Wi-Fi, new app features a welcome addition at historic Saratoga Race Course

Horses round the turn at Saratoga Race Course. Credit all photos: Saratoga Race Course.

Just because a sporting venue is old and historic doesn’t mean it has to stay behind the times. The welcome arrival this year at the famed Saratoga Race Course of a high-density Wi-Fi network and a new mobile app with services including live video, express food ordering and mobile betting was a winner for all fans, according to racetrack executives.

“I’m pretty proud of Saratoga — we’ve got history, tradition, and now the 21st Century,” said Bob Hughes, vice president and chief information officer for the New York Racing Association, which runs thoroughbred racing at the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based Saratoga as well as at Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park. The new Wi-Fi network, which was fully installed for Saratoga’s 2017 season, “was a wild success for us,” Hughes said. “The fans were engaged, and the media noticed.”

Saratoga’s summer schedule — a tradition in upstate New York since racing first happened there in 1863 — is one of the more revered happenings on the horse-racing schedule, and the Race Course grounds are widely admired as one of the best experiences in sports. But up until a few years ago, that experience didn’t have much in the way of wireless connectivity, an issue Hughes said the NYRA started working on to correct after the 2015 season.

More mobility for race fans

With an executive direction to bring more mobility, access and convenience to fans, Saratoga started down the path that ended with a network using 220 Ruckus access points, Kezar scanners and a new app designed by VenueNext, and 1,000 bluetooth beacons from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, to support wayfinding and other services. With more than 48,000 client user sessions on one of the summer’s busiest days — the Aug. 26 Travers Day — and an average of more than 1 terabyte of traffic each day, the new network at Saratoga was an instant hit, and something likely to keep the old venue even more relevant to a new generation of racing fans.

“The New York Racing Association was pleased this year to introduce cutting edge technology to Saratoga Race Course, the oldest active sporting venue in America,” said NYRA CEO and president Chris Kay in a prepared statement. “Given our ever growing reliance on mobile devices, these improvements are critical to the long-term success and sustainability of Saratoga.”

The unique schedule of Saratoga — 40 days of racing in the summer — also means some long days of races, with fans at the track from before noon until 7 p.m. some days, Hughes said. With the new network and app in place, those fans can not only stay connected to their outside lives, but they can also watch live and archived racing videos, pre-order concessions for express pickup, and even place bets from their mobile device.

“With 25 or 30 minutes between races, you now see a lot of people watching replays of former races” to gain betting insights, Hughes said. And that connectivity even extends from the racetrack seating areas out to the track’s famed picnic grounds, where Hughes said Saratoga deployed “mushroom” looking AP enclosures that put antennas at waist level, to bring connectivity close to the seating areas.

From the more than 1 million fans who attended races this season, Hughes said the Wi-Fi network saw pretty consistent take rates of 25 percent of fans present on the network at any given time. Having that wireless connectivity to outside lives as well as to tap into venue amenities, Hughes said, “takes any stress away.”

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