VenueNext lands $15 million Series B funding, adds San Jose Sharks as 1st NHL client

Screenshot from new San Jose Sharks app developed by VenueNext. Credit: VenueNext

Screenshot from new San Jose Sharks app developed by VenueNext. Credit: VenueNext

Stadium and venue app developer VenueNext has secured a $15 million Series B round of financing, as well as its first National Hockey League client, the San Jose Sharks.

Both announcements were made by VenueNext Tuesday, just ahead of Wednesday’s season opener for the Sharks at SAP Center in San Jose. The new app is ready for fans to download in time for the Sharks’ game against the Los Angeles Kings. Later this season fans will also be able to connect via the arena’s new Wi-Fi network, which will use Wi-Fi gear from Cisco.

The new round of funding brings VenueNext’s total of announced venture capital to $24 million, following a $9 million round raised last summer. Causeway Media Partners, which led the initial round, is also leading the new round; according to VenueNext some of its first-round investors are also participating in the B round, but the company did not yet name any of them other than Causeway. Twitter, Live Nation and Aruba were among the Series A investors in VenueNext.

Adding hospitality and healthcare to market targets

In the increasingly competitive market for stadium and team application development, VenueNext has had a solid year in breaking away from just being the app provider to the San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, its initial offering. So far this year, new VenueNext apps have appeared at Super Bowl 50, Yankee Stadium, Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, and at the Minnesota Vikings’ new home, U.S. Bank Stadium. VenueNext also announced a new app being developed for the Saratoga and Belmont horse-racing tracks, which will be launched next year.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit:

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit:

While VenueNext still hasn’t come close to publicly announcing the 30 clients CEO John Paul said the company would have by the end of 2015, the list of announced clients now includes the 49ers and Super Bowl 50, the Dallas Cowboys, the Orlando Magic, and now the San Jose Sharks. According to VenueNext, it does have clients signed already in the healthcare and hospitality markets, but cannot name them due to confidentiality agreements. VenueNext said it will announce more customers in the next few months.

Sharks fans get beverage, not food, delivery to seats — for now

One of the signature VenueNext services at Levi’s Stadium, the ability for all fans to use the app to order concessions delivered to their seats, will initially only support in-seat beverage ordering and delivery for Sharks fans, according to VenueNext. That service is similar to how the VenueNext app was used at Super Bowl 50. Other new services now available at SAP Center via the app include digital ticketing, with the ability to view, upgrade or transfer tickets; the ability to view and manage parking passes; mobile ticket access via the VenueNext ticket kiosks; and team content.

According to Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora, the team was first introduced to VenueNext during the NHL Stadium Series game at Levi’s Stadium in February of 2015.

“We were impressed with their execution at that event and have witnessed the business success they have generated at sports venues throughout the country,” said Tortora of VenueNext in an email communiction. “We look to bring that standard to SAP Center.” According to Tortora, wayfinding and virtual reality experiences are among features that will be added to the app in the future.

The Sharks app page also says that during the season the app will add a large list of Sharks-related content, including team and league stats, and it will also add in-game trivia contests. So far in most of its deployments, VenueNext has added and improved features in its apps over time.

On the Wi-Fi side, the venue is now getting its first full-scale Wi-Fi network for fans, a deployment that will include the use of Cisco StadiumVision for digital-display controls. According to the Sharks, the Wi-Fi network is expected to be operational by Dec. 1.

“To complement our new Sharks app and the use of it at SAP Center, we are in the process of deploying Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi, a best-in-class Wi-Fi platform used in sports venues around the world,” Tortora said. “We want our patrons to be able to easily and reliably connect while at SAP Center to allow for the best fan experience when attending Sharks games and other events.”

VenueNext said it now has 90 employees, with offices in Santa Clara, Calif., San Francisco, New York and London. The new funds, the company said, will be used to “continue to innovate on our platform,” and also to help launch the new vertical markets as well as expansion to international clients.

Analysis: The year of the big stadium Wi-Fi upgrade

Carolina Panthers director of IT James Hammond shows off a new under-seat Wi-Fi AP at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers director of IT James Hammond shows off a new under-seat Wi-Fi AP at Bank of America Stadium. Credit: Carolina Panthers

Even in the midst of several brand-new stadium debuts and the future-proofed wireless networks inside them, there is a separate, yet distinct trend emerging in the big-stadium, wireless connectivity world: Call it the year of the big upgrade.

Our profile in our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT of Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., is a case in point: Thanks to the never-ending demand for more connectivity for fans, stadiums that deployed networks just a few years ago are now finding that those old systems already need upgrades or replacements, typically at a much higher cost than the original network. In addition to BofA Stadium, the New England Patriots’ home, Gillette Stadium, also got a Wi-Fi makeover this past summer, going from about 400 Wi-Fi APs to well over a thousand, with most of the new ones deployed under seats.

According to Fred Kirsch, who oversees the Gillette Stadium network, some of the under-seat placements there were especially tricky, since granite underneath the stands didn’t allow for the ability to drill through the concrete. A workaround involving an above-ground enclosure was envisioned and manufactured, underlining the custom complexity of network deployment found from stadium to stadium. No two are the same, and what works at one may or may not work at another.

But what is common across all these large venues is the ever-increasing need for bandwidth, a moving target that has yet to slow down or stabilize. Last year the story that turned everyone’s head was the need by carriers to upgrade their DAS infrastructure at Levi’s Stadium ahead of Super Bowl 50 – this coming just a year after the stadium had opened for business. While the demands of a Super Bowl (especially Super Bowl 50, which set records for DAS and Wi-Fi usage) are perhaps much different than everyday events, it’s still a safe bet that for many stadiums with Wi-Fi networks – especially the early movers – 2016 has become a year of reckoning, or biting the bullet and writing more checks for more coverage, perhaps seemingly too soon after the initial rollout.

Getting ready for Super Bowl LI

In Houston, NRG Stadium finally has Wi-Fi, and not a moment too soon, with Super Bowl LI on the near horizon. Since the venue didn’t have Wi-Fi prior to this season it’s not really an upgrade but it’s hard to understate the challenge of putting in a Super Bowl-ready network in just one summer, a construction calendar shortened by the fact that integrator 5 Bars and equipment vendor Extreme Networks had to wait until after the NCAA Men’s Final Four was over to begin installing cabling and APs. At of the start of the NFL season the Wi-Fi network is already live at NRG Stadium, and is sure to go through weekly tweaks as the league marches on toward its championship game.

Gillette Stadium before the Sept. 11 game vs. the Miami Dolphins. Credit: Steve Milne, AP, via

Gillette Stadium before the Sept. 11 game vs. the Miami Dolphins. Credit: Steve Milne, AP, via

And while attention-grabbing new stadiums like US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta are planning big network capacity from the get-go, some new stadiums like T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas have upgrade thinking planned in from the start, with the idea that the network will never really be a finished product, at least until they stop making new phones or developing new apps. Of course, that future isn’t happening anytime soon, with the Apple iPhone 7 announcement with the new double-lens camera coming in just before the start of another football season.

New phones and new apps mean more bandwidth demands, leading even those who already have stadium networks to keep wondering if what they’ve installed is enough. We suspect this may be an ongoing story line for the foreseeable future, so – stay tuned here to Mobile Sports Report for the latest success stories and lessons learned from those who have already jumped in or jumped back in to the deployment fray.

Editor’s note: This column is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available for free download from our site. Read about Wi-Fi deployments at Bank of America Stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and more!

New Report: Carolina Panthers build new Wi-Fi and DAS; Mercedes-Benz Stadium update, and more!

Q3thumbMobile Sports Report is pleased to announce the Q3 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

In addition to our historical in-depth profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, our Q3 issue for 2016 has additional news and analysis, including a look at Wi-Fi analytics at the Mall of America, and a story about how the Cleveland Browns found $1 million in ROI using new analytics software from YinzCam. Download your FREE copy today!

Inside the report our editorial coverage also includes:

— Bank of America Stadium profile: An in-depth look at the Carolina Panthers’ decision to bring new Wi-Fi and DAS networks in-house;
— Mercedes-Benz Stadium profile: An early look at the technology being built into the new home of the Atlanta Falcons, with an emphasis on fiber;
— T-Mobile Arena photo essay: A first look at the newest venue on the famed Las Vegas Strip;
— Avaya Stadium profile: How the stadium’s Wi-Fi network became the star of the MLS All-Star game.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, SOLiD, CommScope, JMA Wireless, Corning, Samsung Business, Xirrus, Huber+Suhner, ExteNet Systems, DAS Group Professionals and Boingo Wireless. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to thank you for your interest and support.

Niners fans use 2.76 TB of Wi-Fi for season opener at Levi’s Stadium

Niners fans celebrate a touchdown in the season opener. Credit:

Niners fans celebrate a touchdown in the season opener. Credit:

Fans at the San Francisco 49ers’ home opener used 2.76 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network at Levi’s Stadium, according to statistics provided by the Niners’ network team.

The Sept. 12 Monday Night Football game, a 28-0 win for the Niners over the visiting Los Angeles Rams, was well below the 10.1-TB mark recorded during Super Bowl 50, held at Levi’s Stadium back in February. Still, the 2.76 TB is a healthy regular-season game mark, with 16,681 unique users of the Wi-Fi network as well as a maximum concurrent number of users of 11,987.

The Niners also added some interesting new social twists to the Levi’s Stadium experience this year, including the ability for fans to use the stadium app to respond to poll questions (like voting on the next song to be played during timeouts) posted on the stadium’s large digital displays. While it’s not known if the feature was used during the regular season opener, according to the network team 30,000 fans participated in big-board polls during the Niners’ preseason game on Aug. 26 versus the Green Bay Packers. Full stats from the Niners networking team below.

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Wi-Fi network powers rich data collection at Mall of America

Fans greet One Direction at Mall of America. Credit: Tony Nelson (click on any photo for a larger image)

Fans greet One Direction at Mall of America. Credit: Tony Nelson (click on any photo for a larger image)

If you’re shopping for mobile customer data, why not just go to the mall?

That’s what Minnesota’s Mall of America did, not by finding a service that sells such information, but by investing in a massive and complex Wi-Fi network, designed and deployed by AmpThink using Cisco gear. And the service is free for Mall visitors. While being an attractive guest feature, the service simultaneously provides the Mall with enough data to fill digital warehouses with information about what people do both online and in the real world while on the property.

According to Janette Smrcka, IT director for Mall of America, though the Mall is only at the start of its data analysis program, it is already seeing interesting results that will likely help the Mall better connect with its visitors and, in all likelihood, improve business results for Mall tenants. A recent month-long sampling of customer behavior data gave the Mall a tremendous amount of insight on how activities such as promotions and events affect visitor behavior, information the Mall wouldn’t have had without its Wi-Fi network.

“We’re just at the beginning of being able to use all of this valuable data and translate it into actionable information,” said Smrcka in an interview at Mall of America, located in Bloomington, nine miles south of Minneapolis.

Almost a Super Bowl of data every week

How much data are we talking about? In the world of stadium networks, the most recent Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. set a single-day record with 26 terabytes of wireless data used – 15.9 TB on cellular networks and 10.1 TB on the stadium Wi-Fi. At Mall of America, from the launch of their Wi-Fi network during Thanksgiving weekend last year until May 2016, nearly 320,000 unique Mall visitors connected to the network, using a total of 486 TB of traffic – almost a Super Bowl of data per week.

Wi-Fi AP visible below Mall of America sign. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

Wi-Fi AP visible below Mall of America sign. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

While the Mall might not match the single-day crush of a Super Bowl, the steady stream of visitors (Mall officials estimate that the six million square-foot facility sees an average of 109,000 visitors on weekdays and 160,000 on weekends) produces some staggering numbers. According to a recent public presentation about the network, Mall of America claimed that one month of Wi-Fi usage on its network equaled a full year of Wi-Fi activity on an NBA-sized stadium network.

According to Smrcka, the Mall knew it needed Wi-Fi connectivity as a table stakes amenity, but it was mindful of fitting performance to price, while achieving return on investment justification in the process.

“We knew we needed something but the challenge was the cost,” Smrcka said. “We knew we couldn’t charge for the service.” Smrcka also said the Mall has seen other malls try and fail with initial Wi-Fi deployments due to subpar service, prompting guest disdain.

“We’ve seen some of our peers put Wi-Fi in, and not do it very well, and get lots of complaints,” Smrcka said. “It’s like airport Wi-Fi. Sure it’s there, but just try using it.”

With AmpThink, Mall of America found a partner who knew the need for high-quality deployments. The design and install company has been behind the Wi-Fi networks at several Super Bowls, as well as recent networks built in stadiums like Kyle Field at Texas A&M and US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Wi-Fi 'ball' visible in middle of theme park area. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

Wi-Fi ‘ball’ visible in middle of theme park area. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

However, this massive Wi-Fi network, along with the unique challenges of implementing it at the Mall, also needed the elusive component of return on investment.

Not easy to build inside a mall

On a recent early morning tour of the Mall, AmpThink president Bill Anderson showed Mobile Sports Report some of the challenges inherent to one of the world’s biggest shopping venues. For starters, there was the need for custom enclosures that fit with the facility’s overall aesthetics as well as cutting through double firewalls (the real kind of firewalls, not the software kind) to keep safety codes intact.

To cover one of the Mall’s more unique spaces, the 7-acre theme park in the center of the facility, AmpThink had to design and build enclosures that look like big lollipops. This “Wi-Fi ball on a stick” design fit the park’s design aesthetics while providing coverage in and around the various rides and amusement spaces. AmpThink also figured out how to fit a Wi-Fi AP inside digital sign kiosks, so the kiosks could connect to the network and therefore the Cisco StadiumVision system for digital display management. In many places, the APs included beacons inside, setting up the network for device proximity capabilities.

From an RF perspective, Anderson said one of the toughest challenges was keeping interference to a minimum between APs on different floors of the multi-level mall. Another large challenge was simply the logistics of construction, with separate scheduling needed for the many hundreds of Mall tenants.

The mall's many levels make it a tough place to tune RF. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

The mall’s many levels make it a tough place to tune RF. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

“We own the space above their ceilings, and would need to get in the stores to run cable through,” said Smrcka. Coordinating construction was a challenge at times, like when teenage clerks didn’t relay scheduling messages to their store managers, further complicated by the need to have security officers present to keep an eye on inventory.

Anderson said that AmpThink deployment teams also needed to make sure they cleaned up after putting in APs, as any drywall dust found on store facades could result in complaints from store owners. Despite the extra hurdles, deployment of the network, composed of more than 600 APs, started in July of last year and launched just before Thanksgiving. Then the data started pouring in. Now, what to do with all that information?

Putting students to work

To help figure out how to best use the stream of information coming its way, the Mall conducted a study of its data in a partnership with graduate students at the Carlson Analytics Lab at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. By mapping visitor behavior using Wi-Fi and beacon activity – tracking where shoppers arrived, where they walked and how long they spent in different areas of the Mall – Mall of America and the student researchers were able to uncover interesting stats on things like in-mall promotions, events and store appeal.

Mall kiosk with Wi-Fi inside to drive the Cisco StadiumVision software. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

Mall kiosk with Wi-Fi inside to drive the Cisco StadiumVision software. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

According to the Mall’s presentation at the recent SEAT Conference in Las Vegas, one analysis showed that if visitors were offered free admission to the amusement park, they actually spent 40 percent of their time at the Mall somewhere other than the amusement park — a sign that free amusement park entry could spur more shopping. The analysis also showed that during events at the Mall – according to the Mall, it hosts more than 400 special events a year – visitors stayed at the Mall on average 1.4 times longer than visitors who did not attend an event. The Mall also found out that 39 percent of event attendees visited the Mall’s food courts, compared to 25 percent of non-event visitors.

During its presentation, the Mall also showed screenshots of interactive “heat maps” showing exactly where visitors entered, where they walked, and how long they stayed. This information was gathered by the Wi-Fi AP beacons, which allowed for accurate device location tracking. With such information at their fingertips, the Mall sees a future where the network helps initiate new features for assisted shopping and custom experiences for visitors without resorting to historic feedback systems like surveys or focus groups.

Data driving the future

“This data is golden when it comes to describing shopper behavior,” said Smrcka, who also talked about the deployment at the SEAT Conference in Las Vegas. Shopper surveys, she said, have proven to sometimes not be reliable, and “who has the time to sit in a focus group for hours?”

How many malls do you know that have a One Direction tribute photo? Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

How many malls do you know that have a One Direction tribute photo? Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

This information enhances other Mall guest behavior and experience initiatives. “We already have a social media command team watching geo-located social media posts,” Smrcka said. They also employ a text messaging system, which visitors use to send messages to customized numbers to communicate if a bathroom needs servicing, set a reminder for their parking spot, or to find out where the closest gelato stand is.

And while Mall of America, like other bricks and mortar retailers, competes every day against online shopping, Smrcka said there are plenty of people who still want to see and feel the goods they are purchasing. Mall of America plans to use their Wi-Fi network’s data to make the guest experience even better and study the feasibility of possible future services like personal shopping, valet parking, curbside pickup and home delivery.

Moreover, Smrcka and her team can better segment and target its visitors and their entertainment, dining and shopping needs.

“What we’re able to do [from analytics] is still changing from month to month,” Smrcka said. “But the data really empowers a team like ours.”

NRG Stadium Wi-Fi ‘soft launches’ at Texans preseason game

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 10.35.17 AMThe Houston Texans gave their fans more to cheer about with a 16-9 preseason victory over the New Orleans Saints last Saturday, but what might have made a lot of people happy at NRG Stadium was the unofficial debut of the stadium’s new Wi-Fi network, which was available in a sort of “soft launch” mode.

We say “sort of,” because according to people who were at the game there was pretty heavy promotion of the new network’s availability, with bandwidth sponsor Comcast distributing flyers in seat cup-holders as well as making in-stadium announcements about the wireless connectivity. NRG Stadium had been one of the few NFL venues without Wi-Fi, but with the Super Bowl headed to Houston at the end of this season installing Wi-Fi became a priority.

Starting after the Final Four concluded this past spring, integrator 5 Bars and Wi-Fi gear provider Extreme Networks got busy, eventually installing approximately 1,250 Wi-Fi APs inside NRG Stadium. According to 5 Bars representatives, many of the APs in the seating bowl were installed under the seats, a deployment method that is becoming a trend in larger stadiums.

Though we don’t have any stats yet (since the network isn’t really “officially” launched) we did hear from network sources that there was a good uptake on the system, and we are looking forward to watching the Wi-Fi’s performance this season leading up to Super Bowl 51 in February. If any fans out there hit another Texans game anytime soon, send us a speedtest of the Wi-Fi!