July 28, 2016

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

DAS antennas visible on the LA Coliseum's facade

DAS antennas visible on the LA Coliseum’s facade

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

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

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

Relying on DAS for fan wireless

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

Artist rendering of the proposed new LA football stadium

Artist rendering of the proposed new LA football stadium

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

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

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

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

DAS antennas inside the concourse

DAS antennas inside the concourse

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

Waiting for the new stadium to be built

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

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

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

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

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

Cleveland Browns: New YinzCam analytics platform produced $1 million+ in ROI

FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. Credit: Cleveland Browns.

FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. Credit: Cleveland Browns.

In sports it’s one thing to have a great playbook, and quite another thing to have a team that can execute the plays.

You can make a similar comparison to the state of sports business analytics — teams and venues are awash these days in ways to collect digital data on fans. But not many teams have figured out how to act on that information to effectively improve the fan experience, and improve the business bottom line, making many digital-fan engagement efforts seem unfinished.

That quest — to find a return on investment for a team’s digital operations — may get a big push forward this week with the announcement of the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform, which is designed to bring together all kinds of digital fan data info in a place where teams can see it and act on it in a consolidated, structured fashion. According to early users the platform allows teams or venues to establish a highly personalized connection to the fan — while powering more efficient business processes at the same time.

At the SEAT Conference this week in Las Vegas, YinzCam will announce its new product and present a case study with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, who have been testing the YinzCam software ahead of its general release. In an interview last week with Mobile Sports Report, the Browns said the YinzCam software did the one thing other existing products and services couldn’t do — help them analyze and act on the data they gathered from various digital fan interactions.

Screenshot of YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform view of fan profile. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

Screenshot of YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform view of fan profile. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

In one test, the Browns said the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform allowed the team to save more than a million dollars in season-ticket renewals by being able to more effectively target fans who might be thinking about not renewing, and to connect with them via the fans’ preferred method of communication, trying to convince them to renew. According to YinzCam CEO Priya Narasimhan, the Business Intelligence Platform will be generally available on Monday.

New direction for YinzCam

The Business Intelligence Platform is a significant business shift for YinzCam, which to date has made its name by producing team and stadium apps that focus mainly on content, either for fans at the game or (increasingly) for fans at home who want to stay connected with their teams. With more than 150 mobile apps developed for teams in all the major U.S. professional sports leagues as well as in the NCAA and in international arenas, YinzCam is by far the leader in the market of stadium- and team-specific applications.

While YinzCam’s Narasimhan said the company’s apps have always used data to help bring a better app experience to fans, the new twist in the business platform is that YinzCam can combine its mobile-app fan interaction knowledge with other team data stores — like ticketing and concession purchase information from other potential team partners, like TicketMaster or Legends — to present a single, unified view of a digital fan profile. The platform will also allow teams to construct single campaigns across multiple communication channels — like email , phone outreach and social media — without the sometimes challenging task of sharing or merging contact lists.

Screenshot of YinzCam's Browns app

Screenshot of YinzCam’s Browns app

“By combining YinzCam’s mobile app capabilities with all of our sources of information, this platform offers our team the ability to organize, understand and evaluate data in a manner that addresses our main goal of continually improving our fans’ experience by customizing it for each individual,” said Cleveland Browns executive vice president and chief financial officer Dave Jenkins, in an email conversation. “In addition to understanding our fans better and providing an opportunity to accommodate their personal preferences, the system integrates information clearly across multiple areas so our team can communicate effectively with fans, allowing our staff to work more efficiently and successfully.”

Acting on data

As more teams install wireless networks in their stadiums and increase their digital interaction with fans — via such activities as digital ticketing, concession purchases, content consumption and various fan loyalty programs — the business desire is to use that digital engagement to better serve the fan while also increasing business efficiency and support new channels of revenue. However, as our recent Wi-Fi analytics feature found, even the leaders in digital programs are still at the starting points of using analytics to power such ideas.

According to members of the Cleveland Browns’ business analytics department, the team has been trying to build a data-based approach to fan engagement for the past several years, but didn’t find what they were looking for in the way of a product or service until hearing about YinzCam’s new platform. According to the Browns, the YinzCam business platform is a breakthrough, since it provides the means to not just harvest all kinds of data, but to also bring those numbers together to be acted upon in a simple, unified fashion.

Dave Giller, manager of business analytics for the Browns, said other firms with analytics products and services only seemed to offer products that “gave us the data and a container to put it in. YinzCam was the only one who could show us insights, and that really made all the difference.”

The Browns use many methods of communication to stay in touch with fans, including group selfies. Credit: Cleveland Browns

The Browns use many methods of communication to stay in touch with fans, including group selfies. Credit: Cleveland Browns

Joe Moeller, also a manager of business analytics for the Browns, echoed Giller’s view. “There are lots of ways to get data, put it in a warehouse, and then build a fan profile,” Moeller said. “With YinzCam, we have a solution for that third step — ‘here’s what I do with the data I have.’ That’s huge for us.”

Testing the math

To find out for themselves if the YinzCam platform could help the team in a measurable way, the Browns set up a thorough pilot program around the question of season ticket-holder renewals — a business question at the heart and soul of many teams’ operations. What the Browns wanted to find out was whether or not a system like YinzCam’s could help them improve an important process — being able to identify season ticket holders who might be leaning toward not renewing, and to connect with them to try to keep them in the fold.

According to Giller and Moeller, there were two significant factors in the pilot — first trying to identify which fans might be in danger of not renewing, and second, how to best reach those fans with targeted communications. As a baseline, the Browns established control groups that put some season ticket holders randomly into groups to be contacted either by email, or phone calls, or via social media; then other groups were built using the YinzCam platform to both find ticket holders who might not be interested in renewing, and to find the best ways to reach those ticket holders.

Giller and Moeller said the method of communicating to fans and ticket holders is a primary concern these days, since many people have a preferred method of digital communication, with no single method applicable across demographic spectrums.

“Some people respond better through a particular platform,” Giller said. “We worry about whether people will get freaked out if they get a DM from us on Twitter.”

Screenshot of the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform dashboard. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

Screenshot of the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform dashboard. Credit: YinzCam/Cleveland Browns

At the risk of oversimplifying the process (interested parties at SEAT can learn more details at a panel describing the Browns’ experiments on Monday at 11:30 a.m. Vegas time), what the Browns found was that using the YinzCam business platform, they were able to increase their success rate of renewals by 16 percent over a non-YinzCam method — a process that gave the Browns more than $1 million in renewal revenues compared to the non-YinzCam method.

“We report up through the CFO, and it’s his responsibility to make sure this [analytics] is a viable business,” Giller said. A million-plus, everyone agreed, was among the best ways to show a digital-program ROI.

Where does it go next?

While ticketing operations are usually the best place to show business improvements, Narasimhan and the Browns are interested in additional steps the business platform can be used for, including managing tasks like content delivery, merchandise and concessions discounts, and additional ticket purchases and upsells.

“There are more questions to be answered, like which content do we produce, and which medium should it be delivered through,” Moeller said. He added that the YinzCam platform will also allow the Browns or other teams to show engagement data to potential sponsors for team apps and other engagement platforms, so they can compare how the team-specific connections stack up against other media and engagement programs.

YinzCam’s Narasimhan said that the business platform could be customized in many ways depending upon a team or venue’s desires for outcomes. From a market perspective, the YinzCam Business Intelligence Platform seems to be a significant shift in direction for the Pittsburgh-based company, one that might help fend off the growing competition from new players like VenueNext, a company whose team- and venue-app strategy is focused on fan services, like ticketing and concessions, over content, with its own analytics platform to help teams better assess the performance of digital operations.

Whether or not teams pick YinzCam or VenueNext or some other competitor to help turn data into profitable actions, the good news for teams and venues is that the biggest player in stadium and team apps is now bringing its playbook to back of the house operations; like in any sport, increased competition can only lead to a better final outcome for all.

Commentary: Venues need to think of connectivity beyond the stadium walls

MSR editor Paul Kapustka via selfie from the field-level suites at US Bank Stadium.

MSR editor Paul Kapustka via selfie from the field-level suites at US Bank Stadium.

Last month, if you wanted a seat inside US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis you needed a getup like the one I’m wearing in the picture – including what you can’t see, the steel-toed shoes and the gloves that kept me from scratching any of the already-finished surfaces. Almost ready to open its doors, I can tell you that US Bank Stadium is a beauty, and that we’ll have a full report soon. For now enjoy the “sneak peek” photo essay we posted earlier.

Outside the architecturally angled walls of the stadium, what really impressed me during a recent quick visit to Minneapolis was how well the stadium operators are working with entities like the city, state and other large public gathering places, to ensure that the large streams of humanity traveling to and from the 67,000-seat facility have the best experience possible, both before and after events.

Like most travelers, my experience with Minneapolis’ integrated infrastructures started at the airport, where I took the simple and easy to understand light rail directly into downtown. I noticed that the train already stops directly at one of the US Bank Stadium doors, unlike some other stadiums where mass transit connections are a sometimes-lengthy walk away. That the stadium already has its own stop even before it opens shows that at the very least, people were thinking and talking even before the concrete was poured.

Light rail stop at the front door of US Bank Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Light rail stop at the front door of US Bank Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR


Mass transit a priority for US Bank Stadium

Editor’s note: This editorial is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!
With no large parking lots right next to the stadium and only some scattered lots (as far as I could tell) downtown, the light rail is clearly going to be an integral part of getting fans to and from the venue, both for regular-season Minnesota Vikings games as well as for Super Bowl 52 a couple Februarys from now. To make that trip easier, the light rail also extends past the airport to the Mall of America, a key link in the integrated civic infrastructure.

Why is the mall a part of this? Mainly because it is also a transit center (it has a large space where buses, trains and car parking are all together) and because it offers free parking – meaning that fans can simply park at the mall and spend a couple bucks taking the half-hour train to US Bank Stadium (or also to Target Field, which is just a few stops farther through downtown). Courtesy of a recent deployment there is now high-quality Wi-Fi in the mall itself, and at many places in Minnesota proper there is free civic Wi-Fi. There are also plans afoot to bring Wi-Fi to the light rail trains themselves. While it might not seem like much, the idea of being able to be highly connected all the way from parking at the mall to your seat in the stadium is a fan’s dream come true, enabling all the connectivity wants or needs that can happen during a game or event day.

Having witnessed some other stadiums opening without much coordination, it’s impressive and great to hear that the Vikings and Minneapolis are already planning for things like overcrowded trains after games (since more people leave at the same time than arrive at the same time), with plans to close off one of the stadium’s bordering streets and to have dozens of buses on hand to handle the overflow. There’s also plans to have stadium TVs show mass transit schedules as fans depart, and also options to remain downtown for post-game eating or celebrations.

VTA line following Levi's Stadium hockey game in 2015.

VTA line following Levi’s Stadium hockey game in 2015.

How else are the Vikings, the city and the state planning to work together? In our interviews we heard about plans to use real-time traffic mapping to close off crowded exits and to direct fans to faster paths to and from the stadium, and to perhaps be able to communicate such directions to fans via the team’s new mobile app. While it all still needs to be done in real time on a real game day, just the thinking about the fact that a “game day” doesn’t start or stop at the stadium premises is a refreshing one, especially for a venue that will host a Super Bowl in just over a year and a half.

While we’ve heard of other, similar plans to extend connectivity beyond the stadium walls – here we are thinking of the downtown plan around Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and new plans for “fan plazas” outside such venues as Wrigley Field and Lambeau Field – the Vikings seem to have looked even farther out, to try to ensure that the connected fan experience goes as far as it possibly can. Again, the proof will be in the execution, but like the view from outside US Bank Stadium, the ideas hatching in Minnesota look pretty good.

Wi-Fi Analytics: Taking the first steps

Wi-Fi antennas at Joe Louis Arena. Credit: Detroit Red Wings (click on any photo for a larger image)

Wi-Fi antennas at Joe Louis Arena. Credit: Detroit Red Wings (click on any photo for a larger image)

Even though the physical construction and deployment of a fan-facing Wi-Fi network seems like the biggest challenge facing a stadium’s information technology team, in reality everyone involved knows it’s just step one.

While turning on a live network is certainly a great accomplishment, once the data starts flowing the inevitable questions follow: Now that we have Wi-Fi, what do we do with it? And how do we find out who’s using it, why they are using it, and how can we use that information it to find out better ways to improve the fan experience while also improving our business?

Those “step two” questions can only be answered by analytics, the gathering of information about Wi-Fi network performance and user activity. And while almost every live network operator almost instantly uses performance numbers to help tune the system, plans to harvest and digest the more personalized information like end-user identification, application use and fan engagement are just getting started, even at the most technically advanced stadiums with Wi-Fi networks in place.

What follows here are some conversations with stadium tech professionals who are already running fan-facing Wi-Fi networks, exploring how they use Wi-Fi metrics and analytics to both enhance the game-day experience for fans while also building a base of information that can be used by both technical staffs and marketing organizations inside the team, school and venue organizations.

Even this small sample seems to suggest that while Wi-Fi networks may be somewhat pervasive in the larger stadiums across the country, the harvesting and processing of data generated by digital fan engagement is just getting started, with plenty of unanswered questions and experiments that have yet to bear significant fruit. Yet everyone we spoke with also had an unshakable confidence that getting metrics and analytics right was the key to wireless success over the long haul, and all are fully engaged in pursuing that goal. It may take longer than physical deployment, but the “step two” of learning from the networks is well underway.

Detroit Red Wings: Pushing past the initial learning curve

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

Now that the Wi-Fi network at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit is coming up on its second birthday, Tod Caflisch said network administrators can relax a bit on game nights. Early on, however, he remembers “babysitting” the network during games, watching live performance stats to make sure everything was working correctly.

Watching the live network performance statistics, Caflisch said, “I could tell if there were issues. If throughput looked a little flat, we might have to reboot a switch. It was important, because there was so much at stake.”

As former director of information technology for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings (he recently left Detroit and is now with the Minnesota Vikings), Caflisch helped drive the deployment of an Extreme Networks Wi-Fi network at the “Joe.” Though Joe Louis Arena is only going to host games a little while longer — a new downtown arena is just around the corner — Caflisch said the team in Detroit is already heading down the learning curve of interpreting analytics, with big goals on the horizon.

Right now, some of the most interesting network statistics have to do with fan Wi-Fi usage, including total tonnage, which Caflisch said hit 14 terabytes of data for the Red Wings’ home games this past season. That number is one and a half times bigger per game than the first year the network was in place, he said.

Big spikes for a score

One of the more interesting results came when Caflisch mapped network data to game action, an exercise that showed that hockey games may have bigger data spikes and troughs than other sports.

“We saw that traffic spikes corresponded with scores, and we also had huge spikes during intermissions,” Caflisch said. “And there were huge craters during the periods of regular action.”

While Caflisch said “it was kind of cool” to watch the network action mapped to the game action, in the future he sees the ability for the Red Wings use such actionable moments to better engage fans.

“There’s got to be some kind of marketing potential” to connect with fans during a network-activity spike, Caflisch said. What that is, is still unknown. But using networks to more closely engage fans is a big part of the Red Wings’ road map, especially as Detroit builds out a “venue environment” around the new arena.

According to Caflisch, the team in Detroit is planning to build out a network surrounding the arena, in parking lots and public spaces, including lots of beacons for proximity engagement. Though DAS and Wi-Fi numbers can show where foot traffic goes in and around stadiums, the next level of analytics Caflisch sees as important is on fan spending behavior, on items like parking, concessions and in restaurants and bars near the arena. Future projects in Detroit, he said, might include beacon-generated discounts, like a free coffee at a nearby Tim Horton’s or a free beer at a nearby bar.

“The kinds of things you want to find out are what kind of money are fans spending, and how often do they buy,” Caflisch said. “Do they stick around after the game? Do they rush in at the start? That’s the kind of stuff you’re looking for.”

Of course to get some of that data Caflisch knows the team needs to convince fans to engage digitally, by downloading a team app and providing some information for identification. So far some efforts in that direction have been helpful in identifying fans not in the team’s ticketing database, especially fans coming across the border from Canada.

In Detroit, Caflisch said, the Wings are “now marketing to those people, trying to get them to more games for the same or less money.”

Baylor University: Enlisting fans to help pinpoint problems

When Baylor University built its new football mecca, McLane Stadium, the stadium technology department was often as nervous as a football team before a big game. Would the new fan-facing Wi-Fi work as planned? Would they be able to solve problems before they became big problems?

Baylor's McLane Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Baylor’s McLane Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“At the beginning, the questions we asked were along the lines of, ‘can we get through the day,’ ” said Pattie Orr, vice president for information technology and Dean of University Libraries and the public face of the McLane Stadium network. Now that the network team is a couple years into running stadium Wi-Fi, Orr can laugh a bit about the initial fears. But from the beginning, she said, analytics “were a big factor” in making sure the network was running right.

An Extreme Networks deployment, Baylor uses Extreme’s Purview analytics system, which Orr lauds for being “easy to use” and a “great console for real-time information during a game.”

Solving for 2.4 GHz and using fan input

Mostly that means watching the dashboards to see if any APs are causing any errors, something the network stats package can usually show clearly. One of the things the network crew learned quickly during the first season with Wi-Fi was that Baylor fans were using a lot more 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi devices than anyone had thought, meaning that there were more older phones in use that didn’t have the newer 5 GHz Wi-Fi chips.

“The first season we were about 50-50 between 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, and that surprised us,” said Bob Hartland, director of IT servers and networking services at Baylor. “We had to prioritize for more 2.4 GHz.” This past season, Hartland said, the fan devices skewed closer to 60 percent using 5 GHz bands.

A Baylor "Wi-Fi Coach" helps a fan negotiate the network. Credit: Baylor University

A Baylor “Wi-Fi Coach” helps a fan negotiate the network. Credit: Baylor University

Baylor also added Wi-Fi to its basketball arena this past season, presenting a whole new set of problems, like devices trying to connect to APs across the smaller stadium. Though network analytics were a start, Baylor’s team found out that fan input could also help isolate where problems might be from a physical standpoint. Having a team of “network coaches” on hand also helped pinpoint the problems in a way that might be impossible just working from the network side of things.

This past year, Orr said Baylor added a feature to its stadium app to let fans “send a message to the Wi-Fi coach” with their row number and seat number if they were having a network problem. The coaches (part of most Extreme Wi-Fi deployments) also followed social media like Twitter to see if fans were reporting network problems.

“It’s fantastic to have the live [performance] data from your fans,” Orr said. With fan and network data and area knowledge in hand, the coaches and the network team could more quickly determine if it was a network or device problem, and respond more quickly to the issue. So more data = better solutions, faster.

“If you don’t have good access to analytics you can’t deal with fan [problems] in real time,” Orr said.

VenueNext and the Niners: Finding out who’s in the building

As one of the newer and more technologically advanced venues, Levi’s Stadium often gets noticed for its wireless networks, which set single-day records of 26 terabytes of data for combined DAS and Wi-Fi usage at Super Bowl 50.

A VenueNext beacon enclosure at Levi's Stadium. Credit: VenueNext

A VenueNext beacon enclosure at Levi’s Stadium. Credit: VenueNext

Though wireless performance is important to teams and fans, the information being gathered by the Levi’s Stadium app — built by VenueNext, the company created by the Niners specifically to construct stadium apps — may end up being among the most valuable digital assets, since it helps teams discover exactly who is coming in the building and how they are spending time, attention and dollars.

“We generate data for analytics,” said VenueNext CEO John Paul, talking about the role VenueNext plays as a stadium app partner. One of the more stunning facts revealed after the Niners’ first year at Levi’s Stadium was that via the stadium app, the team was able to increase its marketing database of fan names from 17,000 to 315,000, with even more impressive success in the details.

“We were able to find out things like how many games fans attended, and who they got the tickets from,” said Paul. Such data, he said, helps teams solve the classic problem of “having no idea who’s in the building on any given day.”

Knowing how many hot dogs can be delivered

While VenueNext’s value proposition may be centered on its ability to help teams gather such valuable marketing data, VenueNext itself relies on internal analytics to ensure the services its apps support — like express food ordering and in-seat food delivery — keep working smoothly during games.

After the first season at Levi’s Stadium, Paul said VenueNext learned that it needed to expose some of its data in real-time to fans — “to improve service during the event,” Paul said. One example is that now, if there are too many orders in a certain section, the app can send a message to fans that wait times might be longer than normal. Conversely, if a certain area of the stadium has idle kitchen capacity and runners, a team might send an in-app notification asking if fans want to order something, to create demand.

Over time, Paul said the VenueNext analytics might help teams find out where walk-up concession stands get overloaded by foot traffic, and maybe reconfigure stadium kitchen placements to assist with food delivery options. In the end, he said, it should be seamless to the fans, so that in-seat delivery becomes a regular part of a game-day experience.

“The fans should have no idea where the food comes from,” Paul said.

Stadium Tech Report: Buffalo Bills bridge Wi-Fi gap with Extreme Networks

Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. Credit: AP Photo/Scott Boehm

Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. Credit: AP Photo/Scott Boehm

When the Buffalo Bills undertook a $130 million renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2014, it was only natural to take took a look at the venue’s communications and networking infrastructure. They knew fans entering a newly modernized sports entertainment facility would have higher expectations about Internet access and connectivity. And there were some back-of-the-house challenges that needed resolution as well, according to Dave Wheat, chief administrative officer for the Buffalo, N.Y.-based National Football League franchise.

“Our own internal staff and the people we bring in — fire, emergency medical services, those groups — were having some real challenges communicating among themselves,” Wheat said. “The key for us was seeing the communications challenges throughout the stadium on game day.”

So a year later when the Buffalo Bills began examining their Wi-Fi infrastructure, they knew they wanted a system that gave fans lots of options – content where and when they wanted it, whether to access social media, the dedicated team app, email or simple web browsing, Wheat said.

“We watched a lot of our [NFL] peers installing Wi-Fi in their stadiums for the last 5 years and saw the investments that different clubs were making,” said Wheat, who added that the extra time gave the Bills the chance to watch the technology develop and evolve and become “more mainstream and reliable.”

The Wi-Fi backend consists of two ExtremeSwitching bonded S4 Chassis; yellow wires are single-mode fiber optic patch cables and the purple cables are for Wi-Fi infrastructure. Credit: Buffalo Bills / Extreme

The Wi-Fi backend consists of two ExtremeSwitching bonded S4 Chassis; yellow wires are single-mode fiber optic patch cables and the purple cables are for Wi-Fi infrastructure. Credit: Buffalo Bills / Extreme

They also got behind-the-scenes tours of competitors’ operations and networks during away games, which also helped shape the Bills’ requirements and buying decisions.

“We saw Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and used that to determine what we wanted and who we wanted to work with,” Wheat said. The Bills recognized the increasing demand for mobile connectivity, with some fans even attending with multiple capable devices. The Wi-Fi network needed to deliver services to these devices anywhere in the 70,000 seat capacity stadium.

The Bills looked at four different Wi-Fi vendors, narrowed it down to two, then chose Extreme Networks for its Wi-Fi and wired networks. “We worked pretty extensively with Extreme — their expertise in this space helped us understand our design better and plan for tremendous growth to cater to our fans,” Wheat said. They also worked with technology integrator Carousel Industries for its managed services expertise, especially at sports facilities.

Cutting through the concrete

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

As with any venue as old as Ralph Wilson Stadium (built in 1973), there were some technical challenges to work through before installing the Wi-Fi. The stadium has an extremely limited overhang from the upper decks; there are also a limited number of railings from which to hang equipment, or conceal it. Individual sections in the bowl also tend to be wide and long, according to Wheat.

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP at Ralph WIlson Stadium

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP at Ralph WIlson Stadium

“The biggest design challenge was that the entire lower bowl is 40 feet below ground and sits on shale rock, so it was a real challenge to get APs there,” Wheat added. Extreme came up with the under-seat solution, spacing the antennas about every five to eight rows, and about 13 to 20 seats apart.

Installing 211 under-seat APs in the lower bowl was also the most labor-intensive part of the Wi-Fi upgrade. Seats had to be removed, then concrete was saw-cut to different depths, depending on the number of cables and APs to accommodate. There was more than 5,000 feet of concrete cuts when all was done, which took nearly six weeks –- “a big challenge,” Wheat said.

In other parts of the stadium, the Bills relied on flag poles and overhangs for AP installation; the public Wi-Fi at Ralph Wilson Stadium ended up with 850 APs total, with 211 under-seat APs in the lower bowl. Total cost: About $4 million, according to Wheat.

Social media and internal operations

Fans are required to authenticate with Social Sign In to access Bills’ Wi-Fi on game day. The service allows users to sign in with Facebook or by providing their email address.

“As the network remembers you, we can deliver more personalized content and learn customer likes and dislikes,” Wheat said, adding that they’re still testing different ways to measure customer behavior. “The challenge for us as an entertainment provider is we have 70,000 people who will come see our game live,” he said. “And we only know the names of 14,000 people who purchased those tickets, and that often changes between the original buyer and the actual attendee.”

As the Bills learn more, their intention is to serve up content that’s more and more personalized. For the moment, the online activities of Bills fans mirrors what happens at other NFL stadiums around the league, according to John Brams, director of sports and entertainment for Extreme. Roughly 60 percent is social media usage -– Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat; iPhones hitting iCloud, either to update apps or upload photos, also constitute a significant amount of data usage. A third tier of fans is using apps for fantasy sports or individual NFL teams, Brams added.

So far, the Bills have clocked game-day totals of 24,334 unique users on the network, with a peak concurrent usage rate of 20,067 fans. Peak game-day data volume topped out at 3.4 TB, according to figures from the team.

Internally, the Bills use wireless for ticketing and entry scanning, including secondary scanning at entrances to premium areas; a Bills retailer uses the Wi-Fi for some of its pop-up shops around the stadium. “Our guest services ambassadors have mini tablets to assist customers with questions or if they need to do incident logging or tracking,” Wheat said.

There’s no in-seat ordering via Wi-Fi at Ralph Wilson Stadium, but technology isn’t the issue. “Infrastructure in the back of house is the impediment to that,” Wheat laughed. The Bills also use the Wi-Fi in its fieldhouse practice facility across the parking lot from the stadium, but not in the parking lots themselves.

The Bills will continue to work on giving fans that personalized experience. “If you’ve never been to a game before and are parking a mile away in a satellite lot, we want to give you GPS directions to get you from your car to the gate to your seat,” Wheat said. “We want to be able to tell you where the shorter lines at the concession stands are, using the technology to make the customer experience better.”

Wheat and his group are also in the process of looking at and installing Bluetooth-based beacon technology for the upcoming season. They’re also reworking the Bills’ mobile app for game-day use, adding wayfinding and other features.

“We want fans to experience Buffalo Bills football the way they want to,” Wheat said.

Golden State Warriors’ Wi-Fi network lease part of planned SignalShare assets auction

Screen shot of nGage Fan Feed. Credit: SignalShare

Screen shot of nGage Fan Feed. Credit: SignalShare

The contract covering the operation of the Wi-Fi network at the Golden State Warriors’ Oracle Arena is up for auction, as part of the fallout from a lawsuit involving alleged fraudulent business practices by Wi-Fi deployment concern SignalShare.

UPDATE, 7/7/16: According to the auctioneers, the auction is currently postponed, due to their claims of a bankruptcy filing by SignalShare. More details as we learn more.

SignalShare, which has installed and operated Wi-Fi networks in a number of large sports venues, including arenas used by the Detroit Red Wings, the Houston Rockets, the Sacramento Kings, the University of Maryland and others, is being sued for $7.8 million by NFS Leasing, an equipment leasing company, over a dispute involving allegedly fraudulent leases by SignalShare and SignalShare’s default on an agreement to pay back money obtained through those leases. As part of the ongoing legal proceedings, NFS has apparently scheduled an auction of SignalShare assets it claims, including leases, software code and hardware, for July 14 through Paul E. Saperstein Co., Inc.

So far, Mobile Sports Report has not been able to get any comments on the lawsuit or the auction from SignalShare, NFS, or any of the venues where SignalShare had installed networks. According to the auction site, NFS will make available for auction the contracts between SignalShare and the following list of teams and venues: The Golden State Warriors and Oracle Arena; the Carolina Hurricanes and PNC Arena; the Houston Rockets and Toyota Center Arena; the Detroit Red Wings and Joe Louis Arena; the Jacksonville Jaguars and Everbank Field; the Milwaukee Bucks and Brady Harris Arena; and the Las Vegas Sands Convention Center.

According to sources familiar with some of the SignalShare deals, some of the networks were run under a lease agreement, where the team or venue owners paid SignalShare a monthly fee for operation of the Wi-Fi network, with SignalShare retaining ownership of the actual equipment. According to legal documents filed in the case, NFS provided the financing for many of the existing SignalShare deals, as well as millions more in financing for deals NFS claims never actually existed. So far, there has been no public accounting for where the millions provided by NFS for the allegedly fraudulent leases ended up.

Live-Fi code also up for auction

While the leases are potentially interesting to many possible parties — firms who could take over the network operations, or who might be interested in purchasing the leased equipment — the asset with perhaps the most tangible worth is SignalShare’s “Live-Fi” software, a kind of customer portal program meant to help teams and venues engage more closely with fans and to also facilitate advertising sales. According to legal documents filed in the case, SignalShare owners apparently attempted to transfer the ownership of the Live-Fi code to a subsidiary firm to apparently keep it out of any claim proceedings, a move that was recently blocked when the courts granted an injunction requested by NFS.

Aside from whatever happens in the ongoing legal case and at the auction, for the venues involved the bigger question is more likely what happens to their existing or planned networks. In several of the mentioned deals, including the Jaguars, the University of Maryland and the Detroit Red Wings, SignalShare publicly partnered with Wi-Fi gear provider Extreme Networks; Extreme representatives declined to comment on any specifics of the SignalShare lawsuit.

One common trait shared by several of the SignalShare deals was that they involved Wi-Fi networks at arenas that were scheduled to be replaced or abandoned by the teams in the near future — the Warriors, Kings and Red Wings are all already building or planning to build new stadiums. The SignalShare “leasing” model may have seemed more attractive than spending the potentially millions in upfront costs for a network that may only have been used for a few years. The only thing for sure now is that the future of Wi-Fi at the venues mentioned seems to be on hold until the legal questions around SignalShare’s operations are answered.