Expanding our scope: Welcome to… Stadium Tech Report!

Mobile Sports Report is now… Stadium Tech Report!

Welcome to the strangest time ever for sports. For venue technology professionals, it’s even tougher, since they need to not just deal with the present but also must plan for the future. And that would be an incredibly uncertain future, with uncertain needs, perhaps fulfilled by untested technologies, which need to be paid for at a time when no money is coming in. All that makes it tough to show up for work every morning.

As much as we can from our home offices, we feel your pain. And in what we hope is a good move for us and our readers, we are taking a big step toward providing even more information we hope will help you with your jobs. As of today, the entity formerly known as Mobile Sports Report will now be known as Stadium Tech Report. What does that mean for you? Quite simply, it just means “more.” Let me explain, with a quick look back at where we came from:

When I started Mobile Sports Report nine years ago, we had a fairly uncertain focus. The only thing we
really knew was that digital technology would impact the consumption of sports in huge ways. It wasn’t that bold of a prediction, but what was unclear was what would matter most, and what we could make a business out of covering. In our business, that means finding an audience that needs information about a topic that matters to them. Would it be watching football on your phone? Would it be sports social media? Would it be figuring out wireless connectivity in stadiums? We covered a lot of topics at the start, and the title “Mobile Sports Report” was chosen purposely to be non-specific, giving us latitude to move wherever it made sense to move.

In 2014, we launched what would become the focal point of our business: Our quarterly “Stadium Tech Report” series, which began with a venue-by-venue survey of the wireless connectivity at each NBA arena, and a few profiles of deployments at stadiums, including the brand-new Barclays Center. The simple idea then remains powerful today: Since deploying wireless in stadiums is a complex and unique problem for each venue, we needed time and space to tell the stories completely, so that other technology professionals could learn and inform their own plans and strategies.

With team, school and venue reps telling us for years that wireless connectivity (or lack thereof) was one of the biggest pain points for fans, it made sense to focus on that part of the stadium technology puzzle. Over the years, we’ve had a front-row seat to all the trials and errors of Wi-Fi and cellular deployment strategies and told as many tales as we could, covering both the highs and the lows.

Along the way our audience steadily grew from friends and family at the start to a mailing list now
surpassing 4,000 active members, attracted we think in no small part by our commitment to honest, objective journalism. There is no pay to play at our house, no stories done in exchange for sponsor dollars. Our business premise has always been, that if you deliver a solid, honest product, the audience will appreciate it, and sponsors will want to reach those readers by showing their support for the outlet of the information. The continued interest of our readers and the continued support of our sponsors is an
honor we cherish.

Stadium Tech Report was called that for a reason

But just like we called the main publication “Mobile Sports Report” for flexibility, there also was a reason why we purposely called our flagship publication “Stadium Tech Report,” and not something with mobility or wireless in the title. Yes, mobility and devices will always be at the forefront of any game-day experience and even more so going forward, especially as digital interactions will likely replace
many human ones for safety reasons in the near future. But now more than ever, more technology will come into venues, in areas only remotely related to mobility. Scanners, digital signage and camera systems will become need-to-know-about technology now added to the to-do list for IT teams inside venues. And we will embrace those with the same direction as we did with wireless.

The cover of our first Stadium Tech Report issue in 2014

It’s a subtle but necessary change. It may not seem so to those on the outside reading in, but titles matter. You are, at some point, what you say you are on the biggest sign you have – a Restaurant, a Dry Cleaner, a Pet Store. Changing our main name to Stadium Tech Report says, out loud, that all technology for stadiums and other large public venues is now in our purview. That doesn’t mean we’re going to back down at all from our perch where (in our humble estimation) we cover stadium wireless technology more closely, deeply and objectively than anyone else out there. What the name change says is: We’re going to take the same approach with every other technology that goes inside the arenas, mainly because that’s what’s happening to our audience.

If they need to become instant experts on thermal imaging and detection, self-serve concessions operations, or AI-assisted crowd camera systems, we want to help them on that learning curve.

Watch for more improvements as the summer rolls on – we have some new directions coming in design and content to better address the changing way our audience consumes what we put on the table. It may also take a little bit of time to shake the MSR genes out of our system (you will ALWAYS be able to reach me at kaps at mobilesportsreport.com, and for now the site’s URL is still mobilesportsreport.com, for instance) but I am sure you can deal with the pace. We are working on a new site design as well, but as usual, editorial content takes precedence so we’ll start with the official name change and go from there.

Talking to all the smart people we can

One of the first endeavors is a joint research/editorial project with our friends at AmpThink we are calling the “Return to Venues,” an open-ended idea to expose all the best ideas, thinking and practices of the smartest people we know in the business in regards to the challenges presented by the coronavirus. We’re still in the process of putting this all together, but stay tuned for more in-depth reports, more live or recorded interviews, and other things all meant to help elevate the shared discussion about where we’re all headed next. Our initial report on What’s Next for venues in our new Stadium Tech Report issue was the end product of more than two months of joint interviews with AmpThink folks, talking to everyone we could at technology companies, stadium tech integrators, team and school IT leaders, and other smart people. We’ve learned some amazing things and got great direction on where to head next so stay tuned.

In the narrow-focus field of stadium technology, it’s going to be an incredible time over the next six months, over the next year, over the next two years. There’s going to be lots of experiments, some of which may bear fruit, some which may flame out, and others that will need tweaking and lots of trial and error before things work the way they should. We’ve seen this story before, if you think about ideas like in-seat delivery and stadium apps. What sounds great in a first headline doesn’t always translate to success in the seats. You can expect a lot of this in the days to come, where every “new” thing is touted as a savior, especially by those without a lot of background in the business. But will they follow up to see if those things worked, and if not, how venues eventually solved the problems? We will. Like you, we’re in this for the long haul.

For the nuts and bolts that matter – how will you install and run it, how will it be paid for, what is the total cost of ownership, will it really be necessary two years from now – you can count on us and our great audience, our readers who are our sources, to help figure out what works and what doesn’t.

If you think about it in math terms, running tech at an arena just went from algebra straight to calculus, no stops in between. Instead of just trying to figure out if you want your Wi-Fi antennas overhead or under-seat, now you have to contemplate an entirely new way of getting fans into a stadium, perhaps scanning them for body temperature or blood-oxygen levels on the way; you may have to completely reroute concourses and pathways to seats, sometimes in stadiums that were originally built over 100 years ago; And you may have to remake everything you ever did on a concessions standpoint, as the entire world switches to contact-free payment systems and shies away from someone taking your order face to face, taking your money and then wrapping and handing you a hot dog.

And just for kicks, the need for all the critical wireless networks underlying everything doesn’t go away, it only gets more necessary as all the new stuff like cameras, sensors, displays and POS terminals will need more, not less, connectivity. Same with outreach to fans and staff, who will all need more, not less, communication. It’s scary stuff, almost as scary as the pandemic that has caused the shutdown.

But staying still or moving backwards is not an option. That’s the same for us, and it’s why we chose this time to double down on what we do, mainly again because what we’ve learned in a two months of deep-dive interviews. Nobody knows what’s happening, there is no silver bullet, no single plan of action. It’s going to take a lot more Zoom calls, trials, errors, adjustments and re-adjustments until we get it figured out.

The one thing to me that makes this industry different from other tech-specific markets is that its practicioners share information with each other like no other. We’ll do our best to help that process along at a time when it’s needed more than ever. Join us at our new home – same as the old place, just with more room and an expanded menu. Welcome, then, to Stadium Tech Report!

New Report: What’s Next for venues in the face of Covid-19; plus profiles of Globe Life Field and Dodger Stadium

STADIUM TECH REPORT is pleased to announce the Summer 2020 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Our stories for this issue include our first comprehensive look at how venue owners and operators, and teams and schools, might find a way back to live action and fans in stadiums following the current pandemic shutdowns. This feature is just the start of an ongoing series of research papers, interviews and other offerings of timely information we will be grouping under the “Return to Venues” title, a series of content done in part through an editorial partnership with AmpThink. We also have two profiles in this issue, one on the extensive network deployments at the ready-to-open Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, and another on a new Wi-Fi 6 network deployment at Dodgers Stadium. Plus an explanation of our overall name change from Mobile Sports Report to Stadium Tech Report — read on!

You can also download a PDF version of the report.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Comcast Business, Samsung, and American Tower. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

As always, we are here to hear what you have to say: Send me an email to kaps@mobilesportsreport.com and let us know what you think of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series.

PGA Championship on tap for August in San Francisco, without fans

Ian Poulter in fine form during a practice round for the Cadillac Match Play event at Harding Park in 2015. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Ron Kroichick is reporting today that San Francisco public health officials have given a green light to holding the PGA Championship at Harding Park in August, but without any fans in attendance.

According to a story posted today, the PGA is expected to make a formal announcement about the tournament on Tuesday. The PGA, originally scheduled for Harding Park in May, was one of many events postponed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Though the tour announced the rescheduled dates earlier, there was not any confirmation that California or San Francisco health officials would let the event occur.

Now scheduled to take place Aug. 6-9, the tournament will be golf’s first major of the delayed season. The PGA Tour restarted this past weekend with another no-fans event at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. While most tour events that have been slated to take place will also do so without fans, the Memorial Tournament in Ohio in mid-July is planning to have a limited amount of spectators allowed on site.

NFL issues facility-reopening protocols for distancing, cleaning

The NFL on Monday sent teams a nine-page guide of protocols that need to be followed in order to safely allow players and staff into team facilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidelines, made public by the league, include a list of cleaning steps and procedures to ensure player and staff safety from the virus, including specific steps for disinfecting practice and workout areas and cleaning equipment and other things like gloves and towels. The protocols also include the need for social distancing, including having locker spaces six feet apart.

While no date has yet been set for when players and staff might return to team facilities, the NFL’s report said that some players might start returning for injury rehabilitation and other procedures sometime later this month. According to the protocols, teams will also be required to certify that they have complied with the guidelines, and the league said it will also conduct “unannounced inspections” to ensure that teams are complying.

NHL takes first steps toward possible return to action; baseball players don’t like proposed salary cuts

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announces the league’s ‘Retun to Play Plan’ in a video.

It’s just the beginning of the beginning, but progress of some kind toward a return to live sports action surfaced this week as the National Hockey League made an initial, official step toward that possibility.

On Tuesday the NHL announced is Return to Play Plan, which is centered around a direct move to the playoffs with 24 teams involved. Though many details of the idea are still to be determined, the plan is to have the first two rounds take place in two “hub cities,” where teams will be housed in a virtual bubble to try to make safety procedures easier. The idea is for players to come back for training in mid-July, but as many outlets noted, whether or not players agree to the idea is just one part of the work yet to be done.

In a short video announcing the plan, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman emphasized that nothing would take place without the approval of “civil and medical authorities.”

MLB, meanwhile, finally sent an economic plan for its idea of a shortened season to the players, and reaction so far is in the negative category, as perhaps expected with the salary cuts the owners have deemed necessary. What that means is more negotiations ahead as players and owners try to find a way to salvage the 2020 season in a way both sides can agree upon.

Appetize sees more contact-free concessions for venues going forward

Fans at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium use Appetize-powered kiosks to order and pay for food. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

While the timeline for fans returning to large public venues for sports and events is still uncertain, one thing that does seem inevitable is that the future of stadium concessions will see more ways for fans to get food and beverages without human interactions.

That’s certainly the view from Appetize, one of the top players in the venue point-of-sale technology business. In a recent call with Appetize chief strategy officer Kevin Anderson, he said the last few weeks have been among the busiest in company history, as teams, schools and venues seek ways to make concessions operations more touch-free going forward. Though there are no government mandates yet making such technologies a necessity to open venues, it makes sense that when events come back fans might be feel safer using technology-aided methods like ordering and paying online, or paying with touchless device systems (like Apple Pay), as opposed to traditional human-based counter interactions.

“Most of our customers, including venues and managed-service food companies, are realizing that if their venues are not able to accept [contactless] payments today they will have to — and if they don’t have mobile or online ordering, they will need to do that as well,” Anderson said.

App- or web-based ordering should increase

Appetize, which sells a wide range of software and hardware for stadium and other point-of-sale systems, has also recently added support for web-based ordering in venues, something that other vendors like VenueNext have also rolled out. While stadium and team apps with support for in-venue food ordering (with either delivery or pick-up options) have been around in various forms for several years, the idea of a web-based “app” with similar functionality is a newer and growing idea, one that could gain even more traction whenever venues open again.

An Appetize screenshot of what a mobile payment screen could look like.

What web-based systems have in their favor is that they can be used by fans almost instantly, without having to go through the process of downloading an app.

A web-ordering system, Anderson said, “is very well positioned for a post-Covid world” since it could give venues the flexibility of a walk-up encounter without the human interaction. In one scenario Anderson said fans could use their device’s camera to scan a sign or display with a QR code, which would bring up a menu for the concession stand close to the sign. Fans can then order and pay without having to stand in a line, and get an alert to pick up their order when it is ready.

“Venues are not going to bulldoze concession stands, but they will have to figure out how to space out people in lines and how to incentivize people to pay with contactless systems,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be the future.”

Still bullish on touch-screen kiosks

Anderson also thinks that touch-screen kiosks will still be popular going forward, even if some people feel less safe touching a payment or ordering screen.

“We’re still bullish on kiosks,” said Anderson, who said 90 percent of Appetize’s venue deployments included some kind of touch-screen system. For many of its systems, Anderson said Appetize uses antimicrobial screen protectors, and going forward they foresee having sanitization stations near any touch-screen device.

“If you just use one finger to touch the screen and then you sanitize it after you’re done, that’s still better than being two feet away from someone speaking to you,” Anderson said.

Other less-human-contact ideas for venue concessions include more vending machines and grab-and-go type windows, where prepared, boxed items will help keep fans safer. Appetize is also already working on systems where food and beverages can be placed inside lockers that fans can access with a mobile device.

“I think you’ll see more concession stands flipped inside out, where you can just grab a sandwich in a package with a bar code and go,” Anderson said.