AVAI Mobile scores big with new Daytona Speedway app

Screenshot of Daytona app. Credit: AVAI Mobile

Screenshot of Daytona app. Credit: AVAI Mobile

Denny Hamlin may have won the race, but there was another victor at the Daytona 500 this year, as the 2016 event saw the debut of a new mobile app for the speedway designed by AVAI Mobile of Austin, Texas. According to AVAI the Daytona app was just the first in a series of apps for International Speedway Corp. (ISC) tracks, a deal that may signal another serious entrant into the growing market for stadium and other large-venue mobile apps.

AVAI Mobile CEO Rand Arnold said that ISC approached AVAI looking for a way to combine different parts of a race-day digital fan experience that ISC was already using, including racing content, a beacon/wayfinding infrastructure as well as a loyalty program and push marketing.

“They were looking to completely change the [digital] fan experience, and they needed someone to tie all the things together,” said Arnold in a recent phone interview. Under a NASCAR-fast deadline — Arnold said AVAI completed the app project in 90 days from design to launch — AVAI used its modular architecture to build and launch a new Daytona venue app ahead of this year’s race, one that Arnold said was used by 30 percent of attendees.

Wayfinding an important feature at sprawling Daytona

If there was one feature that was key in getting fans to use the app it was the active wayfinding and maps feature, Arnold said. As an enormous, sprawling venue, a NASCAR track is always a challenge for fans to find their way around; it was especially so at Daytona this year given all the renovated spaces that were part of the track’s “Daytona Rising” refurbishment of grandstands and other fan areas.

“It’s a huge venue,” Arnold said of Daytona. “And if as a fan you wanted to take advantage of technology [to find your way around], that meant you were going to use the app.”

Map interface from Daytona app.

Map interface from Daytona app.

The Daytona app also featured integration with the existing FanVision experience, which provides race fans with in-car camera and scanner content; it also had a fully interactive site map, with the ability to “mark” areas like favored concession stands or where you parked your car; there is also support for a fan loyalty program as well as user-selected push messaging, where fans could be alerted to things like shorter concession lines, or autograph sessions with drivers.

Arnold said AVAI’s overall strategy of having an app platform that was purpose-built to integrate easily with third-party features enabled the quick turnaround on the Daytona app. He said that “making it easy to integrate APIs and SDKs” from existing services like analytics, content or other services may make sense to more venues, as they seek to integrate tools they are already using into a single mobile-app platform.

Concert deals now, more stadiums later?

Though AVAI Mobile has more than a few big-event customers — the company just announced a deal to provide mobile technology for C3 Events, which runs the Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza festivals, among others — the Daytona/ISC deal is probably the company’s biggest stadium “name” deal so far.

And unlike VenueNext, the app developer for the San Francisco 49ers that has made a name for itself by providing cutting-edge services like in-seat food and beverage delivery, AVAI Mobile will more likely seek customers who are looking for a more pragmatic approach, Arnold said.

“Some things deliver less return for a lot more money,” said Arnold, talking about possible features a stadium app could provide. “I think sometimes you can offer services that are in the end, just not that much better. You need to ask how far you want to go, and figure out what’s best.”

March Madness viewing: More digital options, plus some virtual reality

MML_iPhone_01-WatchRemember when college basketball tournament season only had a small slice of games available online? Or when you had to pay extra to watch online? It wasn’t that long ago. Thankfully though the future is here now and for 2016 the college hoops postseason has even more ways to watch games mobile or online, including one option to watch games via virtual reality programming.

Like last year, if you have a qualifying cable contract, you are basically covered and should be able to watch all the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games live, on whichever platform you want. The best way to start is to head to the NCAA’s March Madness home page, where you should be able to find any and all information on devices, apps and other avenues to streaming coverage. According to Turner Sports, the NCAA and CBS Sports the games will be available live on 12 different platforms, including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku players and Roku TV models. The new March Madness Live app isn’t avalable until Thursday, so check back soon for the go-to app for everything March Madness.

Also like last year, you should be able to watch a few minutes of the first game you see without having to log in — great if you are just trying to catch a buzzer beater. The games of course will be available on regular TV, and the March Madness home page has what may be a great time saver, a widget that helps you find those obscure cable channels other than CBS or TNT where the games might be on. Since we’ve just moved, MSR’s NCAA viewing team might make good use of the Zip Code-powered channel finder.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 12.14.34 PMEven if you don’t have a cable contract you can still watch a lot of games that are streamed online; games broadcast on CBS will be available for no charge on desktop, mobile and tablet platforms, while games broadcast on the other channels (TNT, TBS, truTV and local channels) should be available on those providers’ websites. Again, if you get stuck or lost just defaulting back to the March Madness home page should give you a path to whatever game it is you’re looking for.

Big East tourney available in VR

If you have a NextVR platform you will be able to watch the 2016 Big East tournament (it starts Thursday, March 10) thanks to a partnership between FOX Sports and NextVR. We’re not VR-savvy here at MSR headquarters yet but with seven games and 15 hours of programming scheduled this might be a cool treat for VR fans. NextVR has an instruction page on how to watch the games in VR; if anyone tries this out, send us an email with a report on how it worked (or didn’t) and we’ll let everyone else know.

Also, don’t forget — this year for the first time the NCAA Men’s Championship game, scheduled for Monday, April 4, will be on TBS, NOT on CBS, the first time the champs game has been only on cable. And, there will be streaming options as well during Final Four weekend, according to the official announcement:

For the NCAA Final Four National Semifinals on Saturday, April 2, from Houston, NCAA March Madness Live will provide three distinct live video streams of both games to provide unprecedented viewing options for fans – live streaming of the traditional game coverage provided on TBS, along with “Team Stream by Bleacher Report” coverage or team-specific presentations offered via TNT and truTV. This year’s NCAA Tournament will include the National Championship airing on TBS, the first time the championship has ever been televised on cable television.

UPDATE: Super Bowl 50 stadium app will only support in-seat beverage delivery

Screenshot of home page of Super Bowl 50 stadium app. (Click on any photo for a larger image)

Screenshot of home page of Super Bowl 50 stadium app. (Click on any photo for a larger image)

UPDATE, 1/29/16, 11 a.m. — One of the most interesting features of Levi’s Stadium and its ground-breaking stadium app — the ability for fans to order food and beverages on their phones and have them delivered to any seat in the stadium — will be only half-enabled as part of the Super Bowl 50 app, with beverages the only items available to be delivered to fans in their seats.

While the app originally showed food items available for delivery service when it went live Wednesday night, by Thursday morning only beverages were showing up in the In-Seat Delivery menu. Food items and merchandise, however, can be ordered in advance and picked up at express windows throughout the stadium.

Developed for the NFL by VenueNext, the developer behind the regular Levi’s Stadium app, the Super Bowl 50 stadium app otherwise has most of the regular bells and whistles enjoyed by San Francisco 49ers fans the last two seasons, including the live wayfinding maps feature.

In a quick run-through of the app the other new feature we didn’t see was the ability to send food and beverages to a friend in the stadium, which makes sense to leave out since a Super Bowl crowd probably doesn’t have as many friends at the venue as a regular Niners crowd would. The Super Bowl 50 stadium app also has some NFL-specific add-ons, including a Super Bowl Fan Guide (what to bring, what not to bring) and a link to the NFL Experience promotional site, as well as a direct link to download the NFL Mobile App. Features not visible yet on the app that will be there for game day include game-action instant replays, as well as a “Celebrity cam” and a way to see Super Bowl commercials from the game broadcast via the app after they air on TV.

Niners, NFL agreed on keeping food delivery sidelined

If there was a component that would really make this Super Bowl different from past Super Bowls it would have been regular Levi’s Stadium food-ordering and delivery options, which are unmatched in any other large stadium we are aware of. From our personal experience the food ordering and delivery system worked well at a past Niners regular-season game, and enabled us to watch a full Niners touchdown drive instead of having to stand in a line to purchase a beer and a pretzel.

Food and drink delivery order page on Super Bowl stadium app, including the $13 Bud Light.

Food and drink delivery order page on Super Bowl stadium app, including the $13 Bud Light.

In its first year the in-seat delivery service was only used a couple thousand times a game at most during Niners regular season home games, which apparently didn’t stress the system. But at the first real “big event” at Levi’s Stadium — the Coors Light Stadium Series outdoor hockey game between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 21, 2015 — a massive amount of food orders by hockey fans overwhelmed the delivery system, leading to long wait times and many canceled orders, and lots of frustrated fans.

It didn’t help that the stadium that night also suffered from some Wi-Fi outages and some disconnect on the Verizon cellular network, but the failure of the app and the delivery system (which included not having enough human runners on hand to fulfill all the orders) introduced doubt as to whether Levi’s Stadium could deliver on its delivery promise for a big-game crowd.

According to San Francisco 49ers chief operating officer Al Guido, the decision to only have beverage deliveries at Super Bowl 50 was one reached jointly by the NFL, the Niners and VenueNext, and the catering company for the stadium, Centerplate. In a phone interview Friday Guido said that the potential “amount of education” for all the fans new to the stadium and new to the app led the league, the Niners and the caterers toward a path of greater simplicity, namely just having beverages available for in-seat delivery.

“It was a risk-reward decision about the amount of fan education needed,” Guido said. “There’s so much going on at a Super Bowl and so many people new to the stadium that it didn’t seem worth it to us to risk someone not getting an order delivered because of their error, or our error.” Guido added that with all the extra breaks in action for a Super Bowl, and additional concessions stands, “there’s enough time to get around” to get food.

At the very least, Super Bowl 50 fans won’t need to leave their seats to order beer, wine, sodas, Gatorade and water, the only items currently on the delivery list. What shouldn’t be a big concern to the high-rolling Super Bowl attendees is the $5 service charge for delivery and the high concession prices, including the $13 bottle of Bud Light. For the record, Guido said the delivery system performed at similar levels this regular season compared to last, with about 2,000 to 2,500 delivery orders per game.

Screenshot of wayfinding features in Levi's Stadium app. Photo: Aruba

Screenshot of wayfinding features in Levi’s Stadium app. Photo: Aruba

The app can also determine which windows are closest or have the shortest lines, to help fans satisfy their hunger or thirst needs as efficiently as possible. Using the express pickup option, fans can choose items and pay for them and have them ready for quick pickup at the closest or least-trafficked nearby stand, also cutting the time needed to get fed.

Directions, maps helpful too

What also might be extremely helpful to many of the first-time Levi’s Stadium visitors are the app’s ability to get fans to Levi’s Stadium, and then help them find their way around once they get there. The former feature is one we’ve been having fun with since it links to Google Maps and gives fans options for public transit, walking and bicycling to the stadium — according to the app it will only take us 16 days to walk to Levi’s Stadium from our home here in Boulder, Colo., or five days by bike. Apparently the app isn’t familiar with winter or mountains, but that shouldn’t affect those who use it while in the San Francisco Bay area.

Inside the stadium, the 2,000+ Bluetooth beacons allow the app to offer interactive wayfinding, via maps that show users as a familiar blue dot walking around the stadium. Fans will need to turn on location services and Bluetooth for the mapping features to work.

Facebook introduces ‘Sports Stadium’ game-day environment to join second-screen battle

Facebook screen shot of new 'Facebook Sports Stadium' service

Facebook screen shot of new ‘Facebook Sports Stadium’ service

Facebook is getting into the game-day sports conversation market with the introduction today of the Facebook Sports Stadium, “a dedicated place to experience sports in real-time with your friends and the world.”

While there is certainly no shortage of places online for live, game-day sports chatter — probably starting first with Twitter — the sheer reach of Facebook and its more-than-a-billion active users makes it an instant heavyweight, even if only a small percentage of Facebook users find and use the new service. (A quick search by yours truly took about 5 minutes to find the Sports Stadium page, and there was no indication we were actually there; it’s rather hard to single out due to all the other sports noise on Facebook, so…)

It will be interesting to see how the service works in real life, since one of the biggest problems I’ve always had with online “social streams” is that there is either way too much info from people I don’t care about, or information is too poorly organized to add to the second-screen experience. While Facebook’s post about the service promises the ability to incorporate posts from your friends along with “commentary from experts” as well as live scores, stats and play-by-play, it’s not clear how all this will appear in your Facebook app feed. And, initially the service will only be available to iPhone users in the U.S., for the upcoming NFL conference championship games this weekend and Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7.

Since it looks like folks will be able to post their own on-site pictures into the Sports Stadium flow we are wondering if there will be any possible copyright issues a la Periscope, or if Facebook and the NFL have already figured out a cash deal to eliminate those concerns. If there is one edge that Facebook might have on other commentary streams it’s the real-name authentication necessary on Facebook, which might help cut down on the huge number of anonymous idiotic comments that can cram other live game-day streams and make them pretty much useless (we’re looking at you, ESPN).

It will also be interesting to see how quickly instant replays appear in the Facebook stream, as opposed to team game-day apps or stadium apps, which can typically make replays live within seconds. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who uses the service this weekend, since I typically only message with a few close sports friends on game days while also monitoring Twitter, streams that are reliably real-time and easy to manage.

Aruba expands beacon management options, adds VenueNext as app development partner

An Aruba Sensor "in the wild" at the University of Oklahoma library, part of a test deployment of the new hardware. Photo: Aruba (click on any photo for a larger image)

An Aruba Sensor “in the wild” at the University of Oklahoma library, part of a test deployment of the new hardware. Photo: Aruba (click on any photo for a larger image)

Stadiums and other large public venues that use any type of Wi-Fi hardware will now be able to use Aruba’s beacon-based apps and beacon management systems, thanks to a new “beacon sensor” introduced by Aruba today.

Part of a wide-ranging announcement heralding “version 2.0” or Aruba’s “mobile engagement” platform, the new beacon sensor — a $195 plug-into-the-wall device that can monitor and manage up to 10 nearby beacons — enables networks using any vendor’s Wi-Fi gear to utilize Aruba’s proven beacon software systems, which include the ability to support wayfinding apps. Prior to today’s announcement, only Aruba-based Wi-Fi networks could closely integrate with the Aruba beacon-based apps, a factor that limited market potential for Aruba’s beacon efforts. The new beacon sensors, Aruba said, also allow for cloud-based management of beacon deployments, which could save huge amounts of time by eliminating the need to physically visit or monitor each beacon in a network.

With the ability now to reach out to non-Aruba Wi-Fi customers, the former Aruba Networks — now formally known as “Aruba, a Hewlett Packard enterprise company” — also expanded its app developer partner program to target several different vertical markets where beacons might find a welcome home, like health care and retail/office situations. VenueNext, the developer of the Levi’s Stadium app — perhaps the poster child deployment of Aruba’s beacon offerings — is now a formal partner with Aruba, which may help VenueNext in its goal of bringing Levi’s Stadium app features like wayfinding maps to other stadiums, including those without Aruba-based Wi-Fi networks.

Aruba beacon at Levi's Stadium. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Aruba beacon at Levi’s Stadium. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Bringing beacon management to other networks

Jeff Hardison, director of product marketing for mobile engagement at Aruba, said the beacon sensor came out of internal questioning about how Aruba could help make beacons more mainstream, “and more useful.”

The solution is a small box, not much bigger than a beacon, which has inside both Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Wi-Fi radios, allowing it to connect both to nearby beacons via Bluetooth and to Wi-Fi access points — importantly, Wi-Fi access points from any vendor. The devices, available for ordering today for $195 each, plug into standard electrical outlets and can manage about 9 to 10 beacons each, Hardison said, depending on proximity.

For VenueNext, the sensor could help the company more easily bring its beacon-based app features to stadiums and venues that don’t have Aruba Wi-Fi networks like Levi’s Stadium. Earlier this year, VenueNext had said it would announce 30 new venues using its apps by the end of the year, but so far it has identified only three new customers, the Orlando Magic, the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys, in particular, have a Cisco Wi-Fi network in AT&T Stadium, so it remains to be seen if Aruba beacon sensors will be used there to integrate the wayfinding feature in the AT&T Stadium app.

Screenshot of wayfinding features in Levi's Stadium app. Photo: Aruba

Screenshot of wayfinding features in Levi’s Stadium app. Photo: Aruba

Along with the sensors, with Aruba’s new beacon and sensor management system administrators can also manage beacons remotely, cutting down the time needed to visit each beacon in person to check battery life, software updates or other settings. As beacon deployments start to climb into the thousands per network, such remote management could be a huge time-saver, Hardison said. The beacon management system can also be used with the sensors in non-Aruba Wi-Fi deployments, Aruba said.

On beyond stadiums to libraries, hospitals, airports and more

While the Levi’s Stadium app’s wayfinding feature — which allows San Francisco 49ers fans to follow themselves as a blue dot walking through a map of the venue — is perhaps the most well-known Aruba beacon app, the Meridian platform (obtained by Aruba in a 2013 purchase of indoor Wi-Fi location company Meridian) is also being used to manage beacons at the Orlando International Airport, and is being trialed at the University of Oklahoma’s libraries, according to Aruba.

New software partners in the Aruba mobile engagement stable include Robin, which has a meeting room booking application, and companies with apps to help with navigation in hospitals and schools. The Meridian/Aruba beacon system was also previously used in apps at the Nebraska Furniture Mart and the American Museum of Natural History.

Wi-Fi stats left on the bench in RootMetrics’ baseball stadium network performance scores

The folks at RootMetrics have another network research project out, one that claims to determine the best wireless connectivity in all the U.S. Major League Baseball stadiums. However, the report doesn’t include Wi-Fi network performance in any of its scoring processes, and it doesn’t publicly reveal the limits of its network tests, which are based on just one day’s results from a handful of devices in each venue and do not include any results from Apple iOS devices.

According to the RootMetrics survey, Fenway Park in Boston ended up atop their results, with strong scores for all the four major U.S. wireless carriers, a list that includes AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile. But the caveat about those “scores” is that they are composite results devised by RootMetrics itself and not a direct reflection of numerical network performance.

At Fenway, for instance, RootMetrics’ own results show that T-Mobile’s median upload and download speeds are 3.0 Mbps and 3.5 Mbps, respectively, while Verizon’s are 20.7 Mbps and 13.0 Mbps. Yet RootMetrics gives T-Mobile a third place at Fenway with a 89.5 “Rootscore,” compared to Verizon’s winning mark of 97.9, meaning that in RootMetrics’ scoring system a network six times as fast is only 10 percent better.

While it’s not included in the scoring or ranking, the Wi-Fi network at Fenway as measured by RootMetrics delivered speeds of 23.1 Mbps down and 22.0 up, besting all the cellular networks in the stadium. In its blog post RootMetrics does not explain why it doesn’t include Wi-Fi networks in its network measurements or scoring, even though its testing does show Wi-Fi performance at individual stadiums. Over the past year, Major League Baseball led a $300 million effort to install Wi-Fi networks in all MLB parks.

Unlike its metro-area tests, where RootMetrics uses “millions of data points,” the baseball stadium tests were calculated using just one device from each carrier — and all are Android-based, since RootMetrics’ internal testing system doesn’t run on iOS devices. And while RootMetrics said that for its results each park was visited “at least once,” in going through all 29 stadium reports there was only a single visit date mentioned for each one. RootMetrics also did not visit Rogers Centre in Toronto, home of the American League’s Blue Jays.