Cisco Scoring Big in Europe with Stadium Wi-Fi, Infrastructure Deals

Warsaw's new National Stadium, soon to be powered with Cisco networking technology.

With a couple new deals for stadium-network infrastructure, U.S. networking giant Cisco Systems is at the start of what could be a big string of wins for its new focus on “connected stadiums.”

A Nov. 15 announcement of plans for soccer powerhouse Real Madrid to partner with Cisco to bring fan-accessible Wi-Fi and other improvements to its home stadium in Madrid was followed by an announcement on Nov. 21 of a deal for Cisco to bring a wide range of technology to the new National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland, where next year’s Euro 2012 soccer tourney will kick off.

Cisco Sports and Entertainment Solutions Group SVP and GM David Holland

Though Cisco is no stranger to sports stadium deals — it helped AT&T build wireless networks inside stadiums like AT&T Park in San Francisco and Stanford Stadium, and is behind wireless efforts at facilities like Kansas City’s Livestrong Park soccer arena — the next year should see Cisco kick into full gear on its “connected sports solutions” group, headed by senior VP and GM David Holland. While free Wi-Fi is of top interest to most fans these days, Cisco’s breadth of networking smarts brings even more to the table for venue owners — including the ability to integrate voice, public safety and other data streams like ticketing and concessions into a tight, secure, single IT infrastructure.

For fans, the benefits of a connected stadium are clear: Personal access to instant video replays, the ability to order food from your seat, and the fun of connecting with fans and friends either in the venue or out on the Internet. For teams and stadium owners, a fully connected stadium not only helps make fans happier, it can also increase advertising and other revenue streams while reducing administration and cost of IT ownership.

Where Cisco has an edge over other technology providers is in its depth of offerings — not only is it the world leader in back-end routing and switching gear, but it is also among the market leaders in wireless access gear, through the expertise of its Linksys division. Unknown to most observers is Cisco’s strength in digital-display technology, which it uses in stadium situations to improve or enhance video display on screens both big and small.

Sports is something Cisco understands

And unlike other consumer-based offerings — such as its failed efforts to crack into the personal video market by buying handheld videocam maker Flip — Cisco clearly “gets” the sports fan’s desire to have better access to technology. Just read this snippet from a Cisco blog about stadium technology, which reads like something we might write here at MSR:

Picture a fan sitting in a football stadium full of tens of thousands of people getting ready for the game to begin. The stadium is roaring with noise, the team takes the pitch, and the fan uses his or her mobile device to snap a picture, capturing an iconic moment.

Like most football fans, and sports fans in general, he or she is a vibrant digital and social media consumer, and therefore tries to share that photo via a social media channel like Facebook.

However, with so many fans in the stadium desiring to do that same thing, or engage with their mobile device in another way, the strain on the existing mobile network at the game is intense. The fan finds the device has a low level of or no connectivity, and is unable to share that moment with friends, family and other fans…an inability to interact – something this fan and scores of others desire.

And going to Europe makes plenty of sense for a global powerhouse like Cisco, mainly because of the more-advanced cellular culture there. In some research we are conducting now at MSR we are finding out that most big stadiums in this country have little or no Wi-Fi access — except maybe in the luxury suites. In Europe the revolution toward fully wired fans is already in full swing, and Cisco is smart to get out in front early. It will be interesting to see how quickly these stadium deals contribute to the networking giant’s bottom line.


  1. A good friend of ours notes that the enterprise Wi-Fi gear smarts at Cisco probably comes from their 2005 acquisition of Airespace. Thanks @iPolicy.

  2. Cisco’s enterprise Wi-Fi expertise is in their Airespace acquisition, not in the Linksys group that makes consumer products. Also, I don’t buy the notion that Europe has a “more advanced cellular culture.” Both the US and Europe are virtually 100% connected, and the average American spends twice as many minutes per month on the cell phone as the avg. Euro, in part because our rates are lower. We also have much more LTE use than the Euros, who are lagging behind because of excessive regulation.

    If Euros do more stadium networking than we do that would probably be because soccer is such an excruciatingly boring game.

  3. This idea is mind blowing, as connected stadiums can bring great benefit to the fans watching the game. Access to Internet means sharing becomes instant. I think i will experience this new innovative concept of connected stadium when i go and watch London Olympics 2012.


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