Arizona State upgrades DAS, Wi-Fi at Sun Devil Stadium

Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State. Credit all photos: ASU

Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State. Credit all photos: ASU

When Arizona State University started renovating Sun Devil Stadium three years ago, the project wasn’t so much a simple wireless refresh as it was a total reset of what technology, sports and academia could co-create.

In addition to expanded Wi-Fi and DAS for the stadium (a venue that includes classrooms, meeting rooms and retail outlets), ASU activated a virtual beacon trial. The university also joined up with Intel to explore how Internet of Things devices might yield better environmental information about the bowl, including acoustic data, Jay Steed, assistant vice president of IT operations, told Mobile Sports Report.

The university’s IT department understood that a richer fan experience for football and other events would require a robust network. Steed and his colleagues visited other venues like Levi’s Stadium, AT&T Stadium, Stanford and Texas A&M to get a better handle on different approaches to networking, applications and services.

Regardless, some sort of refresh was overdue. Wedged between two buttes in the southeastern Phoenix suburb of Tempe, the 71,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium was completed in 1958 and needed infrastructure and technology updates. Wi-Fi access was limited to point-of-sale systems and stadium suites; fans generally relied on a DAS network.

Time for an upgrade

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“The stadium needed a lot of facelifting, not just from a technology perspective but also for the fan experience, like ADA compliance and overall comfort,” Steed said. “We didn’t just want to rebuild a venue for six football games a year, but extend its availability to 365 days and make it a cornerstone and anchor for the whole campus.”

The 'Inferno' student section got a priority for better connectivity.

The ‘Inferno’ student section got a priority for better connectivity.

The reset included tearing out the lower bowl to “punch some new holes” — new entry points to the stadium — and to add conduits and cabling for the new 10-gigabit fiber backbone for the stadium. The network can be upgraded as needed to 40- and even 100-gigabit pipes, according to Steed.

“We wanted to make sure it could support fans’ [connectivity needs] and all the facility’s operations with regard to video and StadiumVision, learning and education, and Pac-12 needs as well,” he said.

The overall stadium renovation was budgeted at $268 million; the technology upgrades will total about $8 million.

The university added 250 new DAS antennas. The vendor-neutral network includes AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, which share 21 DAS sectors to keep cell service humming inside the stadium.

On the Wi-Fi side, ASU opted for Cisco’s access points. The networking vendor was already entrenched across the 642-acre campus; Steed and the IT department prefer the simplicity of a single-vendor network. Cisco helped with the hardware and RF engineering for Sun Devil Stadium. CenturyLink offered guidance on the networking and fiber pieces of the project, while Hunt-Sundt, a joint venture, was the contractor for most of the physical construction.

Wireless service for ‘The Inferno’

When the renovation is officially completed later in 2017 (most of the network is already live), there will be 1,100 APs in and around Sun Devil Stadium. The student sections, also known as The Inferno, get more APs and bandwidth since historical data has shown students to be the biggest bandwidth consumers in the stadium. Consequently, the ratio in the student sections is one AP to every 50 users; the rest of the bowl’s APs each handle about 75 users on average, Steed said.

Breakaway look at an under-seat AP

Breakaway look at an under-seat AP

ASU’s new Wi-Fi network was engineered to deliver 1.5 Mbps upstream and 3 Mbps downstream, but Steed said so far users are getting better performance – 8 Mbps up and 12 Mbps down. “We’re getting about 25 percent saturation,” he added. “Many users put their phones away during the games, but we see spikes at halftime and during commercial breaks.” Regardless, ASU continually monitors Wi-Fi and DAS usage and adjusts bandwidth as needed.

Another big challenge is the desert climate – temperatures regularly soar into triple digits. With about 450 under-seat APs in the bowl, Steed and his team had to make sure the enclosures could withstand heat and didn’t obstruct the walkways. “We’ll see how well the electronics do, baking at 120 degrees six months out of the year,” he laughed.

ASU is also working with Intel, using the stadium’s APs as part of an Internet of Things trial. As Steed described it, IoT sensors work alongside stadium APs to measure temperature, noise, vibration and other environmental data. “We also look at lighting control and water distribution and flow,” he said.

Concourses also got expanded Wi-Fi and DAS coverage.

Concourses also got expanded Wi-Fi and DAS coverage.

Automating the control of environmental functions like heating, cooling, power usage and facilities management will help the university toward its goal of being carbon-neutral by 2025, Steed added. The trials are designed so that the technology can be expanded across the university, possibly for campus transportation kiosks or student concierge services. IoT devices could give students and visitors information about adjacent buildings or landmarks around campus.

Separate but related, the university is also testing cloud-based, Bluetooth low energy (BLE) technology from Mist Systems. These “virtual beacons” use sensors attached to an AP to flag information or a point of interest for students or stadium visitors. “The virtualized beacon technology helps us understand where people are walking around and what they’re looking at in the stadium and elsewhere around campus,” Steed said.

They’re currently being tested in some of Sun Devil Stadium’s suites; Steed foresees expanding that to the student union to help guide people to meeting rooms, retail facilities or food vendors, for example.

Steed credited excellent communication and collaboration among the university’s athletic and IT departments and other players in the upgrade equation. “Our athletic director, Ray Anderson, brought the CIO and me into his office and really worked together with us,” he explained. “The biggest piece of our success was knowing that the AD supported our recommendations and brought us in as valued advisors.”

Stadium Tech Report: Carolina Panthers take ownership of DAS, Wi-Fi at Bank of America Stadium

James Hammond, director  of IT for the Panthers, poses next to an under-seat Wi-Fi AP. Credit all photos: Carolina Panthers

James Hammond, director of IT for the Panthers, poses next to an under-seat Wi-Fi AP. Credit all photos: Carolina Panthers

“The fan is the most valuable member of our team,” Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers, is fond of saying.

And it’s become the virtual mission statement for the Charlotte, N.C.-based National Football League franchise. So even though its home field, the Bank of America Stadium, was built relatively recently (1996), technology has come a long way in two decades. And as the Panthers began a four-phase renovation in 2014, they did it with fans’ MVP status in mind, according to James Hammond, director of IT for the Panthers. “It was time for some changes,” he said.

While Carolina was among the first NFL stadiums to install fan-facing Wi-Fi and enhanced cellular networks, the previous DAS and Wi-Fi systems weren’t keeping up with demand and that was starting to adversely impact the Panthers fan experience, Hammond said.

“We chose to perform a rip-and-replace on both DAS and Wi-Fi and take ownership in-house,” Hammond explained. Because the Panthers own and operate BofA Stadium, making those moves was a lot easier than if they were tenants.

Time for an upgrade

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The first “fan-centric improvements,” as Hammond called them, came in 2014 in the form of escalators, video big boards and a distributed audio system. As part of the second phase of upgrades, the Panthers then used the 2015 offseason to renovate the club-level suites and tore out the old DAS system while they were at it. And after a careful evaluation of different DAS solutions, they shortlisted two vendors: CommScope and Corning.

CommScope ultimately got the nod; the Panthers then had to decide between the vendor’s ION-B and ION-U DAS systems. “We went with the ION-U, which was quite new and cutting edge at that point, since it had NEMA-rated remotes,” Hammond said. Other systems lacked that kind of weatherproofing and would require additional enclosures – and expense.

CommScope's ION-U powers the new DAS at Bank of America Stadium.

CommScope’s ION-U powers the new DAS at Bank of America Stadium.

“We started over with all new fiber and coax. We did the decommissioning and construction in 90 days, which was pretty quick for a ground-up project,” he said. Beam Wireless Inc. did the design, integration and optimization and is handling the ongoing maintenance of the DAS system; Optical Telecom installed the DAS gear. BofA Stadium now has 256 DAS remotes and more than 600 DAS indoor and outdoor antennas.

AT&T, Verizon and Sprint are the participating DAS carriers; T-Mobile is weighing whether to join the mix during the 2017 off-season.

The Panthers have divided BofA Stadium into 48 DAS zones: 16 zones for the upper bowl, 16 in the lower bowl, and another 16 for concourses, suites, clubs, and offices. Not all zones are used exclusively; carriers choose simulcast patterns that place multiple zones into sectors, and can change them as capacity requirements dictate, Hammond told Mobile Sports Report.

“With some minor design changes to the interior areas, we can accommodate nearly 70 zones,” he explained. “At present the most sectors in use by a carrier is 32. This means the carrier simulcasts across a mix of our 48 zones in order to match them up to 32 carrier sectors.”

Once the new DAS was built and the first couple of events were analyzed, carriers began asking for more frequencies and additional DAS sectors to continue meeting ever-growing demand. In response to the new carrier requests, the first round of DAS upgrades were implemented in the spring of 2016, Hammond said. During the 2015 season, DAS bandwidth was running around 2 GB during games. Hammond said, “With these latest DAS upgrades, we expect the bandwidth numbers to be even higher.”

A DAS remote in a NEMA-rated enclosure.

A DAS remote in a NEMA-rated enclosure.

The impact of the new DAS system was felt immediately upon its debut in July 2015. “It was a much better experience for fans who noticed the improved cellular experience,” Hammond said. Another unexpected benefit: The upgraded DAS helped mitigate bottlenecks with the old Wi-Fi system, which Hammond characterized as “under-designed.”

Going under seat for Wi-Fi upgrade

Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to address any Wi-Fi upgrades before the 2015 football season began, but the Panthers issued an RFP for new Wi-Fi in August 2015 in preparation for Phase 3 renovations that would also include security upgrades and renovations to the upper concourse.

Interested vendors needed to ensure high bandwidth rates as well as high take-rates that allowed three different ISPs (Time Warner Cable/Charter, Level 3 Communications and Windstream) to deliver in excess of 10 GB, though Hammond said they’re starting at a 7-GB threshold.

The Wi-Fi award went to Aruba, now HP Enterprise, in December 2015, and construction began in January 2016 after the last postseason game, when the Panthers beat the Arizona Cardinals to win the NFC championship and a trip to Super Bowl 50.

Similar to Levi’s Stadium and the Dodgers Stadium, the Panthers chose underseat AP enclosures; BofA Stadium sports 770 AP enclosures in the upper and lower bowls out of a total of 1,225 APs, all to ensure maximum coverage and minimal dead spots. The Panthers selected AmpThink to do the Wi-Fi integration and construction; the turnkey contractor also designed and fabricated a custom enclosure for the APs.

Indoor access point inside the stadium.

Indoor access point inside the stadium.

One other innovation in the Panthers’ Wi-Fi installation is that the underseat enclosure is mounted to the riser — the vertical part of the step — but looks like it’s on the tread, the horizontal part, which is intended as a waterproofing measure. “The riser is easier to seal and isn’t affected by pressure washers, which you’re doing constantly with an outdoor stadium,” Hammond said. “And by running pipe through the riser, you don’t have gravity working against you,” which helps keep out water, he explained.

Panthers fans access the stadium Wi-Fi through a portal page after accepting the team’s terms and conditions. From there, they are whitelisted and can automatically join the Wi-Fi network for the rest of the season. Hammond said a fan’s email is requested but not required by the portal page, and there’s a small incentive offered to encourage fans’ email subscriptions.

The new Wi-Fi system got a workout with a soccer game at BofA Stadium at the end of July 2016, then with a Panthers’ Fan Fest the following week. “All the indicators were good, and fan feedback about the system was excellent,” Hammond said. But he cautioned that the two events were not “full bowl” events with smaller attendance numbers (~50,000) than a regular season football game (75,000+). “We will continue to optimize and tune settings as we learn more during events with higher attendance,” Hammond said.

Total budget so far for the technology upgrades totals about $16 million; the DAS build-out was just under $10 million; Wi-Fi was a little more than $6 million, which included additional wired infrastructure, according to the team.

Beacons coming next

And the Panthers aren’t done making technology improvements to their stadium. Phase 4 looks to add Bluetooth beacons and do some refinement of the Panthers app. “My goal during the upcoming season is to look at options for location-aware services,” Hammond said. Some APs have beacons built in; other may need to be added to get the granularity the Panthers want for location awareness.

Hammond also wants to give fans more things to do with the Panthers app and also optimize it for push notifications, even with something as basic and useful as restroom and concessions location information. “As we learn more about fans individually, we can direct them to things of particular interest to them,” he added.

“So far, we are very pleased with the performance of the Wi-Fi and DAS systems,” Hammond said, noting the Panthers will continue to tune frequencies, add zones and increase bandwidth where needed. It’s the sort of attention that smart sporting franchises pay to their most valued team members.

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Bills, Sabres owners embrace fans through unified ‘One Buffalo’ app feature

Screenshot of the MyOneBuffalo app.

Screenshot of the MyOneBuffalo app.

If Pegula Sports and Entertainment, owners of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NHL’s Sabres franchises, had one message for fans, it might be “We’ve got you covered.”

With its recently launched MyOneBuffalo app, Pegula has integrated electronic tickets, venue information (parking, concessions, restrooms) and player data, as well as some video extras for the Bills’ version. But MyOneBuffalo also features a digital wallet along with a loyalty program access, where the points and features are automated – scanned or activated by proximity to in-venue iBeacons, rather than via input manually by fans. Inaudible tone technology in the app will be able to detect when fans are tuned in to a game on TV and credit them for watching (provided a fan has enabled location services for the app). MyOneBuffalo also has a “Find Friends” function that allows fans to connect with Facebook friends during games or other events.

Most of that is pretty standard fare for pro team apps. Where MyOneBuffalo distinguishes itself is on the backend. It’s integrated on Venuetize’s mobile platform, which hosts a variety of functionality from Authorize.net (PCI-compliant payment processing); Delaware North (hospitality, food service management); Experience (fan upgrade software); Micros (Oracle’s point-of-sale system); Radius Networks (iBeacons, geo-fences); Skidata (loyalty rewards portal); Ticketmaster and Tickets.com (ticketing systems); TruCa$h (physical gift cards); RetailPro (merchandise POS system); and YinzCam (mobile app development).

Higher expectations for fans

After traveling to lots of NFL and NHL games, owner Kim Pegula challenged her management staff to meet fans’ higher expectations of the venues, technology and their relationship to the team, according to John Durbin, director of marketing for Pegula Sports and Entertainment. “The impetus behind MyOneBuffalo was enhancing the fan experience,” he told Mobile Sports Report.

Bills and Sabres owner Kim Pegula. Credit: Bill Wippert

Bills and Sabres owner Kim Pegula. Credit: Bill Wippert

Venuetize is hosting three versions of MyOneBuffalo: One for the Bills, a second for the Sabres, and a standalone version, which can be used by either visitors to the HarborCenter entertainment district, fans at home, or supporters of the Buffalo Bandits, the city’s National Lacrosse League franchise (also owned by Pegula).

Like other owner-managers of professional sports teams, Pegula is looking to MyOneBuffalo to gain deeper insights about fans’ movement, behavior and spending.

“They [Pegula Sports and Entertainment] are trying to get the 360-degree view of the fan,” said Karri Zaremba, founder and chief operations officer of Venuetize. “They wanted a mobile app that would work seamlessly across all their properties and brands.”

Once fully deployed, MyOneBuffalo will provide more insights to attendance numbers, assess the impact of various campaigns and initiatives, and measure purchasing patterns, social activity and any correlations. This is fertile ground for the application of predictive analytics, a holy grail in business at the moment, not just in sports and entertainment, to allow organizations to anticipate better, save money and delight customers, or in this case, fans.

“When we started to align our business operations with the Bills, we had a lot of different data sources across our entities, so one challenge was that we had no way to connect dots between someone going to lots of Bills and Sabres games,” Durbin said. “So to have an analytics platform that collects all this data and know that it’s the same fan gives us data to make their experience more customized—and a better experience, quite honestly.”

Adding restaurants and retail to game-day experiences

Network upgrades have been recently completed at New Era Field (formerly Ralph Wilson Stadium) where the Bills play; KeyBank Center for the Sabres; and the adjacent HarborCenter, a hockey-themed, mixed-use development that includes a Marriott hotel, a two-story restaurant-bar with flatscreens everywhere, and lots of retail, that opened in 2014. “The trend that’s happening right now is these entertainment districts for teams with restaurants and retail,” Durbin explained. “We’re trying to create a seamless experience across these three venues. We wanted an app with similar features, regardless of which location you’re at.”

KeyBank Center, home of the Sabres. Credit: Bill Wippert

KeyBank Center, home of the Sabres. Credit: Bill Wippert

MyOneBuffalo taps six different location-based technologies: beacons; geo-fences; inaudible tones; Wi-Fi; image recognition; and wearables – MyOneBuffalo is integrated with FitBit.

Inaudible tones can be used in a couple different ways. They can be played through the public address system or the software developer’s kit can detect it so that it triggers something. Inaudible tones can be used for basic data collection or more interactive features, where a sponsor offers a premium. “We’re still working through ways to use the inaudible tone,” Durbin said. “We don’t have a clear timetable as to when that will be available.”

The Pegula organization is looking at other ways to tap MyOneBuffalo. At the top of that list is reducing wait times for gates or concessions and re-directing fans to ones that are less busy, Durbin said. They’re also looking at methods to pre-order concessions or merchandise so a fan doesn’t have to wait in line; they can walk up later, scan their receipt and walk away with their order. “We want to add features and create a robust experience for fans,” Durbin said.

Fan-facing Wi-Fi on hold as Coliseum gets ready for Rams’ return to Los Angeles

DAS antennas visible on the LA Coliseum's facade

DAS antennas visible on the LA Coliseum’s facade

Normally when a new professional sports franchise comes to town or opens a new venue, preparations move into overdrive pretty quickly — especially for infrastructure like luxury suites, Wi-Fi and DAS.

But this is the Los Angeles Rams, and nothing about the team’s trajectory is normal, including the technology. So after making good on a longstanding threat to move the team from St. Louis, owner Stan Kroenke in January broke ground on a new, $2.6 billion “NFL Disneyland” venue in the LA suburb of Inglewood. It’s expected to be ready in time for the 2019 season. So for right now, the returning Rams will play at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

While it has an established and robust DAS system, the Coliseum has no dedicated, fan-facing Wi-Fi network, just as the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis didn’t. But it’s LA, baby. Kanye. Jack. Celebrity sightings means more bandwidth is needed, not less. But the first appearance of Wi-Fi at the venerable Coliseum won’t be for fans, but for operations.

Relying on DAS for fan wireless

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

Artist rendering of the proposed new LA football stadium

Artist rendering of the proposed new LA football stadium

So when the Rams play their first pre-season game at the Coliseum in August against the Dallas Cowboys, fans will have to rely on the DAS network for connectivity. AT&T, Verizon Wireless and more recently T-Mobile, are the DAS carriers; Sprint trucks in a COW for USC games.

The Rams will bring in their own Wi-Fi for communications to and from the sidelines, along with their Microsoft Surface tablets, according to Derek Thatcher, IT manager at the Coliseum and an employee of USC, which oversees and administers the venue for Los Angeles County. There will also be private Wi-Fi in the locker rooms and the officiating rooms. Thatcher’s working closely with the Rams and the NFL, including one of the NFL’s frequency coordinators, to ensure everybody has the bandwidth they need.

Separate from the Rams and the NFL, USC is undertaking a major renovation of the Coliseum, home to the university’s storied football team. The $270 million project cost will be funded entirely by USC Athletics from capital gifts, sponsorship revenue, non-USC athletic events at the Coliseum, and donor naming opportunities. “The project will not require any student fees or general university, local, state or federal funds,” the university said on ColiseumRenovation.com.

In addition to significant expansion of luxury suites and press box facilities (which houses most the IT and networking gear for the Coliseum), USC will also be adding public Wi-Fi and is talking with different vendors about their requirements.

DAS antennas inside the concourse

DAS antennas inside the concourse

It is worth noting that Aruba Networks provides wireless networking for most of the adjacent USC campus (more than 5,000 APs), including the Galen Center and USC’s healthcare facilities. Thatcher emphasized the bidding was open to all vendors.

Waiting for the new stadium to be built

The Coliseum’s current capacity is 93,600 and the NFL will use 80,000 seats; post-renovation, capacity will be 77,500, due to replacement of all seats and addition of handrails to the aisles. That’s good news for Wi-Fi engineers, since the Coliseum’s bowl design has no overhangs to speak of; DAS antennas are mounted to poles that ring the stadium, and also above the bowl’s entry and exit tunnels. “Underseat AP design is expensive… we could end up with underseat and handrail,” Thatcher told Mobile Sports Report. “We’re looking at all possible solutions.”

The renovation is scheduled to begin right after USC’s 2017 football season ends and is expected to be done in time for the 2019 opener. The university said it will plan the construction schedule so that 2018 season can still be played at the Coliseum.

The other wild card in the Coliseum’s future is the Los Angeles bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. The city has already done the honors before (1932, 1984) and the Coliseum served as the Olympic Stadium both times; a third time hosting would be unprecedented. But because of LA’s experience, coupled with plenty of already-built sporting venues to handle a plethora of events and requirements, it was natural for the US Olympic Committee to turn to LA once Boston bailed.

The city’s bid includes $300 million for additional renovations to the Coliseum.

Rome, Paris and Budapest are also competing to host the games. The winner will be announced by the International Olympic Committee in September 2017.

Stadium Tech Report: Buffalo Bills bridge Wi-Fi gap with Extreme Networks

Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. Credit: AP Photo/Scott Boehm

Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. Credit: AP Photo/Scott Boehm

When the Buffalo Bills undertook a $130 million renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2014, it was only natural to take took a look at the venue’s communications and networking infrastructure. They knew fans entering a newly modernized sports entertainment facility would have higher expectations about Internet access and connectivity. And there were some back-of-the-house challenges that needed resolution as well, according to Dave Wheat, chief administrative officer for the Buffalo, N.Y.-based National Football League franchise.

“Our own internal staff and the people we bring in — fire, emergency medical services, those groups — were having some real challenges communicating among themselves,” Wheat said. “The key for us was seeing the communications challenges throughout the stadium on game day.”

So a year later when the Buffalo Bills began examining their Wi-Fi infrastructure, they knew they wanted a system that gave fans lots of options – content where and when they wanted it, whether to access social media, the dedicated team app, email or simple web browsing, Wheat said.

“We watched a lot of our [NFL] peers installing Wi-Fi in their stadiums for the last 5 years and saw the investments that different clubs were making,” said Wheat, who added that the extra time gave the Bills the chance to watch the technology develop and evolve and become “more mainstream and reliable.”

The Wi-Fi backend consists of two ExtremeSwitching bonded S4 Chassis; yellow wires are single-mode fiber optic patch cables and the purple cables are for Wi-Fi infrastructure. Credit: Buffalo Bills / Extreme

The Wi-Fi backend consists of two ExtremeSwitching bonded S4 Chassis; yellow wires are single-mode fiber optic patch cables and the purple cables are for Wi-Fi infrastructure. Credit: Buffalo Bills / Extreme

They also got behind-the-scenes tours of competitors’ operations and networks during away games, which also helped shape the Bills’ requirements and buying decisions.

“We saw Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and used that to determine what we wanted and who we wanted to work with,” Wheat said. The Bills recognized the increasing demand for mobile connectivity, with some fans even attending with multiple capable devices. The Wi-Fi network needed to deliver services to these devices anywhere in the 70,000 seat capacity stadium.

The Bills looked at four different Wi-Fi vendors, narrowed it down to two, then chose Extreme Networks for its Wi-Fi and wired networks. “We worked pretty extensively with Extreme — their expertise in this space helped us understand our design better and plan for tremendous growth to cater to our fans,” Wheat said. They also worked with technology integrator Carousel Industries for its managed services expertise, especially at sports facilities.

Cutting through the concrete

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

As with any venue as old as Ralph Wilson Stadium (built in 1973), there were some technical challenges to work through before installing the Wi-Fi. The stadium has an extremely limited overhang from the upper decks; there are also a limited number of railings from which to hang equipment, or conceal it. Individual sections in the bowl also tend to be wide and long, according to Wheat.

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP at Ralph WIlson Stadium

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP at Ralph WIlson Stadium

“The biggest design challenge was that the entire lower bowl is 40 feet below ground and sits on shale rock, so it was a real challenge to get APs there,” Wheat added. Extreme came up with the under-seat solution, spacing the antennas about every five to eight rows, and about 13 to 20 seats apart.

Installing 211 under-seat APs in the lower bowl was also the most labor-intensive part of the Wi-Fi upgrade. Seats had to be removed, then concrete was saw-cut to different depths, depending on the number of cables and APs to accommodate. There was more than 5,000 feet of concrete cuts when all was done, which took nearly six weeks –- “a big challenge,” Wheat said.

In other parts of the stadium, the Bills relied on flag poles and overhangs for AP installation; the public Wi-Fi at Ralph Wilson Stadium ended up with 850 APs total, with 211 under-seat APs in the lower bowl. Total cost: About $4 million, according to Wheat.

Social media and internal operations

Fans are required to authenticate with Social Sign In to access Bills’ Wi-Fi on game day. The service allows users to sign in with Facebook or by providing their email address.

“As the network remembers you, we can deliver more personalized content and learn customer likes and dislikes,” Wheat said, adding that they’re still testing different ways to measure customer behavior. “The challenge for us as an entertainment provider is we have 70,000 people who will come see our game live,” he said. “And we only know the names of 14,000 people who purchased those tickets, and that often changes between the original buyer and the actual attendee.”

As the Bills learn more, their intention is to serve up content that’s more and more personalized. For the moment, the online activities of Bills fans mirrors what happens at other NFL stadiums around the league, according to John Brams, director of sports and entertainment for Extreme. Roughly 60 percent is social media usage -– Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat; iPhones hitting iCloud, either to update apps or upload photos, also constitute a significant amount of data usage. A third tier of fans is using apps for fantasy sports or individual NFL teams, Brams added.

So far, the Bills have clocked game-day totals of 24,334 unique users on the network, with a peak concurrent usage rate of 20,067 fans. Peak game-day data volume topped out at 3.4 TB, according to figures from the team.

Internally, the Bills use wireless for ticketing and entry scanning, including secondary scanning at entrances to premium areas; a Bills retailer uses the Wi-Fi for some of its pop-up shops around the stadium. “Our guest services ambassadors have mini tablets to assist customers with questions or if they need to do incident logging or tracking,” Wheat said.

There’s no in-seat ordering via Wi-Fi at Ralph Wilson Stadium, but technology isn’t the issue. “Infrastructure in the back of house is the impediment to that,” Wheat laughed. The Bills also use the Wi-Fi in its fieldhouse practice facility across the parking lot from the stadium, but not in the parking lots themselves.

The Bills will continue to work on giving fans that personalized experience. “If you’ve never been to a game before and are parking a mile away in a satellite lot, we want to give you GPS directions to get you from your car to the gate to your seat,” Wheat said. “We want to be able to tell you where the shorter lines at the concession stands are, using the technology to make the customer experience better.”

Wheat and his group are also in the process of looking at and installing Bluetooth-based beacon technology for the upcoming season. They’re also reworking the Bills’ mobile app for game-day use, adding wayfinding and other features.

“We want fans to experience Buffalo Bills football the way they want to,” Wheat said.

St. Louis Cardinals team with MLBAM for Busch Stadium Wi-Fi

Busch Stadium, St. Louis, home of a new MLBAM Wi-FI network. Credit all photos: St. Louis Cardinals

Busch Stadium, St. Louis, home of a new MLBAM Wi-FI network. Credit all photos: St. Louis Cardinals

Working closely with Major League Baseball’s Advanced Media initiative, the St. Louis Cardinals activated what’s being billed as the league’s largest wireless deployment, at least if you measure by overall square footage. The system went live in a phased introduction the week before Memorial Day, according to Cardinals’ director of IT Perry Yee.

More than 740 Wi-Fi access points were installed to accommodate fans at Busch Stadium, including the AT&T Rooftop, as well the Busch II Infield and the Budweiser Brewhouse rooftop deck across Clark Ave. from the stadium at Ballpark Village, where the Cardinals played til 2005. The Cards’ wireless deployment was part of a $300 million initiative headed by MLBAM to build out Wi-Fi and DAS in all the league’s ballparks, with MLB, wireless carriers and teams all sharing in the costs. (While Busch may be the largest MLBAM deployment, AT&T Park in San Francisco has baseball’s most-dense Wi-Fi and DAS network by antenna numbers; the networks at AT&T Park are run by the Giants and AT&T.)

Yee said the Cardinals experienced relatively few engineering issues, in part because of the relative newness of the stadium. He also credited MLBAM, which took the Cardinals’ design and selected a systems integrator and an equipment vendor (Cisco).

“It’s a real turnkey solution where you submit the blueprint [to MLBAM] and they start locating the APs,” Yee said. “Where we come in is we have the background experience to tell the design team where people congregate and how often different spaces get used.”

Putting Wi-Fi in the railings

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

Wi-Fi railing enclosure.

Wi-Fi railing enclosure.

Busch Stadium, with a capacity of 46,861, is also blessed with good lines of sight to the field; the only real obstructions are near the foul poles. That’s great for fans, but creates challenges in that there are consequently fewer structures on which to mount antennas. That meant getting inventive in some areas, like installing Wi-Fi antennas in the handrails, and drilling the conduits from underneath seats to keep trip hazards and visual distractions to a minimum.

“Over in Ballpark Village, we had brick on the outside of building so we had to be careful — that was an issue for the electricians to figure out,” Yee said, quickly adding that the electricians on projects like these rarely get the recognition they deserve. “The designer can say where the antennas go, but the electricians have to figure out how to get power to that spot and do it in a manner that fits the building,” he said.

Cardinal fans trying to access the network hit a gated page that asks which cell carrier they use and also to accept terms and conditions; the Cardinals can then track usage and capacity by carrier and take that information back to the three carriers with DAS service in Busch Stadium: AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless. “If Sprint, for example, notices they have lot more customers than anticipated, it might be time for them to review their capacity,” Yee said.

Cards director of IT Perry Yee

Cards director of IT Perry Yee

There’s also an option on the gating page for users to share their email if they want to subscribe to the Cardinal newsletter, Yee added.

MLB app the center of activity focus

The Busch Stadium Wi-Fi network is new enough that MLBAM still is in the process of handing over management and oversight to the Cardinals’ organization; that makes it hard to track certain numbers — like what the budget was the for the project and how much money each entity contributed, numbers which MLBAM has not revealed for any of the many deployments it led throughout the league.

The Cardinals also aren’t releasing any official throughput or usage thresholds yet. Yee said he has seen speeds of 100 Mbps up and down and up on his Samsung S5 phone during more exciting parts of a recent game when fewer users were online. That number dipped to 20-30 Mbps during quieter parts of game. “It was a really good game — for half an hour no one was on the Wi-Fi, then when the score went in one direction I began to see speeds going down as people got online,” Yee said.

Lower level seats are covered with APs that shoot backwards into the stands.

Lower level seats are covered with APs that shoot backwards into the stands.

The Cardinals are looking to use the league’s Ballpark mobile app as the focal point for digital ticketing and inseat ordering plans. One hurdle to inseat ordering isn’t technical; it’s making sure the concessionaire can receive the data. “There’s lots of backend components to establish and flesh out before it becomes a real thing — lots of logistics to make these things happen,” Yee said.

The Cardinals have been using Bluetooth-based beacon technology for a couple years now. “We use it at our gates to greet people and it works via the Ballpark app,” Yee said. For now, the beaconing only works with iPhones; they’ll add support for Android devices at some point. But Yee foresees using beacon technology all around Busch Stadium at points of interest like the Stan Musial statue, providing information about who he was, what he did, to fans in proximity of the monument.

The Cardinals are still considering whether to deploy ambassadors in the stands during games to help people with connectivity issues and other questions. Longer term, they’re looking at geofencing with the concession areas or team store for specials and sale items — “Hot dogs on sale for this inning,” Yee mused. That’s way off in the future, the Cardinals’ IT director added.

In the meantime, the focus will be on “infrastructure that allows fans to see more and do more that makes the games more enjoyable,” Yee said.