August 1, 2015

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.

Monday quick thoughts: Livestreaming comes of age on fight night; PGA’s digital moves confusing

Some quick thoughts on a Monday where yours truly is recovering from a week-plus as stage crew for my daughter’s musical, a much more physically taxing job than originally thought:

Livestreaming comes of age during Mayweather vs. Pacquiao

We’ve been pounding the drum a bit lately about livestreaming apps like Twitter’s Periscope and its twin Meerkat, which allow people to become personal broadcasters, relaying live video of whatever their phone cameras can see to their “followers” on the livestreaming services. Earlier this year we wondered if the services would cause a problem for sports like baseball (which is not worried about livestreaming just yet) but the big breakout in livestreaming and sports came this past Saturday night, when lots of people used Periscope and Meerkat to give others a free, completely illegal look at the closed pay-per-view fight by holding their phones up to TVs showing the live action.

The fallout still hasn’t hit in any official or legal way yet, but after HBO’s quick lawsuits trying to stop people from livestreaming episodes of Game of Thrones, you can bet that similar legal attempts to constrain the services from showing exclusive sports footage won’t be far behind. I also just saw a photo of the live crowd at the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight that showed multiple fans holding up phones, no doubt some of them livestreaming. While Major League Baseball’s Bob Bowman thinks that most fans don’t want to hold their phones up for long stretches of time, my thinking is, that before long someone’s going to figure out how to link a GoPro helmet cam to their phone for HD livestreaming that’s hands-free. Then what?

I just think this is going to be a much bigger deal than leagues and sports think right now. The weird coolness factor of being your own broadcaster is strangely compelling, and is a step up from the ubiquitous selfie. While Twitter CEO Dick Costolo might think it was cool that Periscope “won the fight” Saturday night, let’s see how smug he is when lawsuits start showing up at the door.

And while the terms of service for both Periscope and Meerkat clearly state that the services may not be used to show copyrighted content — and while the services have made noises about being ready to kick off users who do so — the fact that you can sign up instantly makes the policing after-the-fact a fail before it starts. Nobody wants the return of phone and camera police at big events, a kind of enforcement that never really worked and won’t work now that videocameras can fit inside pockets. Twitter, which clearly wants to play ball with sports leagues — witness its deals with entities like the NFL to show approved replays — needs to get out in front on the livestreaming/sports issue or risk legal wrath. And we haven’t even talked yet about how livestreaming might affect bandwidth on stadium networks, a topic sure to be discussed at the upcoming SEAT Conference in San Francisco this July. More on livestreaming soon, you can bet.

PGA sends confusing message with credential pull

When I wrote an editorial suggesting that the PGA embrace livestreaming as a way to attract more fans with innovative use of new technology, I had no idea that earlier that day the Tour had pulled a season credential from reporter Stephanie Wei for using Periscope to show some live video of practice rounds from the World Golf Championships Match Play event at Harding Park last week. Coming just after the PGA announced a deal with MLBAM to produce an over-the-top service to show live Thursday and Friday morning rounds, it was thoroughly confusing: Was the Tour embracing new media, while slapping the wrists of other media who dared use the same technology?

In a quick call Friday with Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president for communications, we heard the Tour’s claim that Wei had a “long history of [policy] violations,” and that the suspension of her credentials was due to the long history, and not just her use last Monday of Periscope. Wei posted her own version of the story on her blog, Wei Under Par. As far as we know, Wei is the first major-sports reporter to get a credential pulled in part because of Periscope use.

While we clearly understand the need to protect copyrighted broadcasts, it’s our opinion that the Tour needs to lighten up on quick-hit video content, especially for coverage of things that the TV broadcasters don’t show, like practice rounds or range action. As we said, such content could attract a young golf-geek audience and reward hustling reporters like Wei, who we’ve been following mainly because of her fresh take and embrace of social-media methods of communication. For a deeper look inside the whole issue, you should read this column from Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck on the incident, and why he thinks (and we agree) that the losers here are golf fans.

Opinion: Pro golf tour should embrace livestreaming apps like Meerkat, Periscope, to attract new fans and show ‘missing’ action

The action starts here. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The action starts here. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Even as it ramps up its own official efforts to bring more live action to fans via the Internet, the professional golf tour should embrace the emerging “livestreaming” services like Periscope and Meerkat to expose even more live play to a wider and possibly younger audience.

Why? Because golf is unique in its ability to allow fans very close to the players, and combining that with the predictability of action makes for a perfect recipe for compelling livestream content, something that may not be possible at stadium-based events like baseball or football. And since golf itself is admitting that it needs more live coverage, why not open the gates as wide as possible, and see what happens? As I will explain below I think the downside is minimal, and on the upside there’s the opportunity for the world’s stodgiest sport to shed some of its historical knickers and attract a younger, hipper audience that it might need somewhere soon down the road.

Perfect for Periscope

That overall idea was my instant takeaway from a day at the World Golf Championships Match Play event this week at Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco, where I strolled the grounds on Tuesday, when practice rounds and a pro-am event were taking place. While the almost non-existent crowd meant I could really get up close and personal, it struck me that even at crowded days at golf tournaments a good number of fans are extremely close to the players, making cell-phone livestreaming something you may actually want to watch.

Ian Poulter in fine form on Tuesday at WGC.

Ian Poulter in fine form on Tuesday at WGC.

Even with my limited photography skilz I was able to get some good shots Tuesday, including one stop-action picture of Ian Poulter’s perfect swing. I also spent some time watching Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner dial in their short irons at the practice range, and the thought occurred to me that golf geeks might really like being able to watch such “action” via a livestreaming service. So why not allow and even encourage it? If you follow golf at all you are probably, like the rest of us golf fans, regularly frustrated by the lack of “live” coverage either on TV or online. Especially so since there’s now no real reason not to have as much live coverage as you can.

In the old days, it might have been cost-prohibitive and technically impossible to have TV cameras following every golfer on the course on every hole. But as cameras and wireless technology continue to improve, you’re seeing more and more flexibility and choice in “official” golf coverage, most recently with Tuesday’s announcement of PGA Tour Live, which later this summer will bring live coverage of some Thursday and Friday morning action to Internet viewers for a small fee. That’s great news for frustrated old-line golf fans, who will probably happily pay a few bucks a week not to miss early rounds, especially from players who may finish before the TV coverage comes on air.

But why stop there? Even the PGA’s new service will be extremely limited, only showing two “featured” groups each day. That means possibly half the field still won’t be seen, and who knows when someone will have a hot round? Even The Masters’ excellent online coverage only shows a couple groups at a time and a couple holes. Why not allow unlimited or at least PGA media-approved livestreaming, something that could expand Tour coverage while rewarding hustling reporters who scour the course for unknowns having a good day? From where I sit the opportunities seem to far outweigh the negatives.

Remember: Online is additive for regular TV coverage!

After Tuesday’s press conference I briefly chatted with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and asked him about livestreaming apps, which are popping up at other pro sports events, like baseball. Though he doesn’t seem like someone who spends a lot of time on Twitter Finchem did know what Meerkat and Persicope were, and said “we’re looking at it [livestreaming] since it raises obvious issues.”

At the WGC social media tent. They wouldn't let me carry this on course to hold behind Sergio.

At the WGC social media tent. They wouldn’t let me carry this on course to hold behind Sergio.

Those obvious issues, of course, are that livestreaming clearly violates broadcast rights agreements and circumnavigates sponsor advertising, two big items in the PGA’s revenue list. But like other sports, golf isn’t really concerned with livestreaming right now since the guess is that most fans want to watch the action and not spend minutes holding up their phones so the Internet can see what they are seeing. That’s probably a safe bet but I think golf should go the other direction and encourage livestreaming, perhaps from golf media professionals already covering events or from sponsors themselves, who are also already providing social media coverage of their sponsored players. Instead of looking at livestreaming as something that takes away from its professional, sponsored coverage, the PGA should see the new services as a valuable promotional tool, one more likely to be consumed by an audience that doesn’t watch much golf now — young, hip, tech people who live on services like Twitter and might find golf cool if they could watch some live action on their phone, for free.

Already this week some golf media professionals with good social media skills, like Stephanie Wei, have done some livestreaming from Harding, but why not have more? Livestreaming could be a way to bring more exposure to up-and-coming players, who might never be part of an online “featured group” and who almost never show up on broadcast coverage, unless they shoot a hole in one. By and large the professional golf TV coverage is wonderfully produced, but it’s also predictable and as stuffy as sports gets: Tiger, Phil, commentators with British accents. What golf could profit from is some kind of Men in Blazers coverage, which might be a way to get younger fans for the twentysomething stars like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy who are now No. 2 and No. 1 in the game respecitvely. Livestreaming could be a simple, fun and cheap experiment that’s worth a shot.

It also doesn’t have to be revenue-free, since the PGA could allow sponsors to livestream their logoed players — I’m thinking here that the excellent social media crew at Callaway would jump on such a chance and probably be ready to do so by next week. Maybe the PGA could sell a few approved livestreaming spots to the highest bidders? Maybe then I will finally get the 24/7 TigerCam that I’ve always wanted — and I think that other golf fans, new or old, would appreciate as well.

BONUS: More MSR photos from Harding below.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth relaxes during practice round.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth relaxes during practice round.

Zach Johnson dials in short irons on the range.

Zach Johnson dials in short irons on the range.

Mobile device use is still limited and confusing.

Mobile device use is still limited and confusing.

Sponsor plug! No test drives were available.

Sponsor plug! No test drives were available.

In case you need help with your tweet or Instagram.

In case you need help with your tweet or Instagram.

Don't quite understand why we weren't given the keys to this cart.

Don’t quite understand why we weren’t given the keys to this cart.

MSR finishes the WGC with a 1-up win.

MSR finishes the WGC with a 1-up win.

Bowman: MLB won’t stop fans from using Meerkat or Periscope at games — for now

Bob Bowman, president of business and media for Major League Baseball. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Bob Bowman, president of business and media for Major League Baseball. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

At a Major League Baseball game and feeling the need to livestream some live game action via Periscope or Meerkat? Go right ahead, because the powers that be at MLB aren’t going to stop you — at least not yet.

While the nascent livestreaming services — which basically allow users to broadcast live video of what their phone cameras can see — potentially create conflicts with both broadcast rights and available network bandwidth, they aren’t yet a problem at MLB ballparks, according to Bob Bowman, president of business and media for Major League Baseball and the CEO of MLB’s advanced media operations.

Bowman, who was at Harding Park Golf Course Tuesday to announce a joint deal between MLBAM and the PGA, spoke briefly with MSR to address the livestreaming question, which surfaced earlier this month when fans started using Periscope and Meerkat to “broadcast” live video from MLB games. Though showing live video “without the express written consent” of MLB games is “strictly prohibited” (as anyone who’s ever watched a MLB game broadcast knows), Bowman said Tuesday that he and MLB don’t see livestreaming as a problem that needs to be addressed by policing fans or blocking the services.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 11.20.55 PM“I just don’t think our fans come to games with the idea of holding their phones up to stream video for 20 minutes,” Bowman said. While he does note that such streaming is patently illegal, Bowman also said that MLB didn’t want to alienate fans over something that wasn’t yet causing any big problems. Currently, he said, most fans are using social media to share photos of themselves at baseball games, a type of free promotion MLB and teams go out of their way to encourage.

What hasn’t happened — yet — is large numbers of fans using the livestreaming services, something that could potentially clog up the cellular and Wi-Fi networks inside the stadiums since live, streaming video inherently uses up a large amount of bandwidth. Bowman, whose MLBAM operation spent some $300 million over the past couple years in a project that is bringing advanced cellular and Wi-Fi networks to all MLB parks, said that if livestreaming becomes a bandwidth issue, it will be addressed.

“We just put all these new networks in, and the last thing the stadiums want is [people] using the network for these types of activities,” Bowman said. “If we’re wrong, we’ll review it. But I just don’t think our fans are there to stream the game.”

Will Periscope and Meerkat swamp stadium networks?

Three thoughts to start your week off, of a completely unrelated nature. First one up is about a couple of live video-streaming services that you might have heard of or seen, Meerkat and Periscope. I successfully avoided watching any super-selfimportant types video themselves using Meerkat from SXSW, and I’ve been too wrapped up in March Madness to care yet about Periscope. So far I haven’t seen any coverage that details how much bandwidth the apps use up. Probably not much if you are livestreaming something all by yourself. But what if a bunch of people decide to livestream, and they’re all in the same place? So I do wonder how stadium networks will handle the idea of live video streams.

Will the Wi-Fi and DAS networks be able to handle the traffic? Anyone looking into this yet? Discuss. You can do so in the comments, or send me some longer thoughts via email and I will relay them to the crowd. Will Periscope and Meerkat be banned in-stadium? If so how can that happen? Will live video streams be the final straw that makes teams and leagues realize that Twitter may not be such a great content partner after all? I don’t have any answers yet but I assure you this is a question that will be asked the rest of the year in stadium IT shops — as well as in the lawyers’ offices where content and TV rights are negotiated and protected. Selfies may be fine, and Vine may be OK. But live streams of sports events are bound to get someone’s attention, fast.

Thought No. 2: Twenty-three years ago, I remember exactly where I was when I saw this:

I was in Beaver Creek, Colo., in a swanky hotel room that I normally couldn’t afford, watching the Duke-Kentucky game after covering pro ski racing during the day on the slopes of Beaver Creek. Because it was near the end of the ski season the still-new Beaver Creek wasn’t too full, so us members of the media got special rates to stay in the slopeside hotel rooms that now will cost you an arm, a leg and maybe a first-born. That is not important to this thought, though. What is important is that I remember watching the game on a nice TV. Which was the only way you could watch, 22 years ago.

Fast forward to Saturday night, when another classic NCAA tournament match involving Kentucky came down to the wire, and a last-second shot, on the exact anniversary of the Laettner shot. That Kentucky prevailed this time in another classic also doesn’t really matter here; what does is how I watched the second half — on my phone in my backyard while cooking dinner on the grill, over a Wi-Fi connection to a router inside the house. The thing I thought about afterwards was how completely normal it seemed to do something that was unthinkable 22 years ago, namely watch a live game via a handheld device through multiple connectivity junctures — and it all just worked. In the future I will probably remember the game more, and the key free throws and the crazy defense of the last play. But right now I’m still a little in wonder in how far the idea of watching sports on your phone has come.

Third thought: Some more history here — does anyone out there remember the 2009 version of SXSW, when Foursquare was launched and the huge influx of attendees using Twitter on their iPhones brought the AT&T network to its knees? Here’s another link to the historical moment when AT&T got pantsed publicly for not knowing how much bandwidth its customers would need at a gathering like SXSW.

Fast forward again to this year’s SXSW, and man, was AT&T ready for record network usage. Not only did it trot out the huge big-ball cellular antenna that it used at Coachella last year, it beefed up regular network connections and brought in a whole herd of COWs (cell trucks on wheels) to satisfy a mobile bandwidth demand that doesn’t seem to be able to stay flat or go down. According to AT&T, its network saw 37 terabytes of data used during the SXSW event — that’s like three-plus Super Bowls worth of traffic, and this is just on AT&T’s networks, so not counting other carrier traffic.

We concentrate a lot here on stadiums and the particular problems for wireless communications caused by a tight geographic grouping of device-holding people. But what about towns with festivals like SXSW, or other big gatherings? Is your event ready for massive wireless bandwidth needs? If not what is your plan going forward?

Stadium Tech Report: Levi’s Stadium network lives up to hype, but team app still needs work

Levi's Stadium from Section 244. All photos: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report

Levi’s Stadium from Section 244. All photos: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report

At the very least San Francisco 49ers fans Sunday could take heart in the fact that the wireless network in Levi’s Stadium largely lived up to its advance billing, performing quite well even as the team on the field sputtered and failed to connect. In its first “real” test with an almost-full house on Sunday the Levi’s Wi-Fi and cellular networks seemed to work well throughout the game, delivering solid speed test results from almost every part of the new 68,500-seat facility, even as Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the 49ers were dealt a 34-0 preseason drubbing by Peyton Manning and the visiting Denver Broncos.

And just like the team, the Niners’ stadium technology lineup still has some weak spots that will hopefully be fixed before the regular season home opener on Sept. 14. Among the disappointments Sunday was a no-show by the highly heralded instant replay feature, the crown jewel of the new Levi’s Stadium app. We also experienced some location-connection problems with one of our devices, exposing what we consider a flaw in the Levi’s app, namely an over-reliance on location technologies to enable key parts of the app, like wayfinding and on-site video streaming.

Ticket scanner with Niners visor to block sun

Ticket scanner with Niners visor to block sun

Some other not-so-advanced technology flaws that could use fine-tuning include the volume level on the main stadium public-address and announcing system, which was so loud that it made it a struggle just to talk to the person next to you for long stretches of time. The ticket scanning machines also seemed to have issues working in the bright sunlight, a problem that found a low-tech fix when ticket personnel placed Niners’ visors around the tops of the machines to shade the scanning area. And many concession stands around the stadium were unable to serve guests or could only take cash because the staff operating the stands said they weren’t given access codes to the point-of-sale systems.

Overall, however, the first football game at Levi’s was a success on many levels, including the fantastic sight lines available from most seats and largely incident-free travel and parking operations, with noticed improvements especially on the VTA light rail front that struggled mightily during the stadium’s opening-event soccer game two weekends ago. Most fans also probably got a little weight loss from the no extra-charge sauna situation, thanks to the cloudless day and bright sun that bathed most of the seats in searing heat for long times after the 1 p.m. start.

Smooth start for early VTA riders

What follows here is a somewhat minute-by-minute account of my trip to the game, and my experience with the network and stadium operations on site.

Mtn View lot sign, not in operation at 9:30 a.m.

Mtn View lot sign, not in operation at 9:30 a.m.

Since I wasn’t given press access to the game, Mobile Sports Report attended like a regular fan, purchasing a single ticket through the NFL Ticket Exchange service on the 49ers’ web site. My plan to get to Levi’s from San Mateo was to drive to downtown Mountain View, park there and take VTA the rest of the way. (I didn’t take CalTrain mainly because I didn’t want to have to sync my return schedule with the CalTrain options going northbound on Sunday.)

Though I was somewhat incredulous about having to buy tickets online — VTA said that the ticket machines in Mountain View would be shut down Sunday to keep big lines from forming — upon further review the VTA app was slick and easy to operate and understand. After purchasing a ticket for $6.50 Saturday night I activated it Sunday, and showed it at the gate where they checked boarding passes. For people who didn’t have tickets there was a tent set up where they could buy a pre-loaded Clipper card for $10 good for a day’s worth of VTA riding. There was an abundance of VTA workers on hand, as well as a large and very obvious police presence. As a nice touch there was also a large bank of porta-potties, and behind the trains there were express buses waiting, according to one VTA employee, in case of crowd overloads.

“We learned some lessons from two weeks ago,” he said.

If there was a glitch in the VTA operations it was with the city of Mountain View — though a couple city lots were designated as places where fans could buy all-day parking passes, and there were clear signs to those lots, at 9:30 a.m. those lots were not yet staffed with anyone to pay; MSR found one sign leaning up against a post, waiting to be deployed. Fans could also park in the CalTrain lot for $5, payable via the CalTrain track podium ticket machines.

Fans transferring from CalTrain to VTA at Mtn View station

Fans transferring from CalTrain to VTA at Mtn View station

I boarded the first VTA train to leave for the stadium, along with many fans who had just gotten off CalTrain. The pleasant, air-conditioned trip took just 27 minutes, passing many Silicon Valley company headquarters and one neighborhood with “no parking here” patrols before stopping pretty much right at the Levi’s Stadium entrance. A few steps later I was in the parking lot, and took the first of many Wi-Fi speed tests and got a signal of 29 Mbps download and 23 Mbps upload, a good sign for network operations.

Looking for Wi-Fi, finding lots of it

DAS antenna in "Faithful Mile" area

DAS antenna in “Faithful Mile” area

Once inside the gates — and past the shaded scanners — I started speed testing in earnest, with the two devices I brought with me: A Motorola Droid 4 on Verizon, and a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 on AT&T. While waiting for the main stadium gates to open at 11 a.m. I got the weakest Wi-Fi signals of the day along the “Faithful Mile” area where promotional booths from sponsors kept early arrivers entertained. Wi-Fi on both devices out there only hit 2 to 3 Mbps on the download, while cell signals on both devices were in the 6-7 Mbps download range. Since I could see multiple DAS radios in the area but not any Wi-Fi access points I wasn’t too surprised; but it was an unusual area not to be blanketed with Wi-Fi, especially since there was good access a couple hundred yards away in the parking lots.

After finally entering the stadium proper, I ran into Niners president Paraag Marathe — who said he was “nervously excited,” and looked ready to start sweating in his suit and tie. “We’ve just got to make sure everything works today,” Marathe said, shaking my hand. Then I went up the escalator and saw the “Kezar pub,” an open-air bar filling the top area above the Intel gate. There, draft beers like Shock Top and Goose Island IPA were available for $11, and bottled beers available for $10.25.

As I started walking around the outside concourse I took my first speed test in the stadium and it blew the needle off the edge: 57.92 Mbps download, 41.00 Mbps upload.

A few minutes later on the inside concourse (where most of the concession stands are) I hit 27.85 Mbps/21.34 Mbps, still impressive. Then I tried to launch the app, and — problem. Apparently the device wasn’t connecting because it wouldn’t show my location on the wayfinding app. Luckily, right in front of me was Racquel, one of the “NiNerds,” the team’s new staff of technical experts who are there to help fans make the app work. But Racquel couldn’t solve my problem, even after we both tried turning on all location services, including Bluetooth.

Racquel the NiNerd

Racquel the NiNerd

“I can try to find another NiNerd who might know more about this device,” offered Racquel, who was visibly dismayed at her failure to help solve my problem. Instead, I moved on, hoping that the problem would solve itself later. But it didn’t.

Failure to locate… and other app problems

After downloading the Levi’s app to both devices over the weekend, I noticed that the first item on the app list of functions — Tickets — required me to “sign in” with my “Stadium Ticket Account,” something I didn’t have and didn’t know how to get. I did figure out how to enter my purchased seat location (which I could have used to order food to my seat, or for the express pick-up option), but I could never get the location feature to work on the Samsung device, which kept me from being able to see the live streaming TV option (I kept getting a message that said, “You must be at the stadium to play this video”). I was able to watch the live TV option on the Motorola device, after turing on location services. But for both devices — and, as it turns out, for everyone in the stadium — the final feature on the app, Game Center, where we were supposed to be able to see all the instant replays we could handle, remained labeled “coming soon.”

Finally sitting in my most excellent seat — section 244, row 3, seat 17 — I noticed that the Motorola device could no longer connect to Wi-Fi, even as the Samsung device was hitting marks in the 15-16 Mbps range. I started tweeting about the problem, and instead of a NiNerd coming to help me I got a personal visit from the Levi’s version of a Jedi Master, namely Dan Williams, the team’s vice president of technology. (Never underestimate the power of a complaining tweet!)

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams attempts to fix my Droid 4 Wi-Fi issues (while trying not to laugh at the fact that I actually have and use a Droid 4)

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams attempts to fix my Droid 4 Wi-Fi issues (while trying not to laugh at the fact that I actually have and use a Droid 4)

On my own, I had guessed that the Droid’s inability to connect came from its having only a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi radio. If you’re not familiar with Wi-Fi networks, the 2.4 GHz band of unlicensed airwaves is what most first-generation Wi-Fi networks used; more recent devices are able to also use the 5 GHz band of unlicensed airwaves, which simply offer more channels and more bandwidth. The iPhone 5s, for example, mainly uses 5 GHz for Wi-Fi, as does my Samsung Note.

In scanning the available Wi-Fi networks, I had also noticed something else that I thought could be gumming up the Droid’s connection — a bunch of personal Wi-Fi hotspots in the immediate area, including several labeled as GoPro cameras. After curiously examining my Droid 4 — and its slide-out keyboard — Williams and a technician from Wi-Fi gear provider Aruba Networks concurred that my device was getting bogged down in the 2.4 GHz mess, and also wasn’t refreshing the available networks list, a device-specific problem.

Bottom line? Levi’s is no country for old phones.

Initial verdict: Wi-Fi and cellular is world class… but app needs work

After staying into the third quarter — and visiting another friend in section 109, where I got another hefty Wi-Fi speed test (24.42/25.39 Mbps) — I followed the lead of many fans and took an early leave of Levi’s, which meant no lines at the VTA trains and just a couple short delays due to track congestion that stretched the return train trip to 40 minutes. Overall, my travel to and from the stadium from San Mateo took just over an hour each way, a happy stat to report.

My initial verdict is that the Wi-Fi and DAS (cellular) networks delivered as promised, with solid speeds all around the stadium every time I checked. It’s no small accomplishment just to deliver such world-class service to such a crowded space, especially in the middle of Silicon Valley. True to its roots, the crowd Sunday was device-happy, with many iPads and GoPros being carried around as video cameras, in addition to all the phones that were in constant use. It’s a tribute to Williams and his staff, as well as the technology suppliers like Aruba, Brocade, Comcast (backbone bandwidth supplier) and DAS Group Professionals, who built the distributed antenna system (DAS) which brings advanced cellular connectivity inside the gates, to have built a solid network that worked well on its first big test.

The team app, however, did not even come close to living up to its advanced billing. To equal the network I think the app needs more advance instructions, especially on the ticketing/registration options as well as on the location services needed to make everything work. And until we see the multiple-camera angle live replays in action, to me the app is an incomplete project. The good news is, the Niners and their technology teams have several weeks to make improvements, including another preseason game Aug. 24 against the San Diego Chargers.

It’d also be helpful for the team to reach out a bit more to the VTA and players like the City of Mountain View, since the VTA site maps and Mountain View’s parking maps are far from what you would call “advanced design.” I think it’s up to the Niners to help pay for improvements to the city and transportation entities’ technology offerings, simply because of the burden placed on those operators by the fans going to Niners’ games. At the very least, more links from football to getting-there operations seems in order, instead of trusting that all parts of the operation will work in sync.

VTA lines going home

VTA lines going home