December 21, 2014

YinzCam gains huge access to college market with Learfield partnership deal

Sports stadium app developer YinzCam, the Pittsburgh-based concern that has numerous app development wins across the NFL, NBA and NHL, scored a big entree to the collegiate market with a deal that makes YinzCam the “preferred supplier” of mobile apps for Learfield Sports, the giant marketing firm that sets up media, sponsorship and promotional deals for many of the nation’s top universities.

In a press release announcing the deal, Learfield said YinzCam would become a preferred solutions provider for the nearly 100 colleges and conferences Learfield represents — a list that stretchs alphabetically from the Alabama Crimson Tide to the Xavier Musketeers — as well as for the 750 college programs that use Learfield subsidiary Sidearm Sports‘ digital production services for websites and other sports-related content.

While YinzCam has already scored several college-app development deals thanks to its NFL experience (like the recent Baylor University app and a forthcoming app for Texas A&M University), YinzCam founder and CEO Priya Narasimhan said the Learfield deal could provide a far more rapid expansion path into the university mobile-app market.

While we are working on a much deeper in-depth profile of YinzCam — coincidentally, we just finished a long (and long in planning) interview earlier this week with the always-busy Narasimhan, who provided some background information on how YinzCam has basically come from nowhere to leading the stadium mobile-app development field in its 5 years of existence. One thing we’ve always wondered about is how a 30-person company in Pittsburgh is able to develop apps for 20 NBA teams and 25 NFL teams, among its 91 customers. The secret? Automation.

According to Narasimhan, YinzCam is able to scale well because it automates most of its core app functionality — for instance, when it comes to making replays available to the mobile device, Narasimhan said a YinzCam algorithm breaks down the video feed, instead of having someone doing the task by hand. Narasimhan also said that the company uses all its clients as a kind of crowdsourcing idea pool, and quickly shares any new innovations with all existing clients. Narasimhan also said that YinzCam’s core app has “well documented third-party guidelines” for integrating outside feature-apps like ticketing and seat upgrade programs, which can then be melded into an overall YinzCam-produced team app.

One final YinzCam nugget for now:

– Where did the name come from? Narasimhan says YinzCam is a mashup of the Pittsburgh term “You ones” (a linguistic equivalent of the Southern “y’all”), which when pronounced quickly in a Pittsburgh accent sounds like “Yinz” and “camera” for the personal video the app supplies.

Stay tuned for more on YinzCam and the Learfield deal…

Levi’s Stadium ‘NiNerds’ get high-visibility wardrobe upgrade

NiNerd sporting the new neon vest. (Click on any photo for a larger image) Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

NiNerd sporting the new neon vest. (Click on any photo for a larger image) Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

I needed a one of the NiNerds Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, and thanks to a new wardrobe addition, they were a lot easier to find.

Discovering a problem with the Levi’s Stadium app, I looked around for one of the stadium’s walk-around technology helpers — aka the “NiNerds” — and found one quickly thanks to the new neon-yellow vests many were wearing during Sunday’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and Washington.

Earlier this season, the NiNerds were much more nattily dressed in their gingham-check shirts, bow ties and fake horn-rim glasses. While cool and cute, the outfits proved hard to recognize in the crowd, especially since the NiNerds’ red check shirts looked a lot like the jerseys and t-shirts worn by the many faithful fans. Perhaps in order to make the NiNerds stand out more, the team dressed them in neon Sunday, like Wi-Fi “coaches” in other stadiums have done.

Unfortunately, the NiNerd I talked to wasn’t able to solve my problem (it seems to be related to a known bug in the newest Android release of the stadium app) but I did notice during my visit Sunday that the NiNerds in general seemed to be more numerous and visible, and they even got a nice shout-out on the Levi’s Stadium big screen (see photos below). Below are some thoughts and observations on the network performance, the app performance and the overall fan experience at Levi’s, which I hadn’t visited since the season opener back on Sept. 14.

Wi-Fi network struggles at 2.4 GHz, soars at 5 GHz

Speed test results from outer concourse location, Levi's Stadium, pregame

Speed test results from outer concourse location, Levi’s Stadium, pregame

On the network-performance side of things, the Wi-Fi system seemed as robust as ever for new devices, including the AT&T LG Optimus G Pro I’ve been test-driving lately. With the Android device and its 5 GHz Wi-Fi connection I hit speeds of 31 Mbps download and 29 upload before the game on the Levi’s Stadium outside concourse, and then had a 14 Mbps download connection in my seat in section 229 (south end zone) at kickoff. In the third quarter I wandered up to the top (7th) level of seats, and got a 28/33 Mbps reading while waiting in a concession-stand line.

With my older Verizon Droid 4 device, however, I struggled to connect to the Wi-Fi network. Since the phone only runs on the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi frequency, it doesn’t do well at Levi’s Stadium, where the Wi-Fi is more heavily tuned for newer, 5 GHz-capable devices.

Full charging station... before the game starts

Full charging station… before the game starts

The best Wi-Fi speedtest I could get with the Droid device was a 1.06 Mbps download/3.04 Mbps upload mark, from the same spot on the outer concourse where the newer device recorded blazing connectivity speeds. Switching it over to its Verizon 4G LTE radio, I was able to get much faster connectivity, including one mark of 21.60/9.58 on the main level inside concourse.

I also ran out of juice on the Verizon phone before the end of the game — which could have been either the device draining due to its inability to get a solid connection, or due to the fact that it’s getting old and the battery doesn’t hold a charge that well anymore. Judging from the crowds around the Levi’s Stadium recharging stations (the picture to the left was taken during pregame) I am not alone in my device-energy woes.

App problem derails beacon test

One of the main tasks I had planned for Sunday was to see how well the beacon-assisted wayfinding feature in the stadium app worked. Only problem was, in the new update of the Levi’s Stadium app that was released in the past week (which I downloaded to both devices Sunday morning), several features were missing, including the “Maps” feature.

Picture of app fail in Levi's Stadium Android app

Picture of app fail in Levi’s Stadium Android app

A NiNerd I talked to outside the stadium on the Faithful Mile area showed me the maps/wayfinding feature on his iPhone, and pulled up a GPS-supported direction message that pointed the correct way for me to enter the stadium. But neither he nor the NiNerd I talked to inside the stadium could figure out why both of my Android devices weren’t showing the maps feature, or several other features on the left-upper-corner pull-down menu.

According to Louise Callagy, vice president of marketing for app developer VenueNext, the new version of the app released this week did have a known Android bug. In an email response Sunday night Callagy said, “we know we have a bug where Android gets confused and won’t return results from the network,” adding that rebooting the device might have fixed the problem; however, I did reboot both devices during the game and the problems were not corrected.

Callagy said the Levi’s network also had issues Sunday in getting location information from the beacons. “Our plan is to re-write the code [for the app] and solve this issue, releasing a new version before the Seahawks game on Thursday,” Callagy added in her email.

On the good-news side the replay function of the Levi’s Stadium app was more impressive than earlier versions, with highlights appearing in the app in mere seconds after the original play had concluded. After the Niners’ first TD pass of the day, I was able to view the highlight of the Colin Kaepernick-to-Anquan Boldin pass just after the extra point had been kicked.

I was also able to see the red light/green light system for restroom wait times that drew so much attention when it was talked about earlier this year. However, in real-life practice it’s doubtful anyone thinks of looking at the app when it’s time to go. (It’s also quite likely that while you are looking at the app for a short restroom line, a natural break in action will occur and restroom lines will predictably lengthen everywhere.) I found a quick trick for Levi’s attendees that might pay off in the future: If the restroom you’re aiming toward has a long line, walk a small bit farther to find its back door — where there is often no line at all.

New version of app, with clearer icons on main screen

New version of app, with clearer icons on main screen

I messed up later in the game, however, in thinking that it would just be easier to find a concession stand than to use the app’s express window ordering function. At least the 10 minutes I spent in line behind three women who were apparently ordering for their entire row (five hotdogs, six orders of fries, two orders of wings, two beers and one large ice water) gave me time to conduct a couple more Wi-Fi speedtests. Next time, I’m using the food-ordering features on the app.

I also made great use of the app’s ability to let fans watch live game action (I chose the feed from the main video screens in the stadium). Since I had to leave early I was on the first VTA train when I saw the game-winning TD run courtesy of the app’s live action broadcast. The live video, incidentally, kept playing seamlessly over the AT&T 4G LTE network as I sped away from the stadium, allowing me to watch the final game-sealing sack as I beat most of the traffic home.

VTA trains a smooth ride, once you figure out how to get on

I also had another smooth ride to and from the stadium using the VTA light rail trains from Mountain View — once I was on the train it took just a little over 30 stress-free minutes both coming and going. Getting on the trains, however, is a process that could still use some work. The Mountain View station, which is logistically hampered by having to share space with the Caltrain tracks and station, has very little signage on game day, and has a lot of confusing temporary gates to try to flow foot traffic toward the ticket-verification checkers.

Packed VTA train en route to Levi's Stadium

Packed VTA train en route to Levi’s Stadium

Once I figured out the maze and was guided across the Caltrain tracks I was directed to one of two waiting trains — but then a VTA staffer looked into the train and told people there were also express buses that wouldn’t stop on the way to Levi’s (unlike the trains, which stop at numerous stations en route). The quizzical advice — nobody said if it was any faster to take the buses — had many people wondering what they were supposed to do, causing a delay in closing the train doors as people made up their minds without any more information.

Once we arrived at the stadium, on the exit platform there was no person or sign directing fans in the proper direction. Good thing for the many newbies on the train (the train 2 hours before kickoff was packed) several of us were veterans and directed everyone down the proper ramp. For the return trip the Mountain View line suffered from similar lack of information and signing — and after one train passed the station with signs that said “Not in Service” we got on a second train that also said “Not in service” but whose doors opened anyway and one person in a yellow vest told everyone, “get inside.”

Overall impressions: Levi’s experience and technology still a work in progress

While I continue to be impressed by the network and app performance at Levi’s Stadium, I also felt several times on Sunday like the technology, the stadium and the entire fan experience is still a work in progress — perhaps something to be expected for a venue in its first year of events. But I have to wonder a bit about releasing a new version of the app in midseason, without apparently testing it enough to make sure it worked well on all devices that might want to use it.

I’m also still skeptical on how well the wayfinding feature will work in real world situations; though it sounds great to be able to get GPS-like directions to places inside the stadium, the reality of trying to walk around looking down at your phone on one of Levi’s Stadium crowded concourses is more likely to lead you into someone’s backside. Anyone with tales to tell of Levi’s Stadium technology experiences, please chime in below in the comments or send me an email to kaps at mobilesportsreport.com. I’d be especially interested to know if anyone else saw my app problems Sunday on Android phones. More Levi’s pictures below.

A NiNerd (no vest) helps fans outside the stadium.

A NiNerd (no vest) helps fans outside the stadium.

Kickoff view from Section 229. Thanks to the Niners for the free media access.

Kickoff view from Section 229. Thanks to the Niners for the free media access.

Niners fans get their phone cameras busy for kickoff ceremonies.

Niners fans get their phone cameras busy for kickoff ceremonies.

Scoreboard plug for the app.

Scoreboard plug for the app.

Scoreboard promo for the NiNerds (one in a series)

Scoreboard promo for the NiNerds (one in a series)

Second in the series. This one got laughs from the crowd.

Second in the series. This one got laughs from the crowd.

Probably the first time many fans heard the term "NiNerds"

Probably the first time many fans heard the term “NiNerds”

Nothing says geek like a bow tie

Nothing says geek like a bow tie

Stadium Tech Report: Nebraska adds Cisco-powered Wi-Fi, IPTV to Memorial Stadium

Memorial Stadium, University of Nebraska. Credit all photos: University of Nebraska.

Memorial Stadium, University of Nebraska. Credit all photos: University of Nebraska.

The state of Nebraska might not have a professional football team, but University of Nebraska fans now have a pro-style wireless experience at home games thanks to a high-density Wi-Fi network and IPTV features recently installed by the school at the 85,000-plus seat Memorial Stadium.

Combined with a new mobile app that delivers multiple live video streams and replay options, the loyal Cornhusker fans — who’ve come to Lincoln, Neb., and filled Memorial Stadium to the brim every game day since the 1960s — now have a wireless fan in-game experience among the best anywhere, collegiate or pro. Installed for use this season by CDW, the new network features Cisco Wi-Fi gear and Cisco’s StadiumVision and StadiumVision Mobile systems, as well as a new app developed by NeuLion and additional video-streaming capabilities from EVS.

“We have the most loyal fans in the country,” said Kelly Mosier, director of digital communications for the University of Nebraska athletic department. Part of putting in a high-definition wireless network, Mosier said, was to meet growing fan connectivity needs and to “stay ahead of the curve” in stadium experiences. “We wanted to reward the fans for being so loyal, and give them a new experience to brag about,” Mosier said.

A look at video options in the Husker app

A look at video options in the Husker app (click picture for bigger view)

One of the first collegiate programs to install big TV screens in its stadium, Nebraska now has a Wi-Fi network with more than 800 access points, both inside Memorial’s seating bowl as well as outside, at entrance and parking areas. In addition to synchronized IPTV broadcasts on stadium flat-panel screens, Nebraska fans also have access to a wide range of live video and video replays of game-day action, thanks to the new game-day app.

According to Dan Floyd, director of information technology for Nebraska athletics, the new network is already a hit, with a peak of 25,000 simultaneous users during the second game this fall. And even though Floyd and Mosier are aware of some problem areas, as Floyd said there has already been “a lot of positive feedback” from the technology upgrades.

Better sound, better connectivity

The network deployment was part of a recent $12.3 million upgrade to the football facility, which has been the home of the Huskers since 1923. Included in the total spend was also a revamp of the public-address and sound systems, but according to Mosier “the biggest chunk” of the spending went to cover the Wi-Fi deployment.

The need for better connectivity became apparent a few years back, Mosier said, and it set in motion a “very long process” of a couple years in length in which Nebraska officials looked at other existing stadium deployments and technology choices before making their decisions. One of the easier picks was selecting Cisco as the main Wi-Fi gear supplier, since Mosier said that most of the rest of the school’s campus was already wired with Cisco networking gear. And a recent deployment of Cisco stadium Wi-Fi at Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln, Neb., where the Husker basketball team plays, helped further push the football decision toward using Cisco.

“We wanted to provide a seamless experience for fans between multiple venues, and to play well with the rest of the campus,” Mosier said. “It was just a no-brainer to use a Cisco [Wi-Fi] product.”

Also in Cisco’s favor was its StadiumVision digital display system and its StadiumVision Mobile product, which both bring advanced IPTV features to static stadium screens as well as to mobile apps. StadiumVision allows for synchronization of programming across a wide array of networked displays, while StadiumVision Mobile supports several live broadcast channels that can be used to provide live content to mobile apps. The Brooklyn Nets use StadiumVision Mobile to bring live action channels to fans who visit the Barclays Center for games.

“We wanted to not just provide the networking infrastructure, but on top of that provide something extra,” Mosier said. “Our fans are pretty savvy, and they are looking for things beyond what the casual fan might be looking for. StadiumVision and StadiumVision Mobile makes sense for our fan base. The ‘extra screen’ approach really lets them control their own video experience.”

Some additional replay options in the Husker app

Some additional replay options in the Husker app

On the Huskers’ game day app, Mosier said, fans at the start of the season could choose between three StadiumVision Mobile-powered “channels” that showed the big-screen broadcast, an alternate angle view, and an “all-22″ camera that is like what coaches view to see the players across the entire field. A “phase II” of the app live video, which had not yet launched at the time of our interview, will include further user-controlled selections for more camera angles and replays. According to Mosier, the Phase II capabilities are supported by the C-Cast system from EVS. The entire new app, he said, was built by developer NeuLion.

Though Mosier said the live video production for the app was “definitely a growing process” that will require further tuning and learning, he said the system already has impressive performance, with delays between live action and app action at “a second to a second and a half.” Mosier said that Nebraska also plans to bring more live action to the mobile app for basketball season, with multiple camera angles including a “slam cam” based near the rims.

Handrails and fan interference of Wi-Fi signals

While the 800 Wi-Fi APs give Nebraska pretty good coverage throughout the facility, Floyd said the IT team knew it would have connectivity challenges in the north and south end zone stands, since neither of those sides have any structural overhangs.

“Since the north and south sides [of the stadium] don’t have overhangs we knew they would be problematic,” Floyd said. One option used in venues including AT&T Park and Levi’s Stadium, the under-the-seat access point, wasn’t an option at Memorial Stadium, Floyd said, because the seats there aren’t high enough to meet safety requirements for keeping bodies away from the antennas.

One creative way CDW and Nebraska brought Wi-Fi to the north and south stands is via Wi-Fi antennas inside railing enclosures, but those are not without their own challenges. Though the railing antennas get a signal close to fans, the long rows of seats at Memorial Stadium — up to 30 in between rows — means that the “waterbags,” or human bodies, can act as signal-blockers for fans in the middle of the rows.

“The first 10 or 12 people on either side get a pretty good signal,” said Floyd, but he added that the fans in the middle are still a challenge to reach. Both Mosier and Floyd said Nebraska will continue to seek ways to upgrade the Wi-Fi network, including possibly putting APs on top of towers or in other creative deployments.

“We knew it would need tuning, and some tuning is easier than others,” Mosier said. “We know we still have pockets of [connectivity] problems. We knew that when we put in a system like this, it wasn’t going to be perfect on day 1.”

Something to brag about

According to Floyd, Memorial Stadium has had a Verizon DAS in place for several years, which fulfilled most of the fans’ basic cellular connectivity needs since he said that “70 to 75 percent” of Cornhusker fans were Verizon customers. However, the new sound system, with its big speaker arrays, has also given room for AT&T and U.S. Cellular to add some DAS equipment of their own, with antennas mounted right inside the speaker enclosures.

Unlike other schools or teams, the Cornhuskers are not pressed to make money off their wireless network, given the stadium sellout streak that dates back to Nov. 3, 1962. But Mosier said that even the Huskers aren’t immune to the lure of the living room couch, with its comfort, HD screen and close-by food and drink.

“We definitely have a blessed situation [with the sellouts],” Mosier said, while allowing that some fans might still prefer sitting at home. “But you can’t match the experience of being at the venue,” he added. “If we can address the connectivity issues, plus add to the stadium experience [with technology], it’s a win-win for us.”

Using the app at Memorial Stadium

Using the app at Memorial Stadium

CBS to stream entire 2014 SEC football schedule online and via app

If you’re one of those college football fans who simply can’t get enough SEC, CBS has you covered this season even if you’re not near a TV set. Starting with this weekend’s Georgia vs. South Carolina game, CBS said it will stream its entire schedule of SEC football games live online for free, and also through its Android and iOS apps. The online version of the broadcast, dubbed SEC Live, will also feature extras like an “all-22″ overhead camera angle, and a special online postgame show.

The CBS slate of 16 SEC games is about one game a weekend, with a couple doubleheaders thrown in as well as the SEC championship game on Dec. 6. While the online streaming is not only convenient for those who want to watch games while away from their couch, it in many ways offers more features than the regular broadcast, with the multiple camera angles and other goodies like Twitter stream integration, player stats, highlights and polls. (Let’s see if CBS can fix the problem that plagues other online efforts, namely Twitter feeds that get ahead of the live video stream.)

The all-22 camera is one that adds a lot to football watching, especially for true football geeks who want to see plays unfold with coach-like access. ESPN had an all-22 camera among its options during the most recent BCS championship megacast. The inclusion of the multiple camera angles by CBS is good news, a signal that broadcasters are responding to fans’ wishes and using technology to answer the need. The entire package — especially the free nature of it, not requiring any cable contract qualification for access — is just another example of the savvy digital chops at CBS.

According to CBS, the SEC Live package each week will also include “a pregame show, a halftime show, and an original 5th Quarter postgame featuring analysis from CBS Sports’ lead college football analyst Gary Danielson.” We here at MSR are big fans of the postgame show with Danielson, which is sometimes conducted in a motorhome with a Skype-like feel. Good stuff.

MLB streaming comes to Google Chromecast


You can now add Google Chromecast to the platforms that stream Major League Baseball broadcasts in the U.S. Subscribers of MLB.TV who own one of the Chromecast sticks that plug into the back of many modern televisions will be very happy.

MLB.TV enables fans to watch home and away games of out of market teams and once subscribed can use not only the Chromecast but also smartphones and tablets to watch games. Be sure to check what qualifies as an out of market team since some areas such as Las Vegas are claimed by multiple teams.

English Premier League gains additional network partners for finals
The Premier League will now be available on additional channels as NBCUniversal has opened up its family of stations to the broadcast of the league’s finale that will consist of 10 matches held on May 11.

It now plans to simultaneously broadcast the games not only on NBC and NBCSN but also on Bravo, Syfy, Oxygen, USA, CNBC, MSNBC, Esquire Network and E!, channels better known for broadcasting anything but exciting soccer.

Rate the MLB announcers
It may be a bit late to join all of the fun but over at Awful Announcing they are having a contest to rate all of Major League Baseball’s individual broadcast teams. It has been ongoing for a few days but is still worth checking in to see how your favorite, or least favorite voices are doing. Do you like or detest homers, are some too bland, off message or just plain head scratching? Time to make your opinion known! The national broadcast teams on stations such as ESPN and Fox Sports will not be included in this poll.

Google lays out details for modular smartphone
Last year when Google first started talking about its “Project Ara” we did not pay that much attention since it was basically just some mockup photos and not much detail. Last week the company put meat on the Ara bones and started explaining what its intentions are in that area.

The goal of the project is simple but grandiose; it wants to revolutionize the smartphone market, and in 1 year. The idea is very simply, a phone that has a number of replaceable components that a user can select to include in their version of the phone. Think of a Lego phone as a comparable. Users could swap in processors, memory, storage and even type of connectors.

USA Today offers rare sports prints
USA Today has launched an endeavor called the USA Today Sports store and to kick it off it is offering customers a chance to buy a select number of images taken of Muhammad Ali early in his career that originally came from the Courier-Journal in Louisville.

While these images will be available for a silent auction fundraiser to benefit the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute this weekend there are a large number of images available at thestore.

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.

(Editor’s second note: Not EVERY game is being shown live, there are still local blackouts… look what we got when we tried to tune in San Jose – LA:)

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