April 16, 2014

Show me where to park, buy me a drink, let me see the game with friends: Using new technology to solve ‘old’ stadium problems

There was a lot of talk about new technology at the recent Stanford Graduate School of Business Sports Innovation conference, but what really caught my attention was conversations about how some smart people are planning to use new technologies to solve perennial fan pain points, like parking and concession issues, or just getting tickets close to friends who also want to see the game. I think using tech to conquer mundane problems is a great idea, and could be part of more common-sense plans that could do more to help sagging attendance than cooler ideas like video replays or Google Glass broadcasts at games.

Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s great when teams like the Indiana Pacers and the Orlando Magic push the envelope to do things like have Google Glass views shown on their arena big screens. But listening to the folks from the new ownership team at the Sacramento Kings as well as some other smart folks from the Pac-12 conference, the NBA and SAP at the April 8 conference at Stanford convinced me that we may be moving into an important second wave of stadium technology deployment, where we’re over the cool factor of the technology and are instead asking how it can be used to solve the kind of issues that keep people from buying tickets and attending games live.

To be sure, there are some table stakes to this game, and among most stadium professionals these days the need for ubiquitous connectivity inside arenas is a given. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is semi-famous in tech circles for his desire to have fans cheering instead of looking at their phones, but new Sacramento principal owner Vivek Ranadive said not having networks in stadiums is a Luddite kind of view.

“Young people are going to look at their phones 400 times a day, whether he [Cuban] likes it or not,” Ranadive is fond of saying. Ranadive, the CEO and chairman of data-management software giant TIBCO, is the new cool kid on the NBA owners block after swooping in to save the Kings from being shuttled back to Seattle. As an all-around smart guy who likes to accomplish things, Ranadive has lots of ideas for the league and his new toy. At the Stanford conference he talked about plans to make the Kings’ new stadium one of the most digitally advanced buildings anywhere; but what was refreshing to me was his and his team’s focus on the fan experience, something that bodes well for NBA fans in and around Sacramento.

Paint your face purple: Why fans are different

As the CEO of a multi-billion dollar public concern, Ranadive knows all about keeping customers happy. But fans, he said, are much different. “Fans will paint their face purple,” he told the Stanford audience. “They will evangelize, tell everyone else about [going to a game]. Other CEOs I know are dying to have fans.”

(They also might like to have a team owner who tweets selfies with cool people like Shaq.)

So how are Ranadive and the Kings looking to use tech to take care of those fans? Ben Gumpert, senior vice president of marketing and strategy for the Kings, told of some ideas as part of an in-depth panel discussion later in the day at the Stanford conference. Among the ideas where tech could make a kind of background difference: By providing traffic or parking information for fans en route to a game; by knowing when a fan is in the stadium, and maybe bringing by a free drink on that fan’s birthday. Or by using Google+ Hangouts to facilitate a pre-game fan interaction time.

“We’re looking at all the negatives [of coming to a game], like traffic, where do you park, what’s the most efficient way in to the building, is there a phone charger near your seat,” said Gumpert. “We want to be early adopters and have the smartest building, but we also see a lot of technology being behind the scenes.”

Surprise and delight

From a personal standpoint, I agree with the Kings’ philosophy — even though there is an exciting NBA team here in the Bay area, the “pain points” of having to trek out to Oakland to see a game live keep me on the couch every time. Parking, commuting to the stadium and ticket procurement are all things I haven’t explored and I’m guessing there’s no easy way to figure all that out. If the Kings’ plans work out, the team app will have a lot of that info, which I think is hugely more important than, say, making sure the app has video highlights or Instagram access to player pictures.

L to R: John Abbamondi, NBA; Ben Gumpert, Sacramento Kings; Ward Bullard, SAP; David Aufhauser, Pac-12 Networks

L to R: John Abbamondi, NBA; Ben Gumpert, Sacramento Kings; Ward Bullard, SAP; David Aufhauser, Pac-12 Networks

I mean — Google Glass views are cool. But I wonder about a stadium and team ownership that is all excited about Google Glass TV views, but leaves parking up to some dude with a sign and an orange flag. Or leaves concession purchases in the 1950s, with one person taking your order, going back to get your hot dog, and then making change. If there is a trend toward using technology to fix real problems, instead of deploying technology for technology’s sake, I’m all for it.

“There need to be more ‘surprise and delight’ experiences in stadiums,” said Ward Bullard, formerly head of sports for Google+ who is now headed to a job with the sports-app division at SAP. “Using technology to bring value back to the fan hasn’t been strong enough.”

David Aufhauser, vice president and general manager of digital media for Pac-12 Networks, said there are many potential ways to use technology to improve the fan experience, especially via specialized types of access — like free ticket upgrades or giving fans the ability to watch press conferences or meet players personally. Bullard and Aufhauser, part of the panel discussion, also talked about ideas like allowing groups of fans to dynamically move their seats to sit together, or to better keep the shared experience alive.

“Sports is still one of the things people come to physically,” Bullard said. There should be a way, Bullard said, to keep the “high of the tailgate” party intact as fans move into the stadium.

“You don’t see many selfies from the couch,” said Gumpert. “What we need to do is find out which fan experiences matter most, and leverage the mechanisms” to improve the fan experience.

“It is a people business,” said John Abbamondi, vice president of team marketing and business operations for the NBA, who suggested teams use CRM to know if a person in the building is up for a season-ticket renewal. “Or [maybe] it’s their birthday, and you greet them with a special drink,” Abbamondi said. “Make it personal. It is about the high-five, the thing that gets you off the couch, That shouldn’t be overlooked.”

NBC and NHL provide TV Everywhere for Stanley Cup Playoffs

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The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs are here and the NHL, along with its playoff broadcast partners are using a variety of mobile and digital strategies and programs to engage fans including streaming broadcasts of the games.

The highlights are probably having all of the games presented nationally across the platforms of the NBC Sports Group for the third year in a row and for the second consecutive year NBC Sports Live Extra will stream every game live. To fans that closely follow the games this might not be a surprise but for the casual fan this could be news.

The live streaming will reach a variety of devices that have downloaded the NBC Sports Live Extra app and can stream the events as they are shown on NBC, NBC Sports Network and CNBC. It will work with desktop and laptop PCs to tablets and smartphones as long as they are authenticated customers.

This is part of the growing push for “TV Everywhere” partnerships between cable providers, networks and sports leagues that all are starting to promote more aggressively. CBS and Turner Sports along with the NCAA saw strong online viewership growth for the recently concluded March Madness even when broadcast viewership slightly declined; and NBC’s push with cable partners during the Winter Olympics also produced large digital audiences. (Editor’s note: So maybe finally broadcasters are really realizing that online audiences are additive, not subtractive ones. Huzzah.)

In addition there will be a stronger social media push for this year’s playoffs including a very interesting deal with Magisto called Making Stanley Cup Movie Magic with Magisto. Magisto is a video creation and sharing app for both Android and Apple platforms and it will enable fans to create movies about experiences and events at the game such as the Blackhawks’ I Was There promotion.

The NHL and CBS are taking an interesting turn at Twitter as well this season. The @NHLonNBCSports twitter account will be handled by a variety of celebrity guests including CBS personalities, ex-players and celebrity hockey fans over the course of the playoffs.

That is just part of its much larger social campaign that also includes the basic news for the playoffs at #StanleyCup, an effort to highlight fans through photos that at #CelebrateStanley Photo Campaign for the Fans and the news and information site of NHL on NBC All-Access Social Media that is located at NBCSports.com/NHLonNBC.

It appears that select sports leagues and networks are increasingly coming to the realization that as an increasing number of fans are also cutting the cord to broadcast and cable TV the best was to reach them is via mobile digital media and programs like these from the NHL and NBC seem like the right approach to encourage that engagement.

Can the NBA’s stadium networks handle live Google Glass camera views?

STR coverThe news that NBA teams are now partnering with San Francisco’s CrowdOptic to deliver Google Glass views to stadium big screens is a pretty interesting development to contemplate, on the heels of our Stadium Tech Report for Q1 2014, which looks at wireless network deployments in NBA stadiums. Done in a team-approved, controlled fashion, a few Google Glass streams could be pretty interesting. But CrowdOptic’s capabilities, as I understand them, are much bigger, and could theoretically allow for fans to see what other fans are seeing, if both are wearing Google Glass. The question we have for that latter idea is: Can the stadium networks handle all that traffic?

A good place to start to figure out the answer to that question is by downloading our Stadium Tech Report for Q1 2014, available free right now from our site. The 35-page PDF report delivers a capsule profile of each and every NBA team and whether or not it has Wi-Fi and DAS services in its stadiums. In our research we found Wi-Fi to be almost universal, with 79 percent — or 23 of 29 NBA facilities — all having fan-facing Wi-Fi. There is also a DAS (Distributed Antenna System) for enhanced cellular in almost every arena, and the ones that don’t have it are either installing it now or plan to soon.

But can those networks handle a crowd of Google Glass wearers, all broadcasting video of their court views? A good question for the next report, maybe. But you’ll need to know what the current network deployment situation is first, so… DOWNLOAD THE REPORT!

Has CrowdOptic found its niche with Google Glass and the NBA?

Screen shot of Google Glass footage from Indiana Pacers practice. Credit: Indiana Pacers

Screen shot of Google Glass footage from Indiana Pacers practice. Credit: Indiana Pacers

While we’re still far away from knowing whether or not wearable devices will really take off, the integration of personal-view video into stadium situations seems like a quick win. And San Francisco-based CrowdOptic appears to be ready to benefit from the latter idea, as its technology is being used in a couple announced deployments where Google Glass is being used to bring interesting video looks to big-screen displays in NBA arenas.

Both the Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings have been using Google Glass to bring “personal” video views to the big screens in their arenas recently. Though players haven’t yet worn Google Glass during an actual game, in Indianapolis the wearable technology and its built-in camera was used to provide video feeds from a practice, as well as game-day views from cheerleaders and from a courtside PA announcer’s seat.

CrowdOptic, which had previously developed a unique mobile-device triangulation technology (which it somewhat unsuccessfully tried to market as a security or analytics-gathering tool) has seemingly found a perfect fit with Google Glass. According to a partnership announcement made with Wi-Fi gear and software provider Extreme Networks last week, CrowdOptics’ technology is helping weed out the best views from the devices to produce a watchable video stream.

This paragraph from the CrowdOptic press release with the Pacers actually describes it pretty well:

Another Google Glass view from an Indiana Pacers practice. Credit: Indiana Pacers

Another Google Glass view from an Indiana Pacers practice. Credit: Indiana Pacers

“The experience will be powered by CrowdOptic, a software platform which analyzes the real-time Google Glass feeds and curates them by their subject matter and quality, exporting only the highest quality live footage to the scoreboard. CrowdOptic’s ability to analyze where mobile and wearable devices are aimed allows future opportunities, such as optimizing in-seat arena services or providing fans the option to control their own broadcast.”

According to a recent Fortune Business article, CrowdOptic is charging NBA teams $25,000 per deployment, but some of that arrangement may change with the new Extreme partnership. Some new deals with additional NBA teams are also expected to be announced soon.

What will really be interesting to watch from a stadium technology perspective is how Google Glass use, for both team-approved activities as well as casual fan use, will affect things like in-stadium networks. Though our recent Stadium Tech Report for Q1 2014 found that most NBA stadiums already have fan-facing Wi-Fi, few seem ready for advanced applications, especially high-bandwidth generating ones like streaming Google Glass videos. What’s also unclear is how NBA broadcast rights may or may not affect the ability of teams or fans to record or stream live action via technology like Google Glass. Add another item to the stadium IT department and team legal department to-do lists!

Google seeks to expand ‘wearable’ options with Android Wear program

The Moto 360 Android

The Moto 360 Android

Google made a lot of noise a few years back with its push for Google Glass project, a pair of glasses that are connected to the Internet and now it is adding a second front in the wearable war with a push that it calls Android Wear.

The company has launched the Android Wear project in an effort to greatly expand the market for wearable hardware and related technology, with but not limited to helping a new generation watches running the company’s Android operating system.

The core of the effort will be a Software Developers Kit (SDK) that the company will be delivering to interested developers later this year.

While connected watches seem to be the first area that this effort will have an impact Google sees the effort expanding into other areas including bringing additional technology to more established platforms such as tablets.

However watches seem to be at the forefront of this space and potential developers that include everybody from Nike to Apple have indicated some level of interest in developing a watch. In addition there are already several connected watches on the market such as the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Pebble’s Steel Watch. Google has a number that have now announced their intention. With such a huge position in the smartphone operating system already Google has a huge advantage and it looks to be building on it quite quickly.

Several partners have already announced intentions to build watches and in some cases have shown examples of their development efforts. Motorola, unsurprisingly, has one in development called the Moto 360 Android that it said will be available this summer while LG Electronics said it would introduce its first Android watch, the G Watch, sometime this quarter.

The watches will be equipped with a variety of sensors and the ability to connect to an Android phone. So it can sub for the fitness trackers that are popular with the athletically inclined. It will allow notifications and text messages to be forwarded from a user’s phone and enable voice replies.

I imagine it would be a great tool to use to cheat on exams, but that might just be me. However being in a meeting and getting, say, March Madness game updates, could be a boon for those times when it is frowned upon to look at your smartphone. However the flip side of this is that many, at least those of us old enough, might just see this as a glorified pager with a bit more functionality.

Google teams with NCAA, Turner Sports and CBS Sports for March Madness promo

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Google is seeking to make waves during the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament in an effort that teams the Internet giant with the NCAA and its broadcasting and software development partners Turner Sports and CBS Sports.

The effort will revolve around Google’s social network application called Google+, a rival to industry leader Facebook, and it will be interesting to see if Google publishes the results from the effort. You constantly see Facebook listed as an almost default player in this type of event and a major push by Google into sports and other avenues will make for an interesting fight.

The effort actually started on Selection Sunday but will run the length of the tournament. A wide range of NCAA March Madness digital products will be flowing through Google’s pages including NCAA March Madness Live™, the Capital One March Madness NCAA Bracket Challenge™, the NCAA On Demand YouTube channel and the NCAA March Madness Google+ page.

However Google has taken steps to help steer fans who might not be aware of the effort or who might need a gentle reminder of the tournament on a daily basis. It has teamed with its partners to feature March Madness related search insights in Google Trends. This means that fans using Google for search and looking at what is trending will see the topics and teams from the tournament that are popular on Google Search.

Other efforts by the partnership include such features as Turner integrating Google sign-in technology into the NCAA Bracket Challenge game. Fans that follow up from seeing information in the Google Trends can go to a “Google Bracket” that will rank teams throughout the tournament based on Search interest.

Google has also created a number of “Google+ Hangouts” that are related to March Madness. These are social networking microsites where fans can discuss related issues and share photos, among other tasks. The Google+ Hangouts On Air enables fans to interact with Turner Sports and CBS Sports on-air talent and can be entered either from NCAA.com/hangouts or the NCAA March Madness Google+ page.

Google+ has seemed to be an afterthought to many, although any program that counts its membership in the hundreds of millions should be taken seriously. However this could help promote the company into a more mainstream awareness position with the sporting public at large, or it might just be like a 16 seed and go one and done. Game on, Google.