.

With second- and third-round games on Friday, March 22 and Sunday, March 24, Nationwide Arena saw 844 total GB of data on its internal Wi-Fi network, according to neutral host operator Mobilitie. The traffic was significantly higher for Sunday’s games, which featured Oklahoma’s win over Dayton and West Virginia’s victory over Maryland, with 711 GB of Wi-Fi traffic on Sunday that followed 133 GB used on Friday.

On the Nationwide Arena DAS, also hosted by Mobilitie, AT&T reported an additional 459 GB of traffic for its customers over the two days of competition, a total of 1.303 TB of combined Wi-Fi and AT&T DAS traffic. DAS traffic for customers of other wireless carriers was not reported.

For AT&T, only the KFC Yum! Arena in Louisville, Ky., had more AT&T DAS traffic for the opening round games, with a total of 515 GB used by AT&T customers over the two days of competition there. Other arenas with AT&T DAS reports included the Moda Center in Portland, Ore., (409 GB) and the Consul Energy Center in Pittsburgh (408 GB). We are still waiting for Wi-Fi reports from those arenas, if we get them we will update this post.

Stadium Tech Report: Average connectivity doesn’t seem to hurt Avaya Stadium experience

Panoramic view of the packed house at Avaya Stadium for the official debut.

Panoramic view of the packed house at Avaya Stadium for the official debut.

From a strictly wireless perspective, the opening-day performance of the Avaya Stadium Wi-Fi network was good in some spots and very poor in others, leading to an overall grade of average at best. But the Wi-Fi issues didn’t seem to take anything away from the smashing debut of a facility purpose-built for soccer and well-designed for an easy, fun fan experience, even with a sellout crowd of 18,000 on hand.

Mobile Sports Report visited Avaya Stadium for its “official” debut, Sunday’s San Jose Earthquakes’ MLS season home opener against the Chicago Fire, which ended in a 2-1 San Jose victory. But the team on the field wasn’t the only winner, as fans seemed to be smiling and enjoying every part of the new $100 million venue, from its huge end-zone bar and its close-to-the-field seats, to the pre-game picnic area with food trucks, music, and space for kids to run around. Well-planned parking and traffic operations seemed to cause few problems, with most fans finding their way to their seats in the new park in time for the just-after-4 p.m. kickoff.

If my unofficial walk-around testing was any true barometer, my guess is that the only problem some fans might have had Sunday was trying to connect to the Internet to post the thousands of selfies I saw being taken with smartphones. With almost zero cellular communication inside the stadium, and very low Wi-Fi readings in much of the seating bowl, my tests lead me to conclude that while the stadium is wonderful right now for watching futbol, its wireless connectivity is still a work in progress but one that should get better soon when the planned neutral-host DAS from Mobilitie gets installed and becomes operational.

Parking and traffic a breeze

Since I arrived early and had an employee-lot parking pass (thanks to the Earthquakes for the media pass and parking) I didn’t encounter any traffic at all either in my drive down 101 or on the streets leading to the stadium. Approaching from the north on 6-lane wide Coleman Avenue, there was very clear signage for each of the parking lots, and no backups in sight at 2 p.m., two hours before the scheduled start.

Fans waiting outside the main gate

Fans waiting outside the main gate

Since it’s about one-fourth the size of its neighbor to the north, the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium, Avaya Stadium probably won’t have the same kinds of transit and parking issues that plagued Levi’s during its inaugural season. It also seems like the Avaya Stadium location is a much better setup for getting in and out of the stadium, with the wide Coleman Avenue and the huge dirt lots directly adjacent to the venue. Walking past some early bird tailgaters I was at the stadium gates in a couple minutes. In both the employee lot and the closest regular parking lot, I couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal at all but cellular connectivity was pretty good (7+ Mbps on Verizon 4G LTE), as I could see several large cell towers around the edges of the lots. Even with a packed parking area, fans should still be able to get a signal on their way in.

For my early entry time I didn’t see any issues with stadium entry technology, but the lack of metal-detector gates (security personnel used handheld wands to scan each fan as they entered) might be something that slows down the process of getting into the stadium. I did notice larger lines around 3:30 p.m., but like anywhere else the entry procedures will likely only improve with time.

Before coming to Avaya Stadium I downloaded the new team app, which seemed a little bare-bones. Since I didn’t have a ticket I couldn’t test the digital season-ticket integration, but I was able to use the directions to the stadium feature and the stadium map, which provides a helpful picture-view of all amenities that can be found in the U-shaped seating area as well as the open-air bar. The map is interactive, giving you a description of each amenity (bathrooms, team store, etc.) when you touch the associated icon. As of yet there is no way to use the app to pay for concessions or to view any live or archived video. Like other stadium apps, including Levi’s, the Avaya Stadium app will likely grow in functionality over time.

Wi-Fi performance: Great on the concourses, weak in the seats

Just after finding my “exterior press box” seat in possibly the “worst” part of the stands — the upper northwest corner — I quickly saw how Avaya Stadium was going to deliver its Wi-Fi signals to the seating area, by looking up at the metal beams supporting the awnings that are the open-air “roof.” On each beam I could see anywhere from two to three Wi-Fi access points, all targeted directly down at the seats below them. The Avaya Wi-Fi deployment has no under-the-seat APs or any handrail APs that I could see, but there are lots of other APs visible on top of concession stands and other places around the single, ground-level concourse. There are also some APs attached to the huge bar area that spans across the open east end of the stadium. Gaining access to the network was a snap, done by just clicking on the “proceed” button that popped up on the splash screen that appears after you select the “GOQUAKES” SSID on your device. There was no login credential or password required.

The view from our seat, probably the "worst" in the place

The view from our seat, probably the “worst” in the place

How did the network perform? Before the stadium filled up, my rooftop seat had a signal between 5 and 7 Mbps on the download and upload sides, a figure that would decline steadily as the day progressed. Walking down the steep stairs into the largely empty seating bowl, the Wi-Fi speeds decreased, with a couple readings in the 2-3 Mbps download range near the lowest row of seats.

Hungry because I hadn’t had lunch, I ventured out past the huge end-zone bar to a large grassy area that was lined with food trucks and filled with soccer fans having impromptu picnics with lots of kids running around. There were various booths for soccer clubs and from sponsors, as well as a band, which made the area seem (in a good way) more like a county fair than a pro sporting event. I couldn’t get a Wi-Fi connection out on the lawn, but I was able to get a good cellular signal, around 8 Mbps, on my Verizon device (an iPhone 6 Plus). Feeling thirsty I headed to the bar, where Wi-Fi kicked in again, with one signal of 22 Mbps down and 17 Mbps up.

Heading back through the now-crowded concourse toward my seat, I stopped and got a Wi-Fi reading of almost 16 Mbps down and 9 Mbps up, in the middle of a large throng of fans. But I wouldn’t hit that mark again the rest of the afternoon, which makes me wonder how well the network held up under a full-house load.

Up close and personal areas a hit with fans

Panoramic view from the cheering section

Panoramic view from the cheering section

Since I’d never been to a professional soccer game before I decided to soak in as much fan flavor as I could. At Avaya Stadium I headed down to the space behind the west end zone, in the closed end of the stadium, where there are several rows of standing-room only spaces where some of the loudest fans congregated (there was one group with a band, and many flags). Directly above the standing section was a seat section reserved for the team’s ardent followers, many of which spent the entire game standing, cheering, chanting and singing. Down below, I was fortunate enough to be close to the action and saw the Earthquakes’ first goal in their new home arena, a double header off a corner kick.

And though I was able to catch the score on video, because there was basically zero Wi-Fi signal there (I was directly underneath the bottom row of the stands) I wasn’t able to immediately post it to Twitter or Vine. Not that I cared that much, since it was fun to be swept up in the chanting and cheering and streamer-tossing that followed the goal. So even if I wasn’t connected wirelessly, I was certainly connected to the fans right around me — which, I think, is what Avaya Stadium is all about.


I’m no wireless engineer, but I was hardly surprised that the Wi-Fi signal in the seats wasn’t strong; looking way up at the APs on the roof, they seem too far away to be able to provide a high level of connectivity to the seats below, especially the ones closest to field level. Other stadiums we’ve covered in the near past have already either started or are making plans to increase the Wi-Fi APs at field level, since that’s one of the toughest areas to put an AP.

But like in the standing section, I’m not sure that Wi-Fi connectivity is a big deal for fans in the seats during the game action, which in case you’ve not watched soccer, has no breaks like timeouts or inning changes. I’m generalizing here but I think that the continuous-flow of soccer action inherently results in fans who simply watch the game instead of taking breaks to check their phones (Mark Cuban, here’s your sport!). So maybe the expense of bringing Wi-Fi to all the seats at Avaya Stadium isn’t justified.

Halftime view of fans checking phones

Halftime view of fans checking phones

That said, it seemed like during halftime there were a lot of people looking at devices in their stadium seats, but I didn’t hear any howls or complaints or see any obvious frustration. I do know that at my seat on the stadium’s top walkway (which can get very very very windy in the late afternoon) the Wi-Fi signal was weak the whole game, never registering more than 1 Mbps on the download side from the start of the game through the second half.

But again, this is just one phone and one person, a person who was also walking around a lot and connecting to multiple APs, a factor that sometimes makes network connections inconsistent. I did find that turning Wi-Fi off and on again helped get a better signal; when we hear back from the stadium network team we’ll ask if the network has been optimized for roaming connections. I did notice that the beer stand on the top deck just behind my “press box” seat was using cell phones and a payment-device gizmo to take credit card payments; when I asked the staffer running the stand she said she’d been taking payments all game using the regular Wi-Fi and hadn’t had any connectivity issues. So, the connectivity mileage may vary.

DAS to the rescue

Though team executives have talked a lot about the stadium’s networking plans, it would be better for fans right now to have a more realistic estimate of what is going on, and when future enhancements like video and food ordering will become a reality. Some improvement will happen in a big way when Mobilitie gets the neutral-host DAS up and running, since many people never think of joining a stadium Wi-Fi network, they just pull out their phones and hope for the best. With advanced cellular in the building, the connectivity loads will be shared between cellular and Wi-Fi, increasing overall capacity. Sunday, I wasn’t able to get either an AT&T 4G device or my Verizon phone to even register with Speedtest.com to get a figure anywhere inside the stadium using a cellular-only connection. While most fans might have been able to send text messages or get regular voice calls, it’s a good guess that many like me were stymied trying to do simple data tasks like post messages to Twitter. It will be interesting to see what the network folks from Avaya Stadium say when they give us the opening-day report.

Cheers to Avaya Stadium from the end zone bar!

Cheers to Avaya Stadium from the end zone bar!

In the end, my first impression from a wireless point of view is that Avaya Stadium has a basic, average level of connectivity for a new stadium, with enough reasons to believe it’s going to get better over time. I’m also cutting them some slack since the technology supplier for the venue changed wholesale last year when Avaya came in as a title sponsor, leaving just a few short months for Avaya to get its own gear in the building and in working order. Again, I’m no engineer but I did see things like electrical tape holding some antenna connections in place, the kind of stuff you don’t expect to see in a professional stadium deployment.

And while the connectivity didn’t particularly stand out as awesome, it also was good enough in enough places to make sure there wasn’t the dreaded “no signal” issue that could have soured things for lots of fans. In the end, there was so much to like about the facility — even in my top-row seat I felt close to the action on the field — that it’s hard to call the day anything short of a smashing success, especially if you are a Bay area soccer fan who’s had to endure sub-par stadium experiences in the past. Those days are gone, and Avaya Stadium should be a fast favorite place going forward.

LOTS OF PHOTOS BELOW! Click on any picture for a larger image. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR.

Avaya Stadium, from the employee parking lot

Avaya Stadium, from the employee parking lot

Tailgate action before the game

Tailgate action before the game

Connecting to Wi-Fi was easy

Connecting to Wi-Fi was easy

Interactive stadium map was one of the best things in the app

Interactive stadium map was one of the best things in the app

Wi-Fi APs attached to roof beams

Wi-Fi APs attached to roof beams

More APs, underneath the canopy roof

More APs, underneath the canopy roof

Still more AP views

Still more AP views

Another AP, out on the end of the stanchion

Another AP, out on the end of the stanchion

A view to give perspective on how far away the roof-beam APs are from the stands

A view to give perspective on how far away the roof-beam APs are from the stands

Seats with promo scarves. The team asked fans to donate if they wanted to keep the scarves.

Seats with promo scarves. The team asked fans to donate if they wanted to keep the scarves.

More Wi-Fi APs, on the concourse level. This was above a bathroom entrance.

More Wi-Fi APs, on the concourse level. This was above a bathroom entrance.

Wi-Fi APs atop small building near the open end zone

Wi-Fi APs atop small building near the open end zone

Good view of standing-room area in front of end zone bar. It was packed all game.

Good view of standing-room area in front of end zone bar. It was packed all game.

Panoramic view of the picnic lawn. Hey there Quakes fan!

Panoramic view of the picnic lawn. Hey there Quakes fan!

Fans waiting to get in, about a half hour before game time

Fans waiting to get in, about a half hour before game time

Where the rich folks watch from: Over the gate view of a club level area and their nice buffet

Where the rich folks watch from: Over the gate view of a club level area and their nice buffet

Lots of selfies being taken Sunday

Lots of selfies being taken Sunday

You can see the big screen from just about everywhere in the place -- great resolution

You can see the big screen from just about everywhere in the place — great resolution

Stadium Tech Report: Wireless connectivity brings fans and business benefits to the Palace at Auburn Hills

The Palace at Auburn Hills. Credit all photos, Palace at Auburn Hills (click on any photo for a larger image).

The Palace at Auburn Hills. Credit all photos, Palace at Auburn Hills (click on any photo for a larger image).

Not too long ago, a marketing executive who was new to the Detroit Pistons’ ownership team tried to post a tweet during a game at the Palace of Auburn Hills. But to get the message to send, he had to … step outside the building.

Fast forward a few years, and the situation is completely reversed. Not only is there a storm of wireless connectivity inside the Palace, that same Wi-Fi and cellular traffic is keeping fans inside, bringing new fans in and giving the Pistons management team better insight into what all those fans want.

Using technology as an “accelerant,” the Pistons have changed the game for the fans and for themselves, seeding a process that seems destined to help the team build business success as their fan base evolves into one that expects and delights from an always-connected experience.

In a story-telling twist, we’ll tell you one of the early ends to this tale now: Even though the Pistons have suffered on the court of late, finishing the 2013-14 season with a 29-53 record, the team this year had a season ticket renewal rate above 80 percent, according to the Pistons management. Either there’s massive optimism in Motor City, or the Pistons ownership team is doing something very right in making the game-day experience something fans want to keep experiencing.

If you want to believe more in the latter reason, then listen to what Dennis Mannion, president and CEO of Palace Sports and Entertainment and the Detroit Pistons, has to say: There are a lot of smart programs now in place and some that are just starting to take off, but none of it happens, he said, without a solid communications core.

“It always comes back to the great accelerator, technology,” Mannion said.

Building the network inside the building

Editor’s note: This profile is part of our new Stadium Tech Report HOOPS AND HOCKEY ISSUE, available for free download. In addition to this story it contains additional profiles and team-by-team tech capsules for all 30 NBA teams. Download your copy today!

Mannion, who joined the Pistons in 2011 following a long career in sports management that included time as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ president and COO, and stints with the Baltimore Ravens, Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia Phillies, said the new commitment to technology started at the Pistons’ ownership level, where they knew things needed to change.

“When I came in to the job we knew there needed to be some technology improvements [at the Palace],” Mannion said. “We needed to make games more of a happening for our fans.” As part of an overall stadium renovation project that cost somewhere between $13 and $15 million, the Pistons started bringing the Palace into the world of wireless connectivity.

Screen shot of Pistons app

Screen shot of Pistons app

For help, Mannion and the Palace team enlised a Detroit sports-stadium technology consulting firm called Nuvuz Sports, run by CEO Scott Wruble, a former tech exec with the NBA and MLB, and chief marketing officer Jim Wolski. According to Wolski, when the technology revamp of the Palace started in 2012, there was a bit of a connectivity hill to climb.

“The entire building had nine cable modems, total,” Wolski said.

The first step was to start with a DAS, or distributed antenna system, to make sure cellular carriers could connect with their customers. The Palace team wound up picking Verizon Wireless to act as lead on a neutral-host DAS deployment, which is currently in the process of adding AT&T and Sprint to its system.

Opened in 1988, the Palace had some physical challenges when it came to wireless technology, including the omnipresent question of retrofits — where do you put the DAS head end? In the Palace’s case, the solution was a new building built outside, in a Palace parking lot.

Verizon helped on the next step in the deployment process by bringing in their longtime technology partner Ericsson to deliver the gear for the building’s Wi-Fi network. Though somewhat of a newcomer in the stadium Wi-Fi space, Ericsson’s long history in telecommunications equipment showed through with the Wi-Fi deployment, according to Mike Donnay, vice president for brand networks at Palace Sports & Entertainment.

“The performance from the Ericsson [Wi-Fi] equipment is super high,” said Donnay, who was the exec who had to leave the building to send the tweet before the renovation happened. Now, with 238 Wi-Fi access points in the venue (which seats 22,076 for basketball) Donnay doesn’t have any problems tweeting.

Nuvuz’s Wolski said that in addition to providing fan Internet access, the internal Wi-Fi network also powers the game-day ticketing operation as well as concession point of sale. It also is the base for a large suite of fan engagement platforms, which are hyper-targeted to the many different types of Pistons or other event fans who walk in the doors.

Clusters within the clusters

Kevin Grigg, vice president of public relations for the Pistons, said Mannion’s “big picture” ROI is to use technology to engage fans in a one-on-one relationship.

“The biggest challenge [in the past] has been if you are a fan and you buy a ticket, we didn’t know who you are,” Grigg said. “Now, we’re in a position to identify people during the engagement.”

Nuvuz’s Wolski concurs.

“It chages the game when you know who they [the fans] are,” Wolski said.

Mannion said the Pistons’ IT team is already well into the implementation of an elaborate fan-engagement system that breaks the fan base into multiple segments that can each be targeted with programs tailored to their wants and needs.

palace2a“We have different fan bases, from those who buy courtside seats, to those in corprate suites to families,” Mannion said. “We have affinity groups, like ‘future Pistons,’ women’s groups, and people interested mainly in attending concerts. We have clusters within clusters. And we use a combination of media, memories and merchandise for each cluster.”

On the team side, Mannion said that “even perceived ‘inside access’ is a real turn-on. Fans like to join, belong and brag.” Some ways fans can get “closer” to the team is to use the stadium app’s seat-upgrade feature (powered by partner PogoSeat) to purchase seats closer to the action, or by special access like post-game shootarounds on the court floor.

There is also a big focus on Pistons-related content, both from the team as well as from fans themselves. And increasingly, fans are turning to social media to share this content. The Pistons have responded with tricks like putting selfies tagged with the #pistonspride hashtag right onto the new huge center court video board.

The tech team also just added beacon technology to the Palace, and are already offering beacon-powered features like seat upgrades to fans who have seats in the upper levels, and discounts on merchandise to fans who are walking right outside the team shops. There are also scoreboard trivia contests and real-time fan polling, all of which keep fans engaged with the team and game even as they stare at their mobile devices.

“We wouldn’t be able to do all this without a connected arena,” Donnay said.

Connected now and for the future

Right now, Donnay said that approximately one-third of a regular Pistons game audience uses the Wi-Fi network, a take rate among the higher of reported crowd participation numbers. The Palace team also uses the Wi-Fi network to connect to 30 “smart carts,” which are mobile food carts that can be moved around (even outside the building) to take advantage of being where hungry fans are.

“It’s interesting to watch the heat maps of how the building is filling, and being able to tell concessions where to beef up,” Mannion said. In the past, he noted, many such game-day operations were decided by “gut feelings,” which could be right or could be wrong. Now, he said, there are facts and figures to back up the guesswork.

“Now you can still act on gut feelings, but you also have ways to prove what’s going on,” Mannion said. “You can do a digital promotion for food and beverage, and immediately measure the impact. That’s really fascinating.”

Even as they build on early successes, the team behind the Palace’s new tech operations knows that these are early days, and much work lies ahead. One current “big drag,” Mannion notes, is the plethora of social-media sharing platforms, a mix that includes Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and others, almost too many to track coherently.

There’s also a big challenge to keep pace with all the potential partners and digital features that could be added, like instant replays or food ordering for the stadium app; Mannion noted: “The question is, how do you create the right kind of [feature] incubation system, without spending too much money?”

At the very least, the Pistons team has grabbed a leading position in the connected-arena future, one where having advanced connectivity and engagement programs is table stakes to attract new potential season ticket buyers.

“We’ve seen colleges experience heartaches” when their fans leave because the stadiums don’t have connectivity, said Donney. “That’s the fan base that’s coming to the NBA. They’re going to expect that technology, so we’re going to have to be very good at it.”

So far, the Pistons and the Palace seem to be ahead of the curve of the new era of connected stadiums and the fans who fill them. Mannion, for one, knows he’s now in a much different business than the one he’s spent most of his career in.

“It’s a lot different now,” he said, “than just opening up the window and selling tickets.”

NCAA Tournament Wi-Fi and DAS: Send us your stats!

Nationwide Arena. Photos Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Nationwide Arena. Photos Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Given that the games are numerous and spread out far and wide, it’s our guess that wireless-data consumption totals from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament regional sites are not quite approaching the “big game” numbers of say, a Super Bowl or the recent College Football Playoff championship game. Still, there are probably some interesting peaks and totals so as an open request to all involved, please send us any and all Wi-Fi and DAS stats from the weekend’s games and we’ll compile a list of what we get next week.

AT&T, as usual, was in with some early numbers, namely the DAS stats for the AT&T network in place at the University of Dayton Arena, where the first-round play-in games were held earlier this week. According to AT&T it saw 144 gigabytes of data used on the DAS during the four games over two days, again not Super Bowl numbers but still a big chunk of data and something to think about if your facility is planning to host a similar “big event” in the near future.

So who’s got Wi-Fi and who doesn’t for the NCAA sites? Our unofficial list is as follows:

Wi-Fi for fans available:
KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky
Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh
Moda Center, Portland
Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte
Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland
Staples Center, Los Angeles
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis

No Wi-Fi
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville
CenturyLink Center Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska
KeyArena, Seattle
NRG Stadium, Houston

If any MSR readers are out at the games, send us a speedtest…

Stadium Tech Report: Blazing a Trail to Connectivity at Portland’s Moda Center

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)

When it comes time to build a stadium network there are two obvious choices of how to get it done: You let someone else build and run it, or do it yourself.

When neither of these options appealed to the Portland Trail Blazers and their planned networking upgrade at the Moda Center, they went with a third option: Using a neutral host provider for both DAS and Wi-Fi.

After turning to neutral host provider Crown Castle to build out the enhanced cellular DAS (distributed antenna system) network as well as a fan-facing Wi-Fi network, Portland’s home at the Moda Center now has a level of wireless connectivity that mirrors the team’s excellent on-court performance — challenging for the NBA lead and looking to keep improving.

With Wi-Fi gear from Aruba Networks and an app developed by YinzCam, fans at Trail Blazers games can use the stadium Wi-Fi to gain access to live-action video streams, player stats and even a radio broadcast of the game. The app also supports seat upgrades, a feature powered by Experience.

Now in its second year of existence, the network and all its attributes are a big hit with Portland fans, according to Vincent Ircandia, vice president for business analytics and ticket operations for the Trail Blazers, and Mike Janes, vice president of engineering and technology for the Trail Blazers.

“We do a lot of fan surveys, and the approval [for the network] continues to go up,” said Janes. “We want to figure out what we can do next.”

Third-party the third and correct choice

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Aruba Wi-FI AP in the rafters at Moda Center

Aruba Wi-FI AP in the rafters at Moda Center

If you dial the clock hands back a few years you would find an arena in Portland with not much connectivity at all, and fans who made their displeasure over the situation known, loud and clearly.

“Trail Blazers fans are not shy about letting us know how they feel,” Ircandia said. “Two years ago we learned that fans didn’t have much connectivity here [at the Moda Center]. That was a real gap in the customer experience.”

Janes said the top two methods of bringing a network in — allowing a carrier to build and operate it, or to build and run it themselves — both had significant drawbacks.

“You could hand it over to a carrier [to be a neutral host] but I’ve seen that before, where one carrier has to ride on another carrier’s DAS,” Janes said. “That’s not a good solution.”

The DIY option, Janes said, would mean that the Trail Blazers team would have to build the networks themselves, and hire someone to manage it.

“That would mean we would have to deal with the [multiple] carriers directly, and we didn’t want to do that,” Janes said.

In the end, Portland went with the neutral host option, with Crown Castle building and running the DAS and installing a Wi-Fi network as well. With its wide experience in building and managing DAS deployments, Crown Castle already has AT&T and Verizon as tenants on the Moda Center DAS, with Sprint coming on soon and possibly T-Mobile joining in the near future.

And on the Wi-Fi side, the team itself “owns” the network and the associated data — “and that’s good, because we are starting to take deeper dives into that,” Janes said.

And how’s it all operating?

“No complaints [recently],” Janes said. “The fans are pretty quiet when it’s just working.”

User numbers flat, data use doubles

Maybe those users are quiet because they are busy posting pictures to Instagram or posts to Facebook, two of the leading applications being used at the Moda Center, according to the Trail Blazers. According to Ircandia, what’s interesting about the usage patterns from last year to this year is that while the number of fans using the network has remained fairly stable (at about 25 percent of attendees), the amount of wireless data consumed has just about doubled from last season to this season, meaning that people are doing more things on the network.

Toyota pregame show on the Moda Center concourse

Toyota pregame show on the Moda Center concourse

Some of that may have to do with a redesigned app, which added four live streams of video action, as well as live radio broadcast coverage.

“We didn’t leave [interaction] to chance,” Janes said. “We spent a lot of effort improving the app and redesigning the web presence to make it more enticing and robust.”

While having more features is always a good step, a big part of the challenge for any team is just getting fans to use the network and the team app. At Moda Center, there is a unique method of network promotion, which also directly benefits the team: By selling the “sponsorship” of the network to local-area Toyota dealers, the stadium operators now have a partner who actively promotes the network to fans walking into the building.

According to Ircandia, the Toyota dealers also sponsor a pregame show, set on the arena concourse with the team’s dancers in attendance to help attract attention. “They [Toyota] want to sell cars, so they have a lot of signage [about the network],” in addition to the show, Incardia said.

If there is such a thing as a good problem, there is one involving the ticket upgrade feature: Since the Trail Blazers have such passionate fans and are doing so well, there aren’t many available seats to offer for upgrades. “It’s a bit of a constrained inventory,” Janes said. Still, the team is using the Experience feature to offer last-minute ticket deals to students in the area, alerting them that there are seats available that may have a chance to be upgraded.

“They [students] have the time to drop whatever they’re doing to come over to the game,” Janes said.

Retrofitting an old flower

Previously known as the Rose Garden, the arena, which was built in 1995, clearly wasn’t initially designed with wireless connectivity in mind.

“We were retrofitting for technology that didn’t exist [when the building was built],” Ircandia said. “That’s where creativity comes in.”

DAS headend gear

DAS headend gear

Some of the creativity in network design included separate Wi-Fi antennas for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz transmissions, so that older devices didn’t have to compete with newer devices for the best Wi-Fi connection. Ircandia also said that the Moda Center “created” some new DAS headend space up in the highest reaches of the building.

“We built catwalks above the catwalks,” Ircandia said.

Looking ahead to what’s next, Janes said the network team is looking to use wireless to connect to food and beverage carts, so that point of sale operations don’t need to be tied to a plug in the wall.

“If we go wireless we can move the carts around, even put them outside, which gives us a business case improvement with no impact to the fans,” Janes said.

And now that those fans know what is possible, they will want what they have now, and more.

“That’s their expectation now,” Janes said, “that it will work when they walk in the building.”