Fan experience soars with arrival of Wi-Fi at Montreal Canadiens’ Bell Centre

Fans outside the Bell Centre. All photos: Montreal Canadiens

Fans outside the Bell Centre. All photos: Montreal Canadiens

Fans of the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens finally have a technological stadium experience that matches the team’s successful on-ice legacy, with the debut this season of a fan-facing Wi-Fi network that empowers a wide range of services meant to make the game-day experience second to none.

As part of an announced $100 million refurbishing of the 20-year-old Bell Centre, the new Wi-Fi network is already letting the Canadiens support services like in-seat food and beverage delivery ordered via a mobile-device app, as well as mobile ticketing and fan-loyalty programs. According to Pierre-Eric Belzile, vice president of information and communication technology for the Canadiens, the new network has been in development for several years, when the team determined that its fans needed better connectivity inside the 21,288-seat arena.

“Since we have Bell [Canada] as a partner, we have a completely new DAS inside the arena,” Belzile said. But a few years ago, he said the team was looking at making video available to the public, and to support “all the new devices” coming online, the idea of providing Wi-Fi to fans started taking shape.

Sticking with what works

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECHNOLOGY REPORT, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site. In addition to this and other in-depth profiles we also take an in-depth look at the new trend of deploying Wi-Fi and DAS antennas under seats, and provide a wireless recap from Super Bowl 50. GET YOUR COPY today!

The arena, Belzile said, already had a Wi-Fi network for internal operations, including point-of-sale systems for concessions and ticketing, that was installed in 2006. Belzile, who has been at the stadium for the past 15 years, said he liked that system’s infrastructure, which was provided then by Nortel. The familiarity with the technology led Belzile and his team to look first to the current Nortel technology owner, Avaya, for a buildout to a fan-facing system.

Avaya Wi-Fi AP on an overhead mount

Avaya Wi-Fi AP on an overhead mount

“I had such a good experience with the [Nortel] switches, how flexible they are, it was a normal decision to look at Avaya,” Belzile said. That look turned into a deal, and for this season Avaya gear is at the base of the 500-AP strong network that brings free Wi-Fi to every seat in the house.

For an Oct. 15 game, Belzile said the network was already working well, with approximately 4,000 unique users and a peak of 3,200 concurrent connections, even with little to no promotion of the Wi-Fi by the team. That night the Canadiens saw 320 gigabytes of data carried on the Wi-Fi network, a nightly number that has no doubt grown as the season progressed.

With an upper bowl that circles the entire stadium, Belzile said “it was an easy call” to mount all antennas overhead, and not trying to go the more costly route of installing them under seats. Cement columns in the backs of rows also made for convenient AP mounting spots, Belzile said. For the hard-to-reach rows down near the ice, Belzile said that Bell has made extra efforts to improve the DAS coverage there, ensuring that the closest seats also have good connectivity.

Bringing food to the fan

The new network also allows the Canadiens to provide in-seat food and beverage delivery to fans who order from the app, a service available to all seats except the “Club Dejardins” level, where the team said food is included with the ticket. Though no food-delivery stats have yet been provided by the team, the team said its goal is to deliver all orders within five minutes of them being placed.

Wi-Fi mounts on concrete post

Wi-Fi mounts on concrete post

The concession-delivery service is just part of an aggressive mobile-device strategy, one that includes a social media promotion headlined by the “Club 1909” (for the year the team was founded) program, which offers benefits like free tickets for loyalty points accrued.

Belzile said fans at the stadium can use the team’s mobile app to view instant replays, as well as participate in online quiz contests. On the concourses, the team added HD displays that show live game action, so that fans out of their seats don’t have to miss what’s happening on the ice. The multicast video system, Belzile said, is supported by the stadium’s Avaya-based network, and is easy to update dynamically, instead of the old static ads that used to be displayed.

“Sponsors have been very pleased with the results” from the new displays, Belzile said.

Though a bit of a newcomer to the stadium-network space, Avaya already has some big-name deployments under its belt, including its namesake Avaya Stadium in San Jose, Calif., home of pro soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes, as well as a yet-unannounced deployment already working at the Pepsi Center in Denver, home of the NBA’s Nuggets and the NHL’s Avalanche.

Belzile, who said he took a trip to San Jose recently to see the huge outdoor bar that is one of the signatures of Avaya Stadium, said he’s extremely pleased with the new Bell Centre network and what it supports: Solid connectivity for fans.

“We wanted to let people do whatever they wanted to do with their devices, anywhere in the building, even when they are at the game,” Belzile said. “The [new] network really helps improve the experience for the fans.”

Boston Bruins  v Montreal Canadiens - Game Three

Speak Your Mind