Stadium Tech Report: Wi-Fi ‘coaches’ help fans find network in New England and Philly

Wi-Fi coach in the stands at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Extreme Networks

Wi-Fi coach in the stands at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Extreme Networks

What good is a stadium Wi-Fi network if the fans don’t use it? To help avoid the obvious answer, the providers of wireless services in the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field are now supplying “Wi-Fi coaches,” roaming groups of helpers who help fans get connected to the in-stadium network. With assistance from the digital sidelines, fans at those two stadiums can now conquer what may be the biggest hurdle to in-stadium connectivity: Just figuring out how to make your device work.

In a phone interview with John Brams, director of hospitality and venues with Enterasys (the stadium networking company recently acquired by Extreme Networks), we asked about what problems the providers had experienced with their new networks at Gillette and the Linc. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the biggest concerns wasn’t technical, but simply user confusion.

“After we installed the networks, we quietly realized that the [biggest] fundamental issues weren’t with the design — it was user issues,” Brams said. When you consider that the average age of a Patriots fan at the game is 51 or 52, Brams said, it’s understandable that many of them might not know how to do things like download an app or find a Wi-Fi connection for their phone. Communicating with fans at the games is also problematic, he said.

“You can’t just pick up the phone and call people, and you can’t really have a help desk at the stadium,” Brams said. What the Enterasys/Extreme folks hit on was a plan familiar to any NFL fan, who knows all about the long list of assistants for things like offensive line play and special teams: Give the fans their own Wi-Fi coaches.

Coaches roam stands to help fans connect

Wi-Fi coach in the stands at the Linc. Credit: Extreme Networks

Wi-Fi coach in the stands at the Linc. Credit: Extreme Networks

Now at both Gillette and the Linc the Extreme folks have 16 or more Wi-Fi coaches roaming the stands and concourses during games, readily identifiable in team-color jackets that announce them as friendly types to help fans connect to Wi-Fi. According to Brams, it’s not just the fans who benefit from the outreach program — the teams and stadiums also get instant feedback from users, which can help them quickly pinpoint any network problems.

“From a team perspective, the coaches are a great way to interact with the fans,” Brams said. “You get immediate feedback and if there are any problems, you get the information from the fan and quickly close the loop.”

The personal show-me coaching works very well in a stadium situation, Brams said, because fans will quickly pass on successful tactics to those sitting nearby. “If one person learns how to do something, it spreads like a chain reaction,” Brams said. One problem the Extreme coaching team has been communicating to users was a known bug with the team app and Android platforms, which could be fixed with a simple download. The bottom line, Brams said, is to ensure a good network experience the first time out — otherwise, fans might never try to connect again.

“I ran into one fan at Gillette who said the network didn’t work — but the last time he tried it was 2 years ago,” Brams said. “You need to deliver the first time they use it.”

Steady increase in Wi-Fi usage

At both Gillette, where the network was installed last season, and at Lincoln Financial, which is in its first year of Wi-Fi, Extreme is seeing a steady increase in usage, Brams said. An interesting side note is that while numbers of users are rising steadily, the amount of data being consumed overall is growing more rapidly, suggesting that the fans who do connect are starting to do more.

On the coaching front, Extreme is looking into helping its team customers find ways to expand the program, perhaps with some device-charging stations staffed by more Wi-Fi coaches. The idea is also open to possibilities for branding and advertising on the coaches’ jackets as well as at the charging stations, Brams said, with the final options limited only by the stadium owner and operators’ imaginations.

The best part of the program is when a coach helps a fan connect to the Wi-Fi, which is often a game-changing experience in the world of stadium connectivity. “These places [stadiums] used to be such a connectivity black hole,” Brams said. “Now people are excited when they connect.”


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