While computing giant IBM has dabbled in sports deployments before — mainly contributing technology as part of its corporate sponsorship of events like The Masters in golf and the U.S. Open for tennis — only recently has Big Blue gotten into the large-venue technology integration game. And while IBM’s recent deal as technology integrator for the revamp of Texas A&M’s Kyle Field was probably its true debut, for the new Atlanta stadium IBM will lead the selection, design and deployment of a wide range of technologies, including but not limited to the core Wi-Fi and DAS networks that will provide in-venue wireless connectivity.
Due to open in March of 2017, the new $1.4 billion stadium is expected to hold 71,000 fans for football, and up to 83,000 fans for other events like basketball or concerts. And while soccer and concerts and basketball will certainly be part of its events schedule, the NFL Atlanta Falcons and owner Arthur Blank are driving the bus on the new building, picking IBM in part to help satisfy a desire to build a venue that will be second to none when it comes to fan experience.
IBM’s size and experience a draw for AtlantaIn addition to Wi-Fi and DAS network buildouts, IBM will design systems to control the expected 2,000-plus digital displays in the planned stadium and will also oversee other technology-related parts of the stadium, including video security, physical door controls and a video intercom system, according to an announcement made today. IBM will also partner with the stadium owners to develop as yet-undetermined applications to “leverage the power of mobility to create a highly contextual, more personalized game day experience for fans, all through the integration of analytics, mobile, social, security and cloud technologies.”
In a phone interview Thursday, Jared Miller, chief technology officer for Blank’s namesake AMB Sports and Entertainment (AMBSE) group, said IBM’s depth and breadth in technology, applications and design made it a somewhat easy choice as lead technology partner.
Miller said the stadium developers looked at the number of different technology systems that would exist within the building, and ideally wanted to identify a single partner to help build and control them all, instead of multiple providers who might just have a single “silo” of expertise.“IBM is unique with its span of technology footprint,” Miller said. He also cited IBM’s ability to not just deploy technology but to also help determine what the technology could be used for, with analytics and application design.
“They’ve looked at the [stadium] opportunity in a different manner, thinking about what we could do with the network once it’s built,” Miller said.
IBM, which also has a sizable consulting business, created a group targeting “interactive experiences” about two years ago, according to Shannon Miller, the North America Fan Experience Lead for the IBM Interactive Experience group. Miller (no relation to Jared Miller), also interviewed by phone Thursday, said IBM had been working with Arthur Blank and the Falcons for more than a year to determine how to make the new stadium “the best fan experience in the world.”
And while IBM is somewhat of a newcomer to the stadium-technology integration game, IBM’s Miller said the company not only understands “how to make digital and physical work together,” but also has resources in areas including innovation, technology development and design that smaller firms may not have. And while the Kyle Field project was ambitious, IBM’s Miller said the Atlanta operation will be much bigger.
“The size and scale of what we’re going to do [in Atlanta] will be unique,” he said.
No suppliers picked yet for Wi-Fi or DAS
For industry watchers, IBM and the Falcons team have not yet picked technology suppliers for discrete parts of the coming wireless network, such as Wi-Fi access points and DAS gear. (Daktronics has already been announced as the supplier of the new planned Halo Screen video board.) But those vendor decisions will likely be coming soon, since the stadium is under a hard deadline to open for the first game of the Major League Soccer season in March of 2017.
“We’re working fast and furious on design, and we want to identify [the gear suppliers] as early as possible,” said AMBSE’s Miller.
IBM and AMBSE did announce that the stadium’s network will be fiber-based, and will probably use Corning as a fiber and Passive Optical Network (PON) technology provider, though that choice was not announced or confirmed. IBM and Corning partnered to install a fiber network core for Wi-Fi and DAS at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, believed to be the first large fiber network in a large stadium anywhere.
The Atlanta deal puts IBM solidly into the rapidly expanding field of stadium technology integration, which includes companies like CDW (which led network deployments at the University of Nebraska and the University of Phoenix Stadium) as well as stadium ownership groups, like the San Francisco 49ers, and technology name sponsors like AT&T, which has partnered with owners for technology and network deployments at venues like AT&T Park and AT&T Stadium.