November 21, 2014

NFL’s CIO says teams need to share technology know-how

Michelle McKenna-Doyle, CIO, NFL

Michelle McKenna-Doyle, CIO, NFL

Editor’s note: the following interview with NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle was featured in our most recent long-form report, THE FOOTBALL ISSUE, which is available for free download. In addition to team-by-team capsules of technology deployments for all 32 NFL teams the issue also has several in-depth stadium technology profiles and an extensive look at the technology behind the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium. Get your copy today!

In a league known for its intense rivalries, is it possible to get teams to work together and share information for the betterment of all? In the area of stadium technology, that task is on the to-do list for Michelle McKenna-Doyle, who is now in her third season as chief information officer for the National Football League.

In an interview with Mobile Sports Report, McKenna-Doyle outlined some of the league’s recent accomplishments in technology-related areas like instant replay and digital content, while also explaining how the league oversees stadium technology deployments. According to McKenna-Doyle, one of her office’s jobs is to act as a best-practices and lessons-learned clearinghouse, to better move the state of NFL stadium technology forward faster as a whole.

“One of our roles is helping teams help themselves” with technology deployment strategies, McKenna-Doyle said. “What we want is to provide a forum where clubs can share information with each other. If somebody’s done something and learned it doesn’t work, we can tell other clubs not to waste their time doing the same thing.”

The business use of technology

Focusing on the business uses of technology and not the 1s and 0s is somewhat of a natural fit for McKenna-Doyle, who spent 13 years at the Walt Disney Company in disciplines including finance and marketing before becoming a VP in IT for two years. During CIO stints at Centex Homes and Universal Orlando Resort, McKenna-Doyle said she focused on using technology to enhance the guest experience, a goal the NFL sought when it brought her aboard in September 2012.

Wi-Fi access point antennas visible on poles at CenturyLink Field, Seattle. Credit: Extreme Networks

Wi-Fi access point antennas visible on poles at CenturyLink Field, Seattle. Credit: Extreme Networks

“Part of my job is making sure our in-stadium experience for mobility meets the needs of our fans,” McKenna-Doyle said. While it is true that commissioner Roger Goodell said he wanted all NFL stadiums to have fan-facing Wi-Fi, and that the league does expect teams to meet a minimum set of connectivity standards, McKenna-Doyle said the NFL’s overall stadium-tech strategy is to be more of a guide than to dictate exactly which technologies or apps teams should deploy.

“People really are fans of their own team first, and we encourage clubs to have that engagement, and help them interact with fans,” McKenna-Doyle said. “There are minimum standards and we do grade their [technology] experience, and report that back to the club. But they manage it. We are more of a guide.”

Putting out a plan for stadium Wi-Fi

In the area of Wi-Fi, for example, McKenna-Doyle said that last year the league put together “a really deep-dive spec” that laid out all the basics necessary for stadium Wi-Fi deployments. “That was so teams didn’t have to start at square one for design,” McKenna-Doyle said.

The league also helped move Wi-Fi deployments forward faster by signing a preferred-supplier deal with Extreme Networks, under which teams get a discount on pricing in exchange for the league-wide sponsorship exposure. (Editor’s note: This week, the league announced that Extreme is now the official Wi-Fi technology supplier for the NFL.) Though teams are not required to use Extreme’s Wi-Fi gear, new Extreme-based Wi-Fi networks are in use this season at Seattle, Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Cincinnati, joining two previous Extreme installations in Philadelphia and New England.

“It’s a great option if teams choose Extreme, and it [the league deal] also creates a competitive environment for other suppliers like Cisco to step up,” McKenna-Doyle said.

Fans take pictures at Levi's Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Fans take pictures at Levi’s Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

If necessary, the league can also play Wi-Fi matchmaker, as McKenna-Doyle said it did in bringing partner Verizon into Seattle, where the carrier deployed a Wi-Fi network at CenturyLink Field that is live this season.

At the writing of this report, 10 of the NFL’s 32 teams still had no fan-facing Wi-Fi services at their stadiums, a list that includes Green Bay, Baltimore, Cleveland, Buffalo, Houston, Oakland, San Diego, Washington, Minnesota and St. Louis. While McKenna-Doyle said that there are “a few more Wi-Fi announcements coming,” she also noted that some teams with lease uncertanties still don’t have firm plans to deploy Wi-Fi.

Help on the app side with partner YinzCam

McKenna-Doyle said the league also provides assistance in stadium application development via YinzCam Inc., a Pittsburgh-based company that has developed mobile apps for a number of pro sports teams. The NFL, which was an investor in YinzCam, uses the company’s technology in its league mobile apps, and McKenna-Doyle said YinzCam is also developing an app for the upcoming Super Bowl XLIX that will be “like nothing we’ve ever had before.”

Though teams are not required to use YinzCam – the San Francisco 49ers, for example, turned to newcomer VenueNext to develop their Levi’s Stadium app – McKenna-Doyle said that YinzCam may be a fit for other teams.

“For quality and speed to market, [YinzCam’s] product is very strong,” McKenna-Doyle said.

It’s about the fans, not the technology

Following a summer that saw her office overseeing the new method for on-field official review of replay calls – “which meant building a new system for 32 teams, 31 stadiums, and training all the officials” – as well as the launch of the NFL Now digital content site, McKenna-Doyle is back spending time with teams, counseling them on technology deployment resource management – “what to prioritize, and what to put on the back burner,” she said.

That includes technology ideas that might not work operationally, like a food-ordering service that isn’t staffed properly. For the in-seat food ordering feature at Levi’s Stadium, for instance, the 49ers said they did extensive research, hiring and training to make sure they had enough feet on the ground – runners carrying orders – to make the tech-inspired feature work.

If teams don’t do the human engineering behind the scenes, McKenna-Doyle said, the technology may not be that cool.

“We stress that it’s not about the technology, but about the fan experience,” McKenna-Doyle said. “It has to be operationally sound, and it has to be integrated with being at the game. If it’s not something that’s operationally sound, you might be better off not doing it.”

AT&T: Getting busy with multiple college football DAS deployments

In an interview with AT&T’s John Donovan earlier this year the company’s senior executive vice president told us that AT&T would continue to be aggressive in its deployment of stadium DAS systems. True to his word, here are announcements from no fewer than eight new top U.S. universities (and one that was announced earlier in the year) that got an AT&T DAS in time for this fall’s football season.

Included in the list of DAS deployments that AT&T either is leading or has joined another operator’s infrastructure are Baylor University, which has a whole new stadium and a new stadium Wi-Fi network as well; Big Ten schools Indiana University, Ohio State University, Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin (where AT&T also installed a new Wi-Fi network and some IPTV systems); the University of Missouri from the SEC; and Pac-12 schools the University of Washington as well as the University of California, an installation plan that we covered last year. AT&T also participated alongside Verizon in a unique joint DAS deployment at the University of Oregon, also announced earlier this year.

Why so much DAS? As we are finding out in the process of doing a lot of reporting for our upcoming Q4 Stadium Tech Report on college football stadium technology deployments, Wi-Fi deployments are still somewhat of a rarity, even at some of the biggest schools. As we’ve said before, bringing in a DAS deployment makes a lot of sense for schools since A) you can usually get the carrier to pay for most if not all of the cost of building the DAS; and B) a good DAS goes a long way toward eliminating the feared “no signal” problem that can still be found on many major college campus facilities.

How much have fans already been using the new networks? According to AT&T the new Mizzou DAS has done the biggest amount of traffic so far, with 290 gigabytes of traffic crossing the DAS system with its 150+ antennas at one game this season. Cal was close behind with an average of 253 GB per game so far in 2014, while up in Seattle at UDub the fans are generating an average of 190 GB per game. Remember, these stats represent ONLY AT&T traffic on the AT&T part of the DAS; since we still can’t convince Verizon to provide similar statistics we’ll just have to guess what the total-totals are.

Stay tuned for more information about college stadium deployments… look for our Q4 STR report in early December!

Stadium Tech Report — NFL stadium technology reports — NFC West

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE FOOTBALL ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

NFC WEST

Reporting by Chris Gallo

Arizona Cardinals
University of Phoenix Stadium
Seating Capacity: 65,000
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – No

As the site of the Super Bowl XLIX, University of Phoenix Stadium is in the midst of massive upgrades. This includes an $8 million dollar improvement for faster wireless and larger video boards. The stadium turned eight this summer and already has one Super Bowl under its belt. Look for more information about upgrades throughout the year before the big game on Feb. 1, 2015.

San Francisco 49ers
Levi’s Stadium
Seating Capacity: 68,500
Wi-Fi – Yes, 1,200 access points
DAS – Yes, 700 antennas
Beaconing – Yes

View from the Pepsi seating porch at the north end of Levi's Stadium

View from the Pepsi seating porch at the north end of Levi’s Stadium

There is a buzz around Levi’s Stadium entering this season. And for good reason. The brand-new venue boasts more than 1,200 Wi-Fi access points and 700 DAS antennas. Aruba Networks (Wi-Fi) and DAS Group Professionals are hoping to fulfill the 49ers’ desires to own the most-connected stadium in all of sports. An ambitious new team app, with replays and food ordering and delivery to all seats is also part of the technology offerings.

Early tests of the stadium network during the preseason and regular season opener were promising, with Wi-Fi performance at Super Bowl-surpassing levels. On the DAS side, strong cellular signals were reached, with a nearly full house of fans. The question for the network, like the team itself – can it keep performing at a high level during the full season?

Seattle Seahawks
CenturyLink Field
Seating Capacity: 72,000
Wi-Fi-Yes
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – No

Fans of the reigning Super Bowl Champions will have more to cheer for in coming years at CenturyLink Field. The question is, will the loudest stadium in the NFL stay that way if Seahawks fans are using their phones more often, now that Verizon has installed stadium-wide Wi-Fi using Extreme Networks equipment?

St. Louis Rams
Edward Jones Dome
Seating Capacity: 66,000
Wi-Fi – No
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – No

After a proposed $700 million dollar upgrade was rejected, the St. Louis Rams are still seeking to improve the Edward Jones Dome. The good news for fans is that for this season a Mobilitie neutral-host DAS should significantly improve cellular communications not just in the stadium itself, but also in the adjacent convention center.

Stadium Tech Report — NFL stadium technology reports — NFC East

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE FOOTBALL ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

NFC EAST

Reporting by Chris Gallo

Dallas Cowboys
AT&T Stadium
Seating Capacity: 105,121
Wi-Fi – Yes, 1,525 access points
DAS – Yes, 1,374 antennas
Beaconing – No

AT&T Fan Experience board with single message

AT&T Fan Experience board with single message

Everything is bigger in Texas – including connectivity. AT&T Stadium features 1,525 Wi-Fi access points and 1,374 DAS antennas. That’s enough cellular capacity to service the small suburb of McKinney, Texas. While watching Tony Romo target Dez Bryant, Cowboys fans will notice a new 130-foot LED display along the east platform. The AT&T Fan Experience board features 40 robotic panels that work in combination with other stadium displays to entertain fans all game along. And don’t forget the big TV hanging in the middle of the place!

New York Giants
MetLife Stadium
Seating Capacity: 82,500
Wi-Fi – Yes, 850 access points
DAS – Yes, over 600 antennas
Beaconing – No

The Super Bowl champions just three years ago, it appears their bunk mates’ play is rubbing off on the Giants. Like the cross-town Jets, the G-Men missed the playoffs for the second straight season last year. If it’s any consolation, the Giants still share one sports top venues in MetLife Stadium. AT&T and Verizon gave enough love and attention the stadium last year as host of Super Bowl XLVII. Over 600 DAS antennas, 850 Wi-Fi access points, Cisco StadiumVision with over 2,100 HD TVs around the concourse – that’s a recipe for a good time at a game, at least from a connectivity standpoint.

Philadelphia Eagles
Lincoln Financial Field
Seating Capacity: 69,176
Wi-Fi – Yes, 600+ access points
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – No

Lincoln Financial Field is one of the “greenest” stadiums in all of professional sports. And that’s not just because of the Eagles’ colors. All (100 percent) of the Eagles operations are powered by the sun and the wind. The stadium’s connectivity is something fans can get behind too. With over 600 Wi-Fi access points and a group of Extreme Networks’ “Wi-Fi coaches”, the Eagles are doing everything they can to make sure fans are connected at games.

Washington Redskins
FedEx Field
Seating Capacity: 85,000
Wi-Fi – Limited / club level only
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – No

A new coach, name controversy, and a $27 million dollar renovation underway at FedEx Field. It’s been an offseason full of distractions in the nation’s capital. The good news: The team just signed a deal with supplier Huawei to put Wi-Fi in the stadium, first in the club seats and then (hopefully) next year in the full seating bowl.

FedEx Field gets suite-level Wi-Fi from Huawei

FedEx Field, home of the NFL’s Washington, D.C. franchise, is getting Wi-Fi service in its 330 suites from Chinese telecommunications gear provider Huawei, according to an announcement from the team and the company.

Rob Verkon, senior solution sales and marketing manager for Huawei Enterprise USA, said in a recent phone interview that the Wi-Fi network is currently being installed with a goal of making it available “for the final games [of the season] in December.” Washington hosts the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 7, and then has two more scheduled December regular-season home games, Dec. 20 vs. the Philadelphia Eagles and Dec. 28 against the Dallas Cowboys.

The deal is the first major stadium Wi-Fi win in the U.S. for Huawei, which claims to also have “networking and infrastructure” deployments in major stadiums in Europe. A major competitor to large U.S. networking firms like Cisco, Huawei has been at the center of controversy in recent years, including being tabbed as a security threat by U.S. government officials, and later as a reported target for N.S.A. surveillance.

According to the press release, Huawei has entered into a multi-year sponsorship deal as the “official technology partner” for the Washington team. Though Verkon would not reveal the specifics of the network deployment costs, he did confirm that the company will receive some payment in the form of advertising, signage and other sponsorship identification.

Verkon said Huawei will be deploying 170 802.11ac access points to cover the 330 suites in the 85,000-seat FedEx Field. Though there is no mention of further deployment arrangements in the press release, Verkon said that “the eventual project” will include bringing Wi-Fi to the full seating bowl for next season.

Currently, the Wi-Fi situation at FedEx is a bit of a black hole; according to Verkon there is some existing Wi-Fi service in the stadium, and the team’s home page even lists Wi-Fi in its stadium guide (with the message “Fans in the seating bowl may access the free wireless network. Please see signs around the stadium for for login information.”). But in our research for NFL Wi-Fi services for our most recent Stadium Tech Report, MSR could not confirm that Wi-Fi services were available for the entire seating area.

Half a stadium using Wi-Fi? 2014 World Series games set Wi-Fi records at AT&T Park

Though this year’s World Series still isn’t over, the three games this past weekend in San Francisco set new local records for fan Wi-Fi use, arguably cementing AT&T Park’s title as baseball’s best-connected stadium.

One of the more stunning numbers provided to us by Bill Schlough, the senior vice president and CIO for the Giants, was that nearly half the crowd in AT&T Park for Sunday’s Game 5 used the Wi-Fi network — a “take rate” we’ve never heard of before at any sporting event of any kind. According to Schlough the Giants’ Wi-Fi network had 20,638 unique users during Game 5, a take rate of 49.7 percent. (According to the official box score, the attendance that night was 43,087, give or take a Panda or four.) The game also set an AT&T Park record for Wi-Fi upload traffic with 747 Gigabytes of data being sent by people at the park out to the network.

(Including one special photo tweeted out by a former Giant you may have heard of.)

A record for downloaded Wi-Fi traffic, of 937 GB, was set during Friday night’s Game 3, and the record for a combination of download and upload traffic was set during Game 4, with a total of 1.62 Terabytes. According to Schlough, the total data transferred during the eight games of the 2014 postseason at AT&T Park was 10.3 TB, which is easily the high-water mark for any baseball stadium network we know of. (The total does not include regular cellular traffic carried by the AT&T Park DAS; we will add those numbers in when they become available.)

And while individual games such as Super Bowls or contests down the San Francisco Peninsula at Levi’s Stadium may set higher overall marks (thanks in part to having more fans in the building), we’d be interested to see if any other stadium networks can match AT&T Park’s season-long data number of 59.3 TB, which according to Schlough represents total traffic over 2014′s 91 games (regular and postseason) at AT&T Park.

One more fun number from Schlough: Since the park turned on its fan-facing Wi-Fi network in 2004, there have been 4,085,518 Wi-Fi connections during the 946 game days. Kansas City’s Kaufmann Stadium, which just got its Wi-Fi network installed recently, has one or two more games this season to start trying to catch the Giants from a networking perspective.

UPDATE: Looks like the Royals are claiming some already-decent usage of their Wi-Fi network: