April 19, 2015

Stadium Tech Professionals: Time to take our 2015 stadium tech survey!

SOS14_thumbIf you are a stadium technology professional working for a school, team or stadium ownership group, it’s that time of year again — we need your participation to make our 2015 State of the Stadium Technology Survey our best yet! Now in its third year of existence, the “State of the Stadium” survey is the only independent, large-public-venue research that charts deployments of stadium technology like Wi-Fi, DAS, Digital Signage and Beaconing, and the use of digital sports marketing tools like CRM and social media. If you are part of a stadium operations group and know the answers, take the 2015 survey right now!

Before I get to a deeper explanation of the survey, a quick story: During last year’s survey season, I called a team IT exec that I knew well and asked why nobody from his organization had taken the survey. “Well, we don’t have Wi-Fi installed yet,” the exec said. “We’ll take the survey next year after it’s deployed.” I didn’t have the heart to say it at the time but — his take was completely the WRONG ANSWER. Why? Because this is an ANONYMOUS, AGGREGATED INFORMATION ONLY survey, which means that answers aren’t tied to any school, team or individual. Just look at last year’s survey to see how the answers are reported. That also means that all answers are completely confidential, and will not be sold, marketed or otherwise communicated in any way, shape or form outside of the ANONYMOUS TOTALS used in the survey report.

So since we’re trying to find out aggregate numbers — not individual details — it’s just as important for all of us to know who doesn’t have Wi-Fi as well as who does. So even if your school or team or stadium doesn’t have Wi-Fi — and may never have Wi-Fi — you should still TAKE THE SURVEY and add your organization’s information to the total. The more answers we get, the better the data are for everyone.

Survey time is time well spent

And that “everyone” thing leads me to my next point: If you’re a regular reader here you can and should consider the few minutes it takes to complete the survey as a small way of “paying back” to the rest of the members of this fine industry, many of whom make time for the interviews, visits and emails that form the core of all the excellent free content available here on the MSR site and through our long-form reports. We know you are busy, and that spending time answering a list of technology questions may not seem like the highest priority on your to-do list. But a little bit of your time can really help us all.

That’s because we also know, from our website statistics and from our report download numbers and just from conversations with many of you, that our audience of stadium technology professionals appreciates the honest, objective stories and analysis we provide. (We humbly thank you for making us a regular reading choice.) And now, by taking the survey, you can help make the site and our work even better, just by adding your team, school or stadium’s technology deployment information into the 2015 State of the Stadium Technology Survey. The more results we get, the better and more informative the survey becomes — and that’s something that’s truly a win-win situation for all involved.

Once again the State of the Stadium Technology Survey will be exclusively delivered first to the attendees of the SEAT Conference, being held this year in our home town of San Francisco, July 19-22. Production of this year’s survey is made possible by the sponsorship of Mobilitie, and through our partnership with the SEAT Consortium, owners and operators of the excellent SEAT event. All those who participate in the survey will receive a full digital copy of the final report, whether you attend the SEAT Conference or not.

Final reminder: This survey is meant to be taken ONLY by stadium technology professionals, executives, and team or school representatives who can accurately describe the deployments in place at their organization. It is NOT a survey to be taken by everyone, only by those who have a deployment to describe. If you have any questions about whether you should take the survey or not, send an email to me at kaps at mobilesportsreport.com. Thanks in advance for your time and participation!

Time for The Masters — the best digital experience in sports

Gary Player (R) congratulates Jack Nicklaus after Nicklaus' hole in one (Sam Greenwood/Augusta National)

Gary Player (R) congratulates Jack Nicklaus after Nicklaus’ hole in one (Sam Greenwood/Augusta National)

There’s no small bit of irony in the fact that The Masters, one of the few places left on earth where you absolutely cannot carry a working cell phone, offers perhaps the best digital experience in all of sports. I’m biased, because I like golf and like the tradition and history of the Masters competition, but I would challenge you to find another event, team or league that offers the breadth and depth of the online/mobile experience brought forth by The Masters, CBS and IBM.

With live competition beginning Thursday morning, I’m not worried that I won’t be next to a TV set for the excellent, mostly commercial-free broadcast (Thursday-Friday on ESPN, Saturday-Sunday on CBS). That’s because if I am online or on my phone I will have access to no fewer than five different live feeds from Augusta, including featured groups as well as focused coverage on “Amen Corner,” the classic stretch between the 11th and 13th holes of the famed Augusta National course.

What makes the online and mobile experience so good? Production that parallels the TV broadcast, for one. No need for cable contract authorization, for another. That The Masters is like Harvard with its endowments — and as such doesn’t need to pander to advertisers — is nirvana for all golf fans, but especially so for those of us who watch a lot of sports action these days online. While TV commercials are easily endured (or muted, or skipped) it seems of late that broadcasters are doing their best to reclaim eyeball turf online, by subjecting digital viewers to more and more invasive ads.

During the recent NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament there was a lot of praise for the online product, but nowhere did I see anyone report the fact we found out — that when you were watching online or on your phone, during commercials the Turner/NCAA folks kindly blocked your ability to mute the sound on the screen controls. On my phone during the great regional game between Kentucky and Notre Dame I also saw a small button with a Pizza Hut logo remain on the left side of the screen during play. You would never try that on a broadcast offering, but for many events it seems OK to smack the online viewers around for any profit possible.

During the Masters, that’s not happening. (Or at least it didn’t last year! Hope I’m not jinxing things.)

Anyway — when play starts Thursday just go to Masters.com or download the app, watch away and see if you don’t agree. If there’s another online experience that’s better, I’d like to hear about it.

BONUS: Watch the Golden Bear back one up for a hole in one during the par 3 contest.

AT&T: Final Four sees 1.52 terabytes of DAS traffic, almost double last year’s total

Lucas Oil StadiumSometimes we feel like a broken record when talking about data usage at big events — is the total ever going to stop growing? Not at the Final Four, apparently, where this year AT&T saw almost double the traffic on its in-stadium DAS, even at a smaller venue, the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

According to AT&T, its customers used a total of 1.52 terabytes of data on the in-stadium DAS at Lucas Oil Stadium during the three Final Four weekend games, a huge jump from the 885 GB of DAS traffic AT&T saw on its network at the last Final Four, held in AT&T Stadium. Remember, these numbers are for AT&T cellular customers only, and does not include traffic for any other wireless carriers or for the Lucas Oil Stadium Wi-Fi network. We have calls and emails in to the various players to see if we can get more numbers, but for now AT&T’s almost-double growth is pretty interesting.

Normally we’re not big fans of infographics but the one accompanying the AT&T press release about Final Four traffic is pretty interesting, since it simply shows just how much data use at big events keeps growing. AT&T’s DAS traffic numbers for the last four Final Fours (New Orleans, Atlanta, Texas and Indy) start respectively at 376 GB for 2012, then jump to 667 GB for 2013, then to 885 GB last year and the 1.52 TB mark this year. Maybe the release of the new iPhones this past fall helped with the ever-increasing totals, or the fact that new rich media applications like Vine and Instagram are gaining in use? And with new livestreaming video apps like Meerkat and Periscope joining the fray, how will wireless networks at large venues hold up?

For AT&T, big events now mean lots of resources not just inside the building, but in the surrounding public areas as well, to better handle the big crowds as they move about the event locale. Like it did for the recent South by Southwest festival in Austin, AT&T brought its big-ball antenna to Indy for the weekend, and supplemented downtown coverage with outdoor DAS deployments and improvements to the outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots it built for Super Bowl XLVI held at Lucas Oil in 2012.

AT&T Infographic about Final Four DAS data use

AT&T Infographic about Final Four DAS data use

Will Periscope and Meerkat swamp stadium networks?

Three thoughts to start your week off, of a completely unrelated nature. First one up is about a couple of live video-streaming services that you might have heard of or seen, Meerkat and Periscope. I successfully avoided watching any super-selfimportant types video themselves using Meerkat from SXSW, and I’ve been too wrapped up in March Madness to care yet about Periscope. So far I haven’t seen any coverage that details how much bandwidth the apps use up. Probably not much if you are livestreaming something all by yourself. But what if a bunch of people decide to livestream, and they’re all in the same place? So I do wonder how stadium networks will handle the idea of live video streams.

Will the Wi-Fi and DAS networks be able to handle the traffic? Anyone looking into this yet? Discuss. You can do so in the comments, or send me some longer thoughts via email and I will relay them to the crowd. Will Periscope and Meerkat be banned in-stadium? If so how can that happen? Will live video streams be the final straw that makes teams and leagues realize that Twitter may not be such a great content partner after all? I don’t have any answers yet but I assure you this is a question that will be asked the rest of the year in stadium IT shops — as well as in the lawyers’ offices where content and TV rights are negotiated and protected. Selfies may be fine, and Vine may be OK. But live streams of sports events are bound to get someone’s attention, fast.

Thought No. 2: Twenty-three years ago, I remember exactly where I was when I saw this:

I was in Beaver Creek, Colo., in a swanky hotel room that I normally couldn’t afford, watching the Duke-Kentucky game after covering pro ski racing during the day on the slopes of Beaver Creek. Because it was near the end of the ski season the still-new Beaver Creek wasn’t too full, so us members of the media got special rates to stay in the slopeside hotel rooms that now will cost you an arm, a leg and maybe a first-born. That is not important to this thought, though. What is important is that I remember watching the game on a nice TV. Which was the only way you could watch, 22 years ago.

Fast forward to Saturday night, when another classic NCAA tournament match involving Kentucky came down to the wire, and a last-second shot, on the exact anniversary of the Laettner shot. That Kentucky prevailed this time in another classic also doesn’t really matter here; what does is how I watched the second half — on my phone in my backyard while cooking dinner on the grill, over a Wi-Fi connection to a router inside the house. The thing I thought about afterwards was how completely normal it seemed to do something that was unthinkable 22 years ago, namely watch a live game via a handheld device through multiple connectivity junctures — and it all just worked. In the future I will probably remember the game more, and the key free throws and the crazy defense of the last play. But right now I’m still a little in wonder in how far the idea of watching sports on your phone has come.

Third thought: Some more history here — does anyone out there remember the 2009 version of SXSW, when Foursquare was launched and the huge influx of attendees using Twitter on their iPhones brought the AT&T network to its knees? Here’s another link to the historical moment when AT&T got pantsed publicly for not knowing how much bandwidth its customers would need at a gathering like SXSW.

Fast forward again to this year’s SXSW, and man, was AT&T ready for record network usage. Not only did it trot out the huge big-ball cellular antenna that it used at Coachella last year, it beefed up regular network connections and brought in a whole herd of COWs (cell trucks on wheels) to satisfy a mobile bandwidth demand that doesn’t seem to be able to stay flat or go down. According to AT&T, its network saw 37 terabytes of data used during the SXSW event — that’s like three-plus Super Bowls worth of traffic, and this is just on AT&T’s networks, so not counting other carrier traffic.

We concentrate a lot here on stadiums and the particular problems for wireless communications caused by a tight geographic grouping of device-holding people. But what about towns with festivals like SXSW, or other big gatherings? Is your event ready for massive wireless bandwidth needs? If not what is your plan going forward?

Analysis: NBA, NHL teams getting into Wi-Fi without single league-wide strategy

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 single, 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.

But even though there’s no single-item menu for bringing wireless technology to stadiums, that doesn’t mean the leagues aren’t helping teams find the best ways forward. According to Michael Gliedman, senior vice president and chief information officer for the NBA, he and his IT experts are constantly meeting with all the teams in the league, sharing contract information and best-practices to ensure that NBA arenas are “as wireless as they can be.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 4.38.32 PMAnd in a quick interview with the NHL’s boss, the same impression came across: that the leagues may not be dictators, but they are doing lots of behind-the-scenes work to ensure the fan experience doesn’t get disconnected.

The “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, in a recent phone interview with MSR Gliedman said that while the NBA “has never published a ‘you have to do this’ menu,” he and his office are engaged with teams on multiple levels, from reviewing carrier contracts to offering best-practices advice on new technology and how-to on deployments. But like the NHL, since many of its teams play in venues with multiple tenants, the final decisions on tech deployments like Wi-Fi networks rests with the teams themselves.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 4.38.39 PMWith 24 out of the NBA’s 29 venues already wired for Wi-Fi, the need for an overarching “strategy” for wireless deployment may already be 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.