November 27, 2015

Stadium Tech Report: Kansas State taps Boingo, Aruba for new Wi-Fi and DAS networks

Kansas State's Bill Snyder Family Stadium, now home to a new Wi-Fi and DAS network. All Photos: Kansas State, Boingo Wireless (click on any photo for a larger image)

Kansas State’s Bill Snyder Family Stadium, now home to a new Wi-Fi and DAS network. All Photos: Kansas State, Boingo Wireless (click on any photo for a larger image)

When Kansas State University took on the self-imposed challenge of delivering “the best fan experience in the Big 12″ a couple years ago, it was clear that something had to be done about the lack of wireless connectivity in its largest sports venues.

Before this football season, KSU took a big step forward in living up to its goals by partnering with Boingo Wireless and Aruba Networks to bring stadium-wide Wi-Fi and DAS networks for fans to the Bill Snyder Family Stadium, with plans to follow up with similar connectivity for Bramlage Coliseum, the school’s basketball arena. With 380 Wi-Fi access points and 200-plus DAS antennas in Snyder Stadium, fans there will no longer have to complain about not being able to get a signal, a problem that reached a tipping point last year, according to the K-State network staff.

According to Scott Garrett, the senior associate athletic director for external operations, the idea of fan-facing Wi-Fi or improved cellular via a DAS (distributed antenna system) had been talked about internally since 2008 or 2009, especially so when the stadium underwent significant construction revisions in 2012. Built in 1967, the football stadium had expanded to its current capacity of 50,000 fans, who in the last couple years started letting the school know that “no signal” was no fun.

“Our [yearly] fan survey, especially the last couple years, had a growing feedback about the inability to connect [at the stadium],” Garrett said. Back in 2010 and 2011, there really wasn’t a hue and cry, but “every year since then, the negative feedback [about connectivity] had doubled,” Garrett said. “It was really painful after last season.”

Antennas visible on top of stands

Antennas visible on top of stands

Building two networks at once

What fans didn’t know last year was that a plan was already in place to fix the issue, thanks to an RFP crafted by the athletics department and the campus telecom office. After sorting through several candidates, including carrier-driven DAS-only plans, Kansas State went with Boingo Wireless as the lead deployer for both a DAS and a Wi-Fi network, with rental revenues from the former helping offset the deployment costs of the latter.

“Boingo has a lot of experience in the [stadium] marketplace, and their financial model allows us to install a DAS and get money to build a Wi-Fi network,” Garrett said. Even though the deal was signed in 2014, the complexity of bringing new networks to older buildings was such that the target date for launch became the start of the 2015 football season.

Doug Lodder, vice president of business development at Boingo, said there was a “boatload of synergy” in doing both a DAS and a Wi-Fi network deployment at the same time. “Just knowing where antennas will be placed for either one makes both better,” Lodder said.

The biggest deployment challenges for both networks were in both end zones of the stadium, both of which have only one section of stands with no overhangs, making it tough to locate antennas. Without using under-seat antennas (“we are firm believers that going up from under is a last resort,” said Lodder) Lodder said Boingo was able to make its design work — “we found enough ways to get the APs in,” he said.

More antennas on an overhang

More antennas on an overhang

For the Wi-Fi network, Boingo used gear from Aruba Networks, a choice made in part because Aruba gear was already in use in other parts of the Kansas State campus.

For the DAS, Boingo used Teko gear from JMA Wireless. Currently Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are on the DAS, with Garrett “hoping to add AT&T” sometime soon.

Another classic issue for many deployments in older stadiums, where to locate the head-end room, was solved for this season with a temporary structure since the proximity of the basketball arena — according to Garrett it sits about 30 yards beyond the football stadium’s south end zone — was just one of several factors putting a crimp on available head-end real estate.

“We’re still trying to figure out a permanent place for the head end,” Garrett said. “We just didn’t have room for it on the [existing] site.”

Soft launches and a new app

With construction taking place over the summer, Kansas State knew it couldn’t keep its network a secret. On Aug. 12, athletic director John Currie posted a letter on the K-State website, which in part told fans about the new networks being installed, as well as the availability of a new game day application, built by SportsLabs, a 2-year-old startup based in Boulder, Colo.

Screenshot of map on new K-State app.

Screenshot of map on new K-State app.

Garrett said the “teaser” letter from the AD helped alert fans to the new connectivity options, and some started taking and sharing photos of the antennas during pre-season activities at the stadium. But just to make sure the launch didn’t overset expectations, Garrett said the KSU staff kept mostly silent through the first game of the season on Sept. 5, allowing them to have a bit of a “beta” type soft launch.

The go-slow start helped, he said, because it allowed network administrators to identify and correct a logon issue before the next home game. Garrett said Kansas State also monitors social media in real time, allowing for on-the-spot fixes when fans are having problems.

“We once saw two tweets about a problem in Section 9 [of the stadium] where some fans got kicked off the Wi-Fi,” Garrett said. “We were able to test and monitor and provide immediate feedback.”

Throughout the season, Garrett and his staff stepped up the promotion of the network, and drove fans to download the new game-day app, which includes interactive stadium maps and integrated access to social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram so fans can follow and post directly from the KSU app.

Rebecca Cameron, senior account director for SportsLabs, said that in addition to in-stadium use there is also a lot of app usage for fans who aren’t at the game, with the live game audio being the app’s most popular service. According to Cameron more than 4,000 fans have downloaded the app so far this season.

Garrett said KSU and SportsLabs will continue to add to the app, with a future eye on support of services like mobile concession ordering and instant replays. Garrett said Kansas State is a bit unusual for a big NCAA school in that it controls its own media rights, allowing it to make final decisions on technology providers.

The WIldcats take the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

The WIldcats take the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

“We were looking for a more sophisticated digital effort, and we really liked what SportsLabs had to offer,” Garrett said. Though not widely known, SportsLabs is making a name for itself in the sports app and websites field, having already secured the College Football Playoff series as a customer, along with the University of Kentucky and the ACC and West Coast Conference.

The new network and all its trappings, Boingo’s Lodder said, places Kansas State among the leaders in the collegiate connectivity race, ahead of many larger schools in bigger media markets.

“A lot of Pac-12 schools haven’t put in Wi-Fi yet,” Lodder noted. “It’s interesting to see who is taking that first step.”

Kansas State’s Garrett is happy that the initial problem of no signal is solved, and is enjoying seeing what a high-definition network can produce.

“It’s incredible to go from having no ability to text or call at all to having that problem totally solved,” Garrett said. “Now it’s great to see how many people are getting on Facebook and Twitter, sharing with friends. We’re looking forward to expanding and seeing what other new things we can add.”

MSR releases ‘State of the Stadium’ technology survey for 2014

SOS14_thumbWe cover a lot of news about stadium Wi-Fi and DAS deployments, but how many venues out there in the real world actually have such systems deployed? How are their fans using it? And what about other types of stadium-specific technology, like digital signage, social media and CRM systems? How are teams, schools and stadium owner/operators really using technology to improve the fan experience while also improving their business bottom line?

For the second straight year, we asked those questions and more and bring you the answers in our State of the Stadium Technology Survey for 2014, available for free download. Like last year’s inaugural survey, this year’s takes a look at deployments of Wi-Fi and DAS, of digital signage and CRM, and social media campaigns. It is the only numerical survey of this market that we know of, and with more than 70 respondents across all U.S. pro leagues, major colleges and other venues like race tracks and golf courses, we think it represents a pretty good snapshot of where technology deployment stands right now.

What did we find out this year? Mainly that on the wireless side, DAS deployments are far outpacing Wi-Fi, with 71.4 percent of respondents claiming a full-facility DAS, while just 35.7 percent said their facility had full fan-facing Wi-Fi. Our analysis of this situation is pretty clear as to why — with carriers willing to foot the bill for DAS, it’s no surprise that advanced cellular is ahead of Wi-Fi and in some cases is the only advanced wireless system in a stadium.

There’s more good stuff in the survey that we’ll break out over time, but for now why not just download the report and read through it yourself. We’d like to thank report sponsor SOLiD for enabling the free distribution of the survey results, and we’d also like to thank our partner the SEAT Conference, who once again helped us find willing participants to share their deployment statistics. SEAT conference attendees, of course, have had access to the survey since the most recent SEAT event in July; if you want early access to our survey results next year, just sign up for SEAT 2015 in San Francisco — which is already shaping up as an incredible event.

Mobile Data Consumption Set to Explode- Will Sports Cash in?

A recent report is highlighting the massive growth that is expected in mobile data consumption as users of smartphones increasingly use their devices for watching video, playing games, interacting with a variety of social media and other uses.

According a report from Informa Telecoms & Media, by the year 2016 mobile users will consume eight times more social media than currently, downloading 14 times as many megabytes of applications and browsing will increase six fold.

The two driving factors will be the increased use of smartphones, which currently are roughly half the handsets sold and the increase in overall mobile users. Not listed in the report but most likely also a driving factor is faster networks.

This presents a major opportunity not only for sports teams and leagues but also for the growing ecosystem of app developers involved in this space, from office league sponsored developments such as MLB At Bat 12 to sports aggregation news readers such as Recapp. With smartphones increasing in storage capacity app developers can also make larger, fuller featured products to grab users attention.

Currently mobile users can get access to a growing number of live sporting events including a wide range of college football, Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Hockey League and Soccer matches are all available, however they are often limited to a single carrier of you need to subscribe to the correct cable network.

If sports continue this path it seems that they will be missing out on a larger opportunity. It is nice that Verizon has hockey, but I don’t have Verizon. If I want NFL and hockey do I need two phones? To really cash in the leagues will need to come up with something other than exclusive deals with a single carrier, otherwise they are intentionally missing a huge segment of the market.

ESPN Gameday Contest Draws Fan Interest — Maybe Too Much Interest?

Any but the most casual college football fan has seen the throngs at the ESPN College Gameday sets, with fans in the background hoisting all sorts of signs, occasionally ones that are risqué or outright rude, and during the course of the week we see lots of ads for the program.

Now fans can influence where the ads will be shot in a clever little contest that ESPN and Facebook are hosting that enables fans to vote once a day for their school of choice. The winning school will have a Gameday ad shot on campus and it will include students from that school.There are a total of 120 schools involved and you can vote over at Facebook or ESPN GamedayVote.

I really like the contest on a number of levels. It should generate a great deal of attention between rival schools and rival contests. A quick look at some of the blogs out there already have battle cries that call for votes or else.

For ESPN it just brings additional attention to its football programming, and at a time that it is not usually on the minds of fans. It seems to have already taken off since the ESPN Vote page, and the Facebook one, as of this writing, has been overwhelmed and are down while it verifies the votes. I suspect that it will just get busier before this is all over.

The one flaw seems to be that the powers that be underestimated the popularity of the program. Looking at some of the posts on the Facebook page I noticed both accusations of cheating and complaints that votes were credited to the wrong team. I have to say that if I was in school and knew a hacker I might be so inclined to see if I could ‘rock the vote.’

I would really love to know where the votes are coming from, not in terms of schools and conferences, but are more voters coming from the Facebook page or the ESPN site? ESPN’s Facebook page has one million followers and so can be a tremendous force in this contest.

PlayUp Releases Version 2.0 of Fan-Interaction App

PlayUp has released version 2.0 of its fan-based social networking app, with improved navigation and “Live Now” scoreboards for individual sports.

PlayUp, which has signed several exclusive deals with college conferences and schools this year and also hosted NFL players for exclusive online chats during the Super Bowl, said the new features available immediately include:

– The ability to choose your favorite leagues to easily see live scores, stats and hangouts for the sports you care about most
– “Live Now” scoreboards by individual sports
– An enhanced interface with bigger and brighter graphics
– Improved navigation and user experience including faster load times, better calendars, and quicker access to live updates
– Enhanced Facebook and Twitter integration
– The ability to receive notification alerts when fans add you as a friend or when you are invited to a game
– The ability to message easily across multiple rooms with “Recent Hangouts” for the latest action you and your friends have been following

Screen shots of the new version of the app are below. Click here to download the PlayUp app.

Sunday Sermon: Bleacher Report’s Team Stream Shows Us How to Share Content

I have seen the immediate future of sports content sharing, and if it’s not the ultimate winner than Bleacher Report’s Team Stream feature will be something others will quickly copy. The main reason why I think it will be so successful? The best part of Team Stream is B/R’s willingness to embrace content that isn’t solely its own, to better serve the fans. That sharing attitude is going to make Team Stream a go-to feature that may eventually be more popular than any single site’s collection of reporters and columnists.

If you haven’t seen Team Stream yet, just go to the B/R site and set up a “stream” for yourself. It works either online, in an email newsletter, and most importantly, on mobile devices. The basic premise is, B/R’s team of web-watching editors sifts through everything that is out there and sends you a bundle of content centered around the teams or sports you are most interested in. The key is that unlike other media outlets, some of whom won’t link or mention competitors, B/R provides links to anyone and everyone, from major content creators to bloggers and tweeters. That’s the secret sauce that will make Team Stream taste great.

A screen grab of a Bleacher Report Team Stream newsletter on golf.

My blogging mentor, Om Malik, had one big rule for creating content — don’t waste the reader’s time. Team Stream embodies that ideal perfectly. Instead of me having to maintain links to multiple web sites, follow multiple people on Twitter, I can just “stream” the best stuff for my teams and save myself a lot of hunting time. And after visiting the B/R offices last week to see their energetic, massive bench of editors engaged in finding the best content out there I’m pretty confident that they’re going to serve up enough good stuff every day on my teams and topics to keep me from needing to go everywhere else.

So far I’ve been following the Chicago Bulls and Golf Team Streams as a test, and I can say right off the bat the golf one is a champ. Today’s newsletter, for example, gives me links to stories from Bleacher Report itself, but also from Yahoo Sports, from, from and from the AP — a much better mix than any traditional newspaper or sports site, which primarily include content only from their own staffs or partner “wire services” like AP. And I haven’t yet tried the new iPad version of Team Stream but I can only guess that the bigger screen size will make activities like watching video replays just that much easier.

Keep your eye on Team Stream, and see how many folks try to copy what Bleacher Report is doing. The power of sharing and smart editing is a winning combination.