July 30, 2015

Wi-Fi deal at Houston’s NRG Stadium looks like it’s going to 5 Bars… is Ruckus involved as well?

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 11.43.48 PMWe knew the Houston Texans were getting Wi-Fi put in at NRG Stadium this year, but until we saw this report on HoustonChronicle.com by reporter David Barron we didn’t know that integrator 5 Bars will be leading the deployment, with stadium management firm SMG chipping in for some of the projected $2.9 million cost, according to the story.

The report from Houston, which apparently got its information from a meeting of the directors of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., says that the deal for 5 Bars still has to be ratified in August, so we may not be at the end of this story yet. Industry sources recently interviewed by Mobile Sports Report have tabbed Ruckus Wireless as the main Wi-Fi gear supplier for the 71,500-seat NRG Stadium deployment, which makes sense since Ruckus and 5 Bars worked together for the recent Wi-Fi deployment at Angels Stadium in Anaheim. Neither Ruckus nor 5 Bars would confirm any details, however (like the cost — does $2.9 million for Wi-Fi sound low to anyone?), so the Ruckus part of the story remains a rumor until we hear more.

We’ll try to round up more details on this story after we recover from a whirlwind couple days at the recent SEAT 2015 conference in San Francisco — according to another Houston Chronicle report, Verizon has installed a new DAS at the stadium, which will be the host venue for Super Bowl LI in February of 2017.

UPDATE: IBM: Sorry! No IPTV deal yet for new Atlanta NFL stadium

Artist's overhead view of new Atlanta NFL stadium

Artist’s overhead view of new Atlanta NFL stadium

Update, 7/9/15, 5 p.m. PT: Sports app developer YinzCam has apparently not yet won the deal to provide IPTV technology for the new NFL stadium being built for the Atlanta Falcons, two days after an IBM exec said that they had.

According to Jim Rushton, global leader and partner in IBM’s sports and entertainment practice, he made some “factually incorrect” statements during a panel presentation Tuesday at the Association of Luxury Suite Directors (ALSD) conference in San Francisco. During his talk Rushton provided some high-level details of IBM’s plans to provide wireless networks and other technologies inside the 71,000-seat, $1.4 billion stadium that is scheduled to open in 2017, and both in his talk and presentation said that app developer YinzCam would be the IPTV technology provider for the new stadium.

However, in a subsequent phone call Thursday evening, Rushton said his statements about YinzCam were “factually incorrect,” and that in fact no contract has yet been awarded for the IPTV technology to be used at the Atlanta stadium. Hence this update to a previous version of the story which led with the YinzCam news, which was mainly new to us since Rushton didn’t name any other potential subcontractors, including the vendors who will be supplying gear for the passive optical network (PON) at the heart of the network or the provider of the Wi-Fi and/or DAS gear that will provide the stadium’s planned wireless connectivity.

However, we will stick with our original speculation, which pegs the leading candidates for optical gear and Wi-Fi equipment as likely Corning and Aruba Networks, who respectively supplied those same technologies for the IBM-led network deployment at Texas A&M University’s Kyle Field, where YinzCam also provided IPTV technology as well as technology for the stadium app. (Daktronics has already been announced as the supplier of the new planned Halo Screen video board.) So if YinzCam hasn’t actually inked a deal for IPTV in Atlanta yet, we will still keep them at the “most likely to win the contract” status.

During his talk Rushton said that network technologies still hadn’t been picked for Atlanta, with “proof of concept” testing still taking place in labs on site at the already-active construction zone. He also would not say whether YinzCam would also be part of the Atlanta Stadium app. YinzCam CEO Priya Narasimhan did not respond to email inquiries about the Atlanta deal (and maybe now we know why). On the Wi-Fi side it will be interesting to see if IBM still chooses to work with Aruba now that Aruba is part of HP after a $3 billion acquisition earlier this year.

Like at Texas A&M, IBM came late to the Atlanta stadium development process, but is claiming that its plan to build an internal fiber backbone for both Wi-Fi and DAS deployments has already saved space, time and money. Rushton said that in Atlanta the DAS headend will be located off the stadium site, a switch that opened up 10,000 square feet of stadium space.

Levi’s Stadium, AT&T Stadium tops for stadium Wi-Fi usage

Niners' Flickr promotion on scoreboard at Levi's Stadium. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Niners’ Flickr promotion on scoreboard at Levi’s Stadium. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

There’s no competition and no wagering, but if you wanted to find the sports stadium that handles the most Wi-Fi traffic, two of your top finalists would no doubt be Levi’s Stadium and AT&T Stadium, which both recently released some season-long Wi-Fi statistics to Mobile Sports Report, including year-long totals in excess of 40 terabytes for both facilities.

Levi’s Stadium, the brand-new home of the San Francisco 49ers located in Santa Clara, Calif., has carried more than 45 TB of traffic on its Wi-Fi network through 20 events, according to Chuck Lukaszewski, very high density architect in the CTO Office of Aruba Networks, an HP Company (Aruba is the Wi-Fi gear suppler to Levi’s Stadium). During those events — 10 of which were NFL games, the other 10 a list including college games, concerts, a hockey game and a wrestling event — the Levi’s Stadium network saw approximately 415,000 unique users, Lukaszewski said.

Down in Texas, the home of the Dallas Cowboys reported some similar Wi-Fi statistics, with a total tonnage mark of 42.87 TB across 11 NFL games and six college games, according to John Winborn, chief information officer for the Dallas Cowboys Football Club. During those games the AT&T Stadium Wi-Fi network saw more than 500,000 unique connections, Winborn said.

AT&T Stadium at College Football Playoff championship game. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

AT&T Stadium at College Football Playoff championship game. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

For comparison, for football games Levi’s Stadium has a normal capacity of 68,500, with additional seating available (including on-field seats for concerts and other events) that can bring capacity to nearly 80,000. AT&T Stadium has a listed football capacity of 85,000, but that number can also be expanded with standing-room only numbers; according to Wikipedia AT&T Stadium had a record 105,121 fans in attendance for a Cowboys football game on Sept. 21, 2009, and had 108,713 fans in the stadium for the NBA All-Star game on Feb. 14, 2010.

Single-day connections for both pass Super Bowl marks

And while the most recent Super Bowl at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., still holds what we believe to be the highest single-game data mark for Wi-Fi traffic at 6.2 TB, both Levi’s Stadium and AT&T Stadium have had events with Wi-Fi usage totals exceeding 4 TB, with March’s WrestleMania 31 hitting 4.5 TB at Levi’s Stadium and the January College Football Playoff championship game recording 4.93 TB of traffic at AT&T Stadium.

Scoreboard promo for the Levi's Wi-Fi network

Scoreboard promo for the Levi’s Wi-Fi network

Both AT&T Stadium and Levi’s Stadium surpassed the Super Bowl when it came to high-water marks for single-game connected user totals; somewhat ironically, AT&T Stadium set what is probably the highest-ever Wi-Fi connection total of 38,534 unique users (out of 91,174 in attendance) during last season’s home opener against the visiting 49ers. According to Winborn, the total was reached “largely due to heavy in-game promotion around the Wi-Fi upgrades and new stadium app.”

At Levi’s Stadium, the season home opener against the Chicago Bears saw 29,429 unique users on the Wi-Fi network, which was more than the 25,936 unique devices connected to the network at Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona. Levi’s Stadium also saw the highest number of concurrently connected users, 18,900, at the Bears game, compared to a high of 17,322 at the Super Bowl. At AT&T Stadium, Winborn said the season high for concurrently connected users was 27,523, recorded during the Cowboys’ home playoff game against the Detroit Lions.

Looking ahead to Super Bowl 50

According to Aruba’s Lukaszewski, the Wi-Fi network at Levi’s Stadium “did what it was supposed to do” last season, carrying high loads of wireless traffic. One stat the Levi’s team invented for its own network was “amount of time the network spent carrying more than 1 Gbps” — a total that Lukaszewski said reached 21 hours and 30 minutes across the 10 NFL events, and 31 hours 40 minutes across all 20 events.

For the upcoming football season and the hosting of Super Bowl 50 next February, the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network will get some strategic Wi-Fi AP upgrades, specifically along some of the concourse areas where groups of standing fans had effectively blocked signals from under-the-seat APs near the tops of seating rows. Lukaszewski said the stadium team would add additional APs in areas where fans are spending time standing, as well as in concourse and plaza bar areas, where some structures were added during the season. Levi’s Stadium is also planning to deploy temporary under-the-seat APs when additional bleacher seats are added for the Super Bowl, Lukaszewski said.

Grateful Dead fans use 4.5 TB of Wi-Fi during Levi’s Stadium shows

The magical "rainbow" at June 27 Grateful Dead concert at Levi's Stadium. Credit all photos: Levi's Stadium

The magical “rainbow” at June 27 Grateful Dead concert at Levi’s Stadium. Credit all photos: Levi’s Stadium

Fans at the two Grateful Dead concerts at Levi’s Stadium last weekend used a total of 4.5 terabytes of data on the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, not near a record total but about the same each night as a regular NFL crowd Wi-Fi total from the past season, Niners officials said.

Roger Hacker, the 49ers’ senior manager for corporate communications, said the fans attending the “Fare thee Well” concerts last weekend used 2.37 TB of Wi-Fi data on Saturday June 27 and another 2.13 on Sunday June 29, both marks well below the 4.5 TB record set by the WrestleMania 31 event in March. The separate Dead concert totals were also below the 3.3 TB mark set during the Niners’ home football opener last Sept. 14 against the Chicago Bears.

Grateful Dead stage view

Grateful Dead stage view

According to Hacker the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network saw 17,824 unique users on Saturday and 23,152 on Sunday, roughly around 20 percent of attendance each night (according to Hacker the concert attendance was 75,496 on Saturday and 74,947 on Sunday; the Levi’s Stadium attendance record so far is the WrestleMania 31 event, at 77,496.). The concert also saw the second use of the new Levi’s Stadium on-field temporary Wi-Fi network, which serves the temporary seats set on the stadium’s field. The 41 extra Wi-Fi APs, Hacker said, supported another 989 users Saturday and 1,050 users on Sunday. The field network used a mix of APs installed on the sideline walls as well as APs mounted on railings and underneath the floor surface.

Though there were more users on the network Sunday, there was more data used Saturday, most likely because of a somewhat magical rainbow that appeared over the stadium during the show, an atmospheric event that triggered the highest peak rate of usage, 2.29 Gbps. While the Levi’s Stadium app also was supporting in-seat food delivery for the concerts, Hacker did not have any food ordering stats to share.

Deadheads found the Wi-Fi at Levi's Stadium

Deadheads found the Wi-Fi at Levi’s Stadium

Twitter, Live Nation and Aruba are investors in $9 million Series A round for Levi’s Stadium app developer VenueNext

Screen shot from VenueNext's Levi's Stadium app

Screen shot from VenueNext’s Levi’s Stadium app

Almost as interesting as today’s news of a $9 million Series A venture round for Levi’s Stadium app developer VenueNext is the list of participants in this round of funding, which includes Twitter Ventures, Live Nation Entertainment and Aruba Networks, among others.

While there’s also an interesting story to be mined about lead investor Causeway Media Partners, whose managing partner Mark Wan is one of the San Francisco 49ers’ “one percent” minority owners, the other listed investors offer an interesting take on VenueNext’s potential future beyond its current single client, Levi’s Stadium.

In a press release announcing the funding, VenueNext CEO John Paul said the funds would be used mainly to expand the VenueNext team to support deployments of venue apps for 30 different new clients before the end of the calendar year. Though VenueNext has yet to name a client other than Levi’s Stadium, its upcoming list is expected to include not just sports stadiums but entertainment venues as well, a facet which partially explains the potential investment interest for Live Nation.

Aruba Networks, now owned by HP, is the gear used in the Wi-Fi and beacon networks at Levi’s, which are integrated tightly with the app, so perhaps the Aruba investment is a small way to gain influence at venues still considering Wi-Fi infrastructure purchases. And while we caution that all this is guesswork at this point, Twitter Ventures’ interest in VenueNext is most likely related to the app’s ability to integrate live video, which at some point could conceivably come from the phones of Twitter users via Vine or Periscope. Like we said, interesting partners to have!

Midseason version of Levi's Stadium app, with clearer icons on main screen

Midseason version of Levi’s Stadium app, with clearer icons on main screen


Much different approach

While VenueNext is still a newcomer in the stadium-application marketplace — trailing far behind established players like YinzCam and MLBAM in numbers of deployed apps — its approach to embracing a small number of fan-focused and revenue-generating features like concessions, ticketing, replays and loyalty programs is much different than most stadium apps, which have historically tried to cram as many features in as possible. VenueNext’s top calling card right now may be the in-seat food and merchandise delivery feature it implemented at Levi’s Stadium last year, impressive mainly because of its advertised ability to reach every seat in the 68,500-seat stadium (which worked pretty well for football games but not so much when hockey crowds showed up).

But what may prove more interesting and useful to other potential clients are VenueNext’s integrated ticketing and marketing-analysis features, which not only make it easier for fans to purchase and redirect tickets, but also allows teams to build databases with rich information about fan purchasing preferences.

On both fronts, VenueNext was successful at Levi’s Stadium last season, with the app accounting for more than $800,000 in food and beverage purchases (according to VenueNext) while also registering more than 200,000 unique users, who are all now a part of the Niners’ marketing database. And while the instant replay feature didn’t get as much fan traction as was originally thought, its backbone systems were impressive in action, and were witnessed last season by a weekly parade of IT guests from interested teams.

Originally conceived and funded by Aurum Partners LLC, an investment entity controlled by the Niners’ owners, VenueNext is part of a sports/technology group of investments by Causeway (including SeatGeek), a boutique-ish firm whose partners have a long history in investment and finance, including being owners of the Boston Celtics. Wan will also join VenueNext’s board as part of the investment round, according to VenueNext.

UPDATE: Wan wrote a post on Medium about the investment.

(VenueNext image parade follows. Credit all Levi’s Stadium photos and app screenshots: Paul Kapustka, MSR. Credit John Paul photo: VenueNext. Enjoy!)

First replay tablet app, which adds info about the play

First replay tablet app, which adds info about the play

Second replay tablet app, which adds a thumbnail to the replay

Second replay tablet app, which adds a thumbnail to the replay

Photo of directions function in Levi's Stadium app.

Photo of directions function in Levi’s Stadium app.

Probably the first time many fans heard the term "NiNerds" (Nov. 23, 2014)

Probably the first time many fans heard the term “NiNerds” (Nov. 23, 2014)

NiNerd sporting the new neon vest.

NiNerd sporting the new neon vest.

John Paul, CEO and founder, VenueNext

John Paul, CEO and founder, VenueNext

Season opener issues: Picture of app late in the first half.

Season opener issues: Picture of app late in the first half.

Thinking out loud: Stadiums need better game-day online response teams

Avaya Stadium offers an online welcome

Avaya Stadium offers an online welcome

Maybe I just haven’t been to enough stadiums, but in the ones I visited over the last year I was struck by the fact that none of them seemed to have any kind of a place for live, updated game-day information where fans could find the kind of answers that might really improve their attendance experience.

In visiting various professional and top-level collegiate venues and interviewing representatives of other stadiums I continue to be impressed by the depth and breadth of technology deployments and of some apps that deliver advanced services, like Levi’s Stadium’s food delivery or the various live-replay systems in place at schools like Baylor and Nebraska, as well as at numerous pro venues. But I’ve yet to find a stadium, team or school with what seems like a simple thing to do — either to have a constantly updated “daily news” stream about game-day issues, or better yet, a rapid-response team on either social media or email to answer simple questions like, where should I park, and which gate should I go to?

Sometimes it seems like the simplest things are being overlooked when it comes to stadium technology, and I’m wondering why no such services seem to exist. Are they too costly? Or just not thought of as necessary? Or are stadium owners and operators not really paying attention to what happens on game day?

Why can’t all fans get the ‘suite’ treatment?

I don’t think the last question is true, since I did have the privilege of attending one Niners game at Levi’s Stadium this past season as the guest of app developer VenueNext, an experience that included a pass to the company’s corporate suite. As you can probably guess, having a suite-level pass is indeed a “suite” way to see a game. Almost all of your concerns and needs are taken care of, from the already paid-for drinks and food to the comfortable seating, and there is no shortage of stadium staff around to answer any questions you might have about where to go or how to find things.

One for the road at the BNY Club, Levi's Stadium

One for the road at the BNY Club, Levi’s Stadium

Fans with “regular” passes, however, simply don’t have many similar options for assistance, especially outside the stadium gates, where perhaps help is most needed. I know teams and stadiums (like Levi’s) do a good job of making maps and guides available online, especially for season ticket holders, but those resources typically aren’t designed for viewing on mobile devices, especially in a low-connectivity or bright-sunlight outdoor situation. Others that are designed for mobile apps, like Avaya Stadium’s “Ava” character, only offer canned information, and not a question-and-answer service.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a rapid-response Twitter handle or a regularly updated Twitter feed to answer questions like “where is the best place to park for seating in Section X,” or “which lots are less full,” or “which lots offer the fastest exit after the game?” Such a service could be incredibly helpful for the huge numbers of fans who only attend a small number of games, who might be making such decisions at the last minute and may have never been to the stadium before.

Feed me, keep me warm and dry

I really could have used such an informative service at the College Football Playoff championship game, which I was able to attend via a last-minute media invite from AT&T. Though my pass included access to the game (and more suite-level pampering) I didn’t have any special treatment getting to the event, so my game-day travel experience was probably very similar to many of the thousands of Ohio State and Oregon fans who had likely never been to AT&T Stadium before. Like many others, I decided to get to the stadium early, both to avoid any kind of parking crush and to bathe in whatever pre-game atmosphere might emerge. Three things I wasn’t prepared for came back to chomp me in the behind: Freezing cold weather, the lack of anywhere outside the stadium to get out of said cold weather, and the lack of any kind of online information to assist in the situation.

Fans freezing outside waiting for the CFP game to start

Fans freezing outside waiting for the CFP game to start

Though we were smart enough to grab lunch beforehand at a nearby bar and grill, my friend and media buddy Phil Harvey and I were only vaguely aware of the fact that the doors to the stadium weren’t going to open until 5:30 p.m., two hours before the scheduled game start, something we hadn’t really counted on when we drove over to park at 2 p.m. Our thoughts of being able to wander around and check out tailgate parties — or the underpublicized outdoor “festival” being put on by the NCAA and its sponsors — were negated by the chilling, biting wind, which whipped mercilessly throughout the acres of parking lots surrounding the stadium.

Like many others that day, we wound up spending some unplanned shopping time in the nearby Walmart, mainly to get out of the chill. We also ended up being frustrated with thousands of our newest closest friends, when the ticket gates apparently opened at 4:30 — only to find ourselves “in” the event (having gone through security and ticket checking) but still outside the doors, jammed onto the outdoor patios where we had to wait for another hour. The only good part of being crushed cheek to jowl is that being packed together did help keep all of us somewhat warmer.

Bargains available at the AT&T Stadium Walmart.

Bargains available at the AT&T Stadium Walmart.

Sure, we should have been smarter and maybe asked more questions beforehand but during the hours of unpleasantness all I could think of was why someone from the game or venue wasn’t outside watching what was going on, or doing anything to help rectify the situation. Even a simple official message of “we aren’t opening the doors for two more hours — here are a list of nearby restaurants you can walk to” would have been extremely helpful advice.

Maybe the CFP game was an outlier situation — lots of people who had never been to the venue before — but I’m guessing the situation isn’t that unique, especially for “big” events like playoffs or championships. And especially when it comes to extreme weather conditions, it just seems to make sense to have some kind of continually updated “at the game” news service that is well advertised and easily found, so that when a crisis situation emerges, fans know where to turn for trusted information.

Do any such services exist? Are there teams out there already doing this in a fashion that works? Let me know here, or we can have a discussion over on Twitter, where you can find me under the @PaulKaps handle.