August 24, 2016

Belmont, Saratoga race tracks to get VenueNext app in 2017

Screenshot of what the Saratoga app might look like. Credit: VenueNext

Screenshot of what the Saratoga app might look like. Credit: VenueNext

Operators of the famed Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course horse-racing tracks have signed a deal with VenueNext to bring that company’s mobile app platform to both venues in 2017, with features including online betting integrated into the mobile app.

In an announcement Monday, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) said it will use VenueNext’s platform and mobile app to provide a set of features to race-day fans including the ability to store digital tickets, to purchase food, beverage and merchandise and have those items delivered to seats, to have wayfinding maps to help fans find their way around the facilities, and to view live and archived content.

The VenueNext apps will also integrate the functionality of the NYRA Bets system into the app, so that fans can place wagers directly from their mobile devices, according to the companies. The VenueNext app will be available first at Belmont Park in the spring of 2017, followed by a summer rollout at Saratoga, the companies said.

What will be interesting to watch is whether or not either track updates its connectivity ahead of the app deployment; according to the Belmont website, that track does have free fan-facing Wi-Fi, but only in the clubhouse areas with limited access in the grandstands. The Saratoga list of amenities for fans does not include any Wi-Fi information.

“VenueNext has a proven track record for delivering innovative fan experiences to sporting venues across the country and we’re proud to partner with them,” said NYRA President & CEO Chris Kay, in a prepared statement. “This partnership is yet another step in our efforts to continuously improve the guest experience through the use of technology. By leveraging VenueNext at Belmont and Saratoga Race Tracks, integrating our new NYRA Bets wagering platform and our new HD Video mobile app, NYRA will create a new standard for the horseracing industry and provide the New York fan base that is so passionate about Belmont and Saratoga the very best experiences possible.”

VenueNext, the stadium app development company created to build the stadium app platform for the San Francisco’s Levi’s Stadium, now has seven announced customers for its various stadium-app and stadium-app management systems, including the Orlando Magic, the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, the Minnesota Vikings, and Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. VenueNext also provided the stadium app for the recent Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.

AT&T: Dems top Republicans for convention wireless data use

There’s an early winner in this year’s election race, at least when it comes to wireless data use: According to AT&T, the Democrats used a total of 5.4 terabytes of data on AT&T networks inside the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia during their convention, compared to 2.8 TB used by the Republicans during their convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Do the traffic totals mean anything for governing our country? Most likely not. But the stats are interesting to look at for stadium technology professionals, especially since an event like a political convention is almost guaranteed to dwarf sporting events given the number of people inside the arenas and the length of action each day.

Remember that these statistics only represent AT&T cellular traffic in each arena, meaning that the actual total of wireless data was probably much higher; that’s because both of the stadiums have in-arena Wi-Fi and internal connectivity for other carriers; but we never got confirmation from either arena whether Wi-Fi was turned on or not, and we did not receive any numbers from other carriers. But — even just the AT&T numbers were impressive to study. Consider:

Average traffic: According to AT&T, traffic during Democratic convention days in late July was 387 percent higher than the average game totals during the Philadelphia Flyers’ playoff series with the Washington Capitals in April. The GOP beat sports too, accoring to AT&T, with an average per-day traffic total 250 percent higher than the total reached during Game 6 of the NBA Finals this year.

Total data use: On July 28, the Wells Fargo Center saw 1.5 TB of traffic on the AT&T cellular network — a pretty big total for a building that isn’t a huge football stadium.

Surrounding area data use: Chew on this stat for a bit from AT&T’s press release: “Across the major venues supporting the DNC – including the arena, Philadelphia Convention Center, along the Ben Franklin Parkway and surrounding areas – we saw approximately 64 TB cross our mobile network during the DNC. During the Pope’s visit last September, we saw 12.6 TB cross our network in Philly.”

Again, the Dems crushed the Republicans on this front — according to AT&T, GOP visitors used 9.4 TB of wireless data at surrounding venues during the event, still an interesting mark but far off the Dems’ totals. What this has us wondering here at stadium-stats central is if we should now separate and include related-area numbers… weigh in with your thoughts, please!

Wi-Fi a winner at Avaya Stadium’s MLS All-Star game

Just before game time at Avaya Stadium for the 2016 MLS All Star game. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Just before game time at Avaya Stadium for the 2016 MLS All Star game. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

On the pitch it was the Arsenal lads emerging victorious over by a 2-1 score over the Major League Soccer All-Stars, but in the stands it was Avaya Stadium’s Wi-Fi network that won the day at the 2016 MLS All-Star game Thursday in San Jose, Calif.

Unlike a year ago at the Avaya Stadium opening, when we found the fan-facing Wi-Fi a bit lacking, the Wi-Fi network performed at top speeds for almost all of our tests during an MSR “walkaround” before and during the MLS All-Star game. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about the cellular network performance in and around Avaya Stadium, with many signals so weak on both the AT&T and Verizon Wireless networks that in most places we couldn’t conduct a speed test.

Leaving behind the question as to why there hasn’t been a DAS installed yet at Avaya Stadium, it was great to see the Wi-Fi network consistently hit download and upload speeds in the mid- to high-20+ Mbps range in just about every spot of the U-shaped soccer-centric arena. In the main seating areas, in the concourses below the stands as well as around the huge open-air bar there was solid connectivity, fueled by what looked like a lot more APs than we saw during vists to the venue last year.

While some of the AP installs looked like last-minute fixes (we saw several instances where paper binder clips were used in Phil Mickelson fashion to secure wiring to metal beams) there was certainly a noticeable amount of extra equipment, especially on the stanchions that loom out over the seating area. There, it seemed like every beam or at least every other beam had three sets of paired APs, which no doubt helped produce a speed test of 28.93/27.44 we took in the middle of the seating area (of section 120, in the closed end zone). Last year, it was a challenge to get a good reading in the middle of the seats.

The top speed test we got Thursday night was outside a sausage stand at one corner of the open end zone, where the meter hit 44.00/33.49 just before game time. We were also impressed by the consistent coverage at the huge outdoor bar in the open end zone, helped no doubt by APs on the top of the bar roof on each end, and three APs per side above the bar server areas.

Somewhat ironically the only place we couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal was in our assigned “press box” seat, actually the upper back corner in the southwest part of the stadium. While we are guessing the problem may have been due to press-laptop overload (or some APs missing from what looked like normal install points), we noticed that by walking one section away from the press section we were able to reconnect with the regular stadium Wi-Fi network at a reading of 18.27/20.38.

One of the many 'doubled' AP installs we saw

One of the many ‘doubled’ AP installs we saw

Most of the 18,000+ fans in the sellout crowd seemed to have no issues connecting to the Internet, as we saw fans heads-down on their devices in all parts of the venue. We did talk to one fan at halftime who said the lack of cellular connectivity outside the main gate kept him from being able to call up his digital tickets on his phone.

“But once I got inside I connected to Wi-Fi and everything was fine,” he said.

On the upper deck walkways we did finally get a fairly strong AT&T 4G LTE signal — 8.23/8.93 — which may have been due to a clear line of sight to the “eyeball” antenna we saw deployed in the VIP parking lot. And while we could make calls and send texts on our Verizon phone 4G LTE connection, trying to load a web page took so long we gave up. Moral of the story is for Avaya Stadium fans: Make sure you hit the GOQUAKES SSID as soon as you’re near the stadium!

Enjoy the rest of our photos from our quick trip to San Jose, and know that while beers may cost $12.50 and shots of Jameson’s may set you back $12 each, at this year’s All-Star game all the Arsenal cheers and songs you ever wanted to hear were free of charge.

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APs like this ringed the lower concourse wall areas

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When the players walk through the concourse to take the pitch, it’s snapshot city

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At the huge end zone bar, it was SRO all day long

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AP visible in middle of roof section of bar

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Pictures and selfies were the order of the day

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The famed sausage stand AP with the 44 down reading. The bratwurst was good, too

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The Avaya Stadium social media wall

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Staying connected in the stands

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Nice view from the upper deck

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I think if I stuck around this group for one more beer I could have learned at least three Arsenal songs

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AT&T eyeball antenna sighting in the VIP parking lot

Survey says 75 percent of major sports arenas have Wi-Fi

Sos_thumb_2016MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the STATE OF THE STADIUM TECHNOLOGY SURVEY 2016, our fourth annual look at technology deployments in major stadiums and arenas. Inside the report we have replies from more than 90 leading sports venues to get a snapshot of technology deployments in several categories, including Wi-Fi, DAS, Analytics, Fan Engagement and Digital Signage. Our survey and analysis shows that:

— Wi-Fi deployments have continued to increase, jumping to 75 percent of all respondents

— DAS deployments have reached 95 percent of all respondent venues

— Ticketing programs still dominate sports CRM usage
Wi-Fi analytics and other digital-information tracking programs are still in their infancy, but more teams are deploying digital-communications strategies.

These results are the only statistical breakdown of what’s being deployed in the stadium technology deployment marketplace so… DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY TODAY!

Mobile Sports Report would like to thank all the representatives from the major professional sports leagues, including the NBA, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NHL and the MLS, as well as representatives from major colleges and universities and other sporting and entertainment arenas who took time to participate in our fourth-annual survey. It’s their sharing of time and information that makes our survey possible, so thanks!

Mobile Sports Report would also like to thank JMA Wireless for their sponsorship of this year’s survey, which allows us to offer this information free of charge to our readers.

Fan-facing Wi-Fi on hold as Coliseum gets ready for Rams’ return to Los Angeles

DAS antennas visible on the LA Coliseum's facade

DAS antennas visible on the LA Coliseum’s facade

Normally when a new professional sports franchise comes to town or opens a new venue, preparations move into overdrive pretty quickly — especially for infrastructure like luxury suites, Wi-Fi and DAS.

But this is the Los Angeles Rams, and nothing about the team’s trajectory is normal, including the technology. So after making good on a longstanding threat to move the team from St. Louis, owner Stan Kroenke in January broke ground on a new, $2.6 billion “NFL Disneyland” venue in the LA suburb of Inglewood. It’s expected to be ready in time for the 2019 season. So for right now, the returning Rams will play at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

While it has an established and robust DAS system, the Coliseum has no dedicated, fan-facing Wi-Fi network, just as the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis didn’t. But it’s LA, baby. Kanye. Jack. Celebrity sightings means more bandwidth is needed, not less. But the first appearance of Wi-Fi at the venerable Coliseum won’t be for fans, but for operations.

Relying on DAS for fan wireless

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!

Artist rendering of the proposed new LA football stadium

Artist rendering of the proposed new LA football stadium

So when the Rams play their first pre-season game at the Coliseum in August against the Dallas Cowboys, fans will have to rely on the DAS network for connectivity. AT&T, Verizon Wireless and more recently T-Mobile, are the DAS carriers; Sprint trucks in a COW for USC games.

The Rams will bring in their own Wi-Fi for communications to and from the sidelines, along with their Microsoft Surface tablets, according to Derek Thatcher, IT manager at the Coliseum and an employee of USC, which oversees and administers the venue for Los Angeles County. There will also be private Wi-Fi in the locker rooms and the officiating rooms. Thatcher’s working closely with the Rams and the NFL, including one of the NFL’s frequency coordinators, to ensure everybody has the bandwidth they need.

Separate from the Rams and the NFL, USC is undertaking a major renovation of the Coliseum, home to the university’s storied football team. The $270 million project cost will be funded entirely by USC Athletics from capital gifts, sponsorship revenue, non-USC athletic events at the Coliseum, and donor naming opportunities. “The project will not require any student fees or general university, local, state or federal funds,” the university said on ColiseumRenovation.com.

In addition to significant expansion of luxury suites and press box facilities (which houses most the IT and networking gear for the Coliseum), USC will also be adding public Wi-Fi and is talking with different vendors about their requirements.

DAS antennas inside the concourse

DAS antennas inside the concourse

It is worth noting that Aruba Networks provides wireless networking for most of the adjacent USC campus (more than 5,000 APs), including the Galen Center and USC’s healthcare facilities. Thatcher emphasized the bidding was open to all vendors.

Waiting for the new stadium to be built

The Coliseum’s current capacity is 93,600 and the NFL will use 80,000 seats; post-renovation, capacity will be 77,500, due to replacement of all seats and addition of handrails to the aisles. That’s good news for Wi-Fi engineers, since the Coliseum’s bowl design has no overhangs to speak of; DAS antennas are mounted to poles that ring the stadium, and also above the bowl’s entry and exit tunnels. “Underseat AP design is expensive… we could end up with underseat and handrail,” Thatcher told Mobile Sports Report. “We’re looking at all possible solutions.”

The renovation is scheduled to begin right after USC’s 2017 football season ends and is expected to be done in time for the 2019 opener. The university said it will plan the construction schedule so that 2018 season can still be played at the Coliseum.

The other wild card in the Coliseum’s future is the Los Angeles bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. The city has already done the honors before (1932, 1984) and the Coliseum served as the Olympic Stadium both times; a third time hosting would be unprecedented. But because of LA’s experience, coupled with plenty of already-built sporting venues to handle a plethora of events and requirements, it was natural for the US Olympic Committee to turn to LA once Boston bailed.

The city’s bid includes $300 million for additional renovations to the Coliseum.

Rome, Paris and Budapest are also competing to host the games. The winner will be announced by the International Olympic Committee in September 2017.

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.