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

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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

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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

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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.

Miami Dolphins go long on multiple social-media platforms for Gase intro

The team website was just one of the vehicles the Miami Dolphins used in their multi-platform social media campaign for the hiring of Adam Gase. All images: Miami Dolphins (click on any photo for a larger image)

The team website was just one of the vehicles the Miami Dolphins used in their multi-platform social media campaign for the hiring of Adam Gase. All images: Miami Dolphins (click on any photo for a larger image)

Intelligent marketers of professional sports know they have to get their messaging to where the fans are – the stadium, their living rooms, and in today’s world, their smartphones. Small wonder, then, that the NFL’s Miami Dolphins chose multiple social media outlets in early January to introduce their new head coach, Adam Gase, in a multi-platform, social-cast event.

The Dolphins engineered a live Q&A session and broadcast the press conference with Gase that spanned Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Meerkat and Snapchat. This multi-platform event, the first of its kind in professional sports according to the Dolphins, included video and text chat and was intended to reach online fans and encourage engagement, said the event’s planners, Jason Jenkins, senior vice president of communications and community affairs for the Dolphins, and Surf Melendez, managing director of content and creative services for the team.

Joined by his wife, Jennifer, and their three young children, Gase told fans that outside of football, he was most looking forward to the Miami weather. “It was 15 degrees when we left” Chicago, he said, where he’d been working as the Bears’ offensive coordinator. By the end of the press conference, the Dolphins’ Facebook video page registered more than 100,000 views, with a peak of approximately 11,700 simultaneous viewers, according to the Dolphins’ press office.

“The whole point of [of the social-cast] was to make sure that we were using our brand and all our platforms in an innovative way,” Melendez said. “Whenever we communicate or get the brand out there, we try to be innovative, this time with a live, social broadcast.” The team also streamed Gase’s introduction on its website and the Miami Dolphins official smartphone app; Melendez said the intention wasn’t to bypass the general media but to complement them.

md2“We have the luxury of experimenting and innovating because our owner, Stephen Ross, and CEO [Tom Garfinkel] are there supporting us,” Jenkins added. “This is a new place to be.”

Technical challenges for new approaches

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A new place, and a challenging one, at least technically. Melendez said the first requirement was making sure they had enough smartphones for all the different platforms. “We needed the right people and the right devices to make sure we got the right shot, that the audio was good, that someone was posting and someone else was monitoring the feed,” Melendez explained.

He and his department are constantly experimenting with these different technology to improve or fine-tune performance. “We had a dry run [for the Gase introduction]. But once it’s go-time, things happen, like Wi-Fi,” he laughed.

Live video was another of the Dolphins' social-media tactics

Live video was another of the Dolphins’ social-media tactics

Still, the approach seemed to be a hit with Dolphins’ fans. “As we were broadcasting live, the responses were, ‘Wow, this is tremendous, they’re getting me in there’ [the Dolphins’ offices],” Melendez said. “This is a new and fresh place to be.”

In addition to reach, impressions and views, the Dolphins are closely monitoring how social media grows the brand and creates new revenue. Like most businesses, the Dolphins conduct regular lead-generation campaigns; most have been telephone-based, according to Melendez, but that is quickly changing.

“We’ve done a couple dry runs on social media, where you can put out a call to action and target a specific audience for leads,” he said. “The response was 4-5 times as fruitful for good, qualified leads.”

As a new medium, social media requires continuous education with the Dolphins’ partners on how to use the platforms. “We then educate our sponsors that social does X, Y and Z and how that benefits them,” Melendez said.

But the door for social education swings both ways, according to Vince Pannozzo, social media manager for the Dolphins. “We work with the team and with Facebook and Twitter directly to talk about personal brands as well as best practices,” he said.

“Cheerleaders, too,” Jenkins hastened to add.

The next big test of the Dolphins social strategy will come when the NFL’s free agency begins in mid-March. “That’s going to be a fun time to tune into what we’re doing,” Melendez said. “Generally we’re taking a step back at the content we’re creating overall and how we’re broadcasting, quote unquote, because we’re looking at how to serve up things that we used to do on more traditional avenues. It will look different next season.”

University of Wisconsin takes on Wi-Fi, Badger Game Day app upgrades

Camp Randall Stadium, University of Wisconsin. Photo: Dave Stluka

Camp Randall Stadium, University of Wisconsin. Photo: Dave Stluka

Sports fans at the University of Wisconsin have been enjoying a nice technology two-fer for the last 20 months: In addition to new Wi-Fi and beacon technology at its largest sporting venues in Madison, Wisc., the university also released v3.0.2 of its Badger Game Day app which adds live and archived video, among other features, for fans and their smartphones.

Jim Roberts, director of technical services for the university’s athletic department, described this as a happy coincidence as opposed to a larger strategy to bring sports technology to the Badger faithful. “Knowing that the new Wi-Fi system was coming, the group working on the app upgrade was able to incorporate more features, knowing fans could take advantage of the improved Wi-Fi and not rely solely on cellular data plans,” Roberts said.

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The Wisconsin venues are Camp Randall, a bowl-style football stadium with a capacity of 80,321; and nearby Kohl Center, used for hockey, basketball, concerts and other live events with room for 17,230. The LeBahn Arena, built for women’s ice hockey with a capacity of 2,273, is also included. In part because of their proximity, Roberts and his team used the upgrades to replace and enhance the underlying infrastructure for the venues – core switching, Wi-Fi access points, an IPTV system, cabling, electrical power and HVAC improvements — $11 million for the whole package, according to Roberts.

“Due to the expected size of the population connecting to Wi-Fi, we had to upgrade the entire network,” he explained, adding that the previous 10/100 Mbps backbone with Gigabit Ethernet uplinks and its 32,000 MAC address capacity was insufficient for the job.

“We upgraded our core to some pretty big Cisco routers at each venue that could handle 128,000 MAC addresses, with 10-gigabit fiber to all 33 telecom rooms within the Camp Randall complex,” he said; they also added about 1,100 wireless APs. Camp Randall got upgraded during the summer of 2014; the Kohl Center and LeBahn were done a year later.

Kohl Center

Kohl Center

Camp Randall proved to be the largest test, both from an engineering and design perspective. Built in 1917, its open bowl lacks the overhangs from which RF engineers love to hang antennas and other infrastructure.

“The east side of the bowl became our biggest challenge with getting the signal to penetrate deep enough into the sections,” Roberts said, adding that the problem was especially acute for seats closest to the field, where the first few rows are tarped over. Initially, APs were installed below the tarps, but the signal only carried 10 rows back.

“We ended up mounting the APs on the front, 4-6 feet up from ground level,” and above the tarps, he explained. “They don’t affect the sight lines for spectators. But getting the APs to shoulder height from waist height definitely helped us get it back to row 25.”

APs were also mounted just above the entry tunnels, where the hardware and antenna could be attached to railings and concrete. Cisco is the University of Wisconsin’s AP vendor; the deployment uses Cisco model 3700s.

Wi-Fi install over a VOM at Camp Randall (click on photo for a larger image)

Wi-Fi install over a VOM at Camp Randall (click on photo for a larger image)

Roberts and his team also ran into some structural issues with waterproofing and cabling that kept them from putting in more APs in the student section. They had to re-calculate where the APs would go; consequently, coverage can be spotty in the student section, which is exacerbated by the high density of phones in that part of the stadium. AT&T and Verizon both have DAS infrastructure in Camp Randall that helps coverage, but Roberts and his team are looking at long-term solutions for Wi-Fi coverage in that section and throughout Camp Randall.

The University of Wisconsin worked closely with AmpThink on a facility-wide Wi-Fi analysis, according to Bob Lahey, a network engineer in the athletic department. AmpThink did the design and tuning and worked out some issues in advance. “Our facilities staff and [AmpThink] discussed locations for best coverage and worked through the aesthetics before we started the project,” Lahey said. AmpThink was also onsite during the first year to see how the Wi-Fi performed with people in the bowl. “You can only figure out so much without people there,” Lahey laughed.

Getting Online at Camp Randall

The stadium’s fan-facing wireless network, Badger WiFi, is a captive portal that asks users for their name, email address and zip code. There are also two boxes: one, users must check to agree to terms and conditions of service; the second allows the university to send them emails, and by default, the second box is checked. “Our plan is to send them email surveys and allow them to remain on the system and not have to re-authenticate every time they come to one of our buildings,” Lahey said. “But if they uncheck, they have to re-authenticate.”

The university does no bandwidth limiting or throttling back usage once users are logged in. “We’ve got dual 10-gigabit links and 100-gigabit to the world, so we’re not too concerned about overall bandwidth,” Lahey said. “We limit each radio in the AP to a maximum of 200 clients. It doesn’t happen often, but we see it occasionally.” Camp Randall users normally get at least 1 Mbps bandwidth — plenty for checking scores or posting to social media, Lahey added. Kohl Center users average 40-60 Mbps because the venue is less dense.

Screen shot of Wi-Fi portal login

Screen shot of Wi-Fi portal login

At present, 65-70 percent of Badger Wi-Fi clients are on 5 GHz spectrum rather than 2.4 GHz. Roberts finds the 5 GHz band easier to manage, and said users get a better experience. “If we have problems with wireless, it is most times an older couple with their iPhone 4,” Roberts said. “APs can only do so much, but sometimes a phone [using 2.4 GHz spectrum] will want to connect with an AP a half mile across the field rather than one that’s 10 feet away.”

He also said the maximum number of unique clients for Camp Randall is about 26,000, or 37 percent of the crowd. “We assume that’s going to keep growing and we’ll have to augment the system,” he said. “At some point we won’t have enough access points.”

Game Day Gets a Badger Refresh

Concurrently, the Badger Game Day smartphone app was getting new features like live video replay and interaction with Bluetooth-based beacon technology. The app’s first iteration was initially for football, then expanded to all 10 sports that sell tickets; the latest version embraces all 23 sports at the University of Wisconsin, men’s and women’s. “Not many schools have all their sports represented, so while the traffic may not be high on rowing, it’s a great recruitment tool,” said Ben Fraser, director of external engagement for the athletics department. “So it helps there with the coaches sending out links or for parents and other supporters.”

It also helps with fans. “Collegiate and professional sports venues are looking for how to keep fans entertained and also allow them to participate in the game via social media and other methods,” noted Tam Flarup, director of the athletic department’s website services. When there’s break in the action, Badger fans are busy posting to Facebook, Instagram and of course, Wisconsin’s infamous Jump Around. “Twitter’s also allowing Periscope live video in its tweets now,” Flarup added. “Our fans will like that – it keeps them in the stands with a great game day atmosphere and experience.”

The university developed the first two iterations of Badger Game Day internally but chose to outsource the upgrade to sports-app developer YinzCam in June 2015 and gave them a tight deadline to meet — Aug. 30, just in time for Badger football season. YinzCam delivered on time, and then met an Oct. 15 deadline for revisions and tweaks, Fraser said.

Badger Game Day now includes live video replay from four different camera angles; YinzCam’s secret sauce makes streaming video across Wi-Fi more efficient. “Video would have been impossible without the Wi-Fi investment we made,” Fraser said.

Unlike previous iterations that only allowed the participation of a single sponsor, the new Badger Game Day app gives the university the ability to sell individual pages and sports, Fraser said.

Game day beacon message to app

Game day beacon message to app

Perhaps the leading edge of Badger Game Day is its use of Bluetooth-based beacon technology and messaging with geo-fencing. Gimbal Inc. worked with the university customize the technology; Fraser and his team did some social media messaging to alert fans to the feature and to remind them to turn it on.

The first remote use of messaging with beacons and geo-fencing was in Dallas for Wisconsin’s season opener in Dallas at AT&T Stadium; the feature was then used continually at both Camp Randall and the Kohl Center.

“We continued to use this messaging on the road for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego,” Fraser said. “Messages varied from welcome messages that were linked to videos from our players, to informational messages that informed fans about events, to scavenger hunts that engaged our fans at these sites.”

When users first download the app, there’s a proximity allowance message that they must activate to receive beacon messages. So far, the university has sent out 46 unique messages, 21 of which were geo-fenced. At each home game, they geo-fence Camp Randall with a welcome video from players; they reached an average number of 1,160 fans per game with these welcome messages and videos.

“We’re still learning how fans are using [beacons and Bluetooth], and we’re trying not to hit them with too many ads,” Fraser said. By building their trust, it encourages fans to leave their Bluetooth on for the signal to find them. “And we are looking for ways to improve it,” he added. Potential future additions: Features that show the length of lines at concession stands and restrooms, and an online lost and found. They’re also looking for more robust scheduling information inside the app — such as which broadcast network is carrying the game, along with links to Wisconsin’s video stream and live stats.

App development and a new server cost the university about $100,000, according to Fraser and Flarup. Since August 2015, there have been 123,000 downloads of Badger Game Day and nearly 1 million page views. Average time spent per game on the audio feature of the app is about 14 minutes. There’s more room to grow as fans continue to download and use the app; there’s plenty of revenue upside as well as sponsors discover multiple avenues for their messaging and content.