Tampa Bay Lightning pick Venuetize for new Amalie Arena app

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Amalie Arena have selected developer Venuetize for a new team and stadium app that will bring features including a multi-purpose digital wallet that will help fans manage their ticket options for hockey games and other events at the venue.

Screen shot of the new Amalie Arena app by Venuetize.

Announced in January, the new app is already available for iOS and Android devices. According to the team, the app supports the ability to purchase concessions and merchandise with a mobile device, as well as being able to perform detailed ticketing transactions including transfers and even transfers of discounts.

The deal with the Lightning represents Venuetize’s second NHL deal this season, following the company’s win to provide a similar stadium and team app for the Detroit Red Wings (and the Detroit Pistons) at Little Caesars Arena. Venuetize also previously built an integrated app for the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres.

With new entrants like Hopscotch challenging established app players like YinzCam and VenueNext in the stadium and team app arena, Venuetize seems to be claiming its own turf with apps that lean heavily on transaction features, as well as the ability to easily shift between sporting events and other events at stadiums.

YinzCam, which made its name early in the space with content-focused apps, recently unveiled a feature that allows app users to order and pay for food and beverages. Clearly, the ability to support more transaction-based services seems to be part of the increased table stakes in the stadium and team app market going forward.

Connectivity at the core of Little Caesars Arena, District Detroit

Little Caesars Arena, the new home for the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Pistons. Credit: Olympia Entertainment (click on any photo for a larger image)

Bringing great wireless connectivity to a new stadium is almost table stakes these days. But building up a nearby commercial district — and keeping connectivity high outside the venue’s walls — is a bet of another level, especially in Detroit where networks extend outside the new Little Caesars Arena into the 50-block District Detroit.

Following the arena’s opening in September of 2017, the prognosis so far is so far, so good, with solid reports of high network performance on both Wi-Fi and cellular networks in and around the new home of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. But for John King, vice president of IT and innovation for venue owners Olympia Entertainment, the responsibilities for him and his network team extend far beyond the new stadium’s walls.

“We’re focused on the [wireless] signal not just in the bowl, but also in the surrounding elements — the streets, the outdoor arenas, and the Little Caesars Arena garage,” said King in an interview shortly after the arena opened. “The vision is, to be connected wherever you are. And to share that experience.”

An ambitious revival in downtown Detroit

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT for Winter 2018, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site. This issue has an in-depth look at the wireless networks at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, as well as profiles of network deployments at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Orlando City Stadium! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

The inside concourse at Little Caesars Arena. Credit: Olympia Entertainment

Built nearby the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field and the Tigers’ Comerica Park, the new hoops/hockey stadium seats 19,515 for hockey and 20,491 for basketball. Unlike many stadiums of the past which rise up from the ground, Little Caesars Arena is built into the ground, 40 feet below street level. The innovations in construction and accessibility, including an outdoor arena adjacent to the indoor one, may require another full profile and an in-person visit. For now, we’ll concentrate on the wireless deployment in and around Little Caesars Arena, which was funded in part by a sponsorship from Comcast Business, which provides backbone bandwidth to the arena and the district in the form of two 100 Gbps connections. The Wi-Fi network design and deployment, done by AmpThink, uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear; Cisco’s Vision for Sports and Entertainment (formerly known as StadiumVision) is used to synchronize video output to the 1,500 TV screens located in and around the venue.

On the cellular side, Verizon Wireless built a neutral-host DAS, which was getting ready to welcome AT&T as the second carrier on board shortly after the opening. According to King, the Wi-Fi network has approximately 1,100 total APs both inside and outside the arena, many of those from Cisco’s 3802 series, which each have two radios per AP. For many of the 300 APs located in the main seating bowl, Little Caesars Arena went with an under-seat deployment, with some others placed in handrail enclosures, especially for the basketball floor-seating areas.

“AmpThink did a really nice job with the deployment,” said King, who said the arena’s open-air suite spaces helped provide “lots of flow” to wireless gear, without the historical overhangs around to block signals on different levels. One early visitor to the arena saw many Wi-Fi speed tests in the 50-60 Mbps range for both download and upload, as well as several in the 80-to-100 Mbps range, signs that a strong signal was available right at the start.

“We’ve still got a lot of tuning, but early on we’re getting great results,” said King of the Wi-Fi performance. “Our goal is to make it the best it can be.”

Staying connected outside the walls

Like The Battery area surrounding the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, the District Detroit is meant to be a stay-and-play kind of space, with restaurants, clubs, office spaces and residences seeking to lure visitors and residents to do more than just see a game. For King and his team, one of their tasks is to ensure that visitors can stay connected no matter where they are inside the district, including inside restaurants, offices and other indoor spaces.

Connectivity blends well with the architecture inside Little Caesars Arena. Credit: Tod Caflisch, special to MSR

“We want the [network] signal to be robust, to carry into outdoor spaces, restaurants and many other areas” inside the District Detroit, King said. “We want to push the envelope a little bit and create a useful opportunity.”

Back inside Little Caesars Arena, the team and stadium apps are built by Venuetize, which built a similar integrated app for the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres, one that also extends outside arenas to support connectivity in city areas. King said that Little Caesars Arena will be testing pre-order and express pickup concession ordering through the app, with a focus on seating areas that don’t have ready access to some of the club facilities.

Like any other new facility, Little Caesars Arena will no doubt go through some growing pains in its debut season, but for King and others who spent time getting the venue ready it’s fun to have the doors open.

“It’s really great seeing it all come to life,” King said.

San Jose Sharks add more features to SAP Center stadium app

The San Jose Sharks announced today a raft of upgrades to their stadium app, including a feature that will allow fans to toggle through four separate modes of functionality, for Sharks games, SAP Center events, minor-league hockey info and information about the Sharks-associated public skating rinks in the area.

Now called the San Jose Sharks + SAP Center app, the mobile-device program developed by VenueNext and Adept Mobile will bring to life some previously mentioned services for Sharks fans, including the ability to order Sharks merchandise and in-stadium “experiences” — like purchasing a message on the big video board — directly from the app.

Screen shot of new ‘marketplace’ options in Sharks app

Other new features include live audio broadcasts of Sharks games and games for the AHL’s Barracuda; augmented reality experiences; and a message preference and inbox feature that will allow fans to self-regulate the frequency of in-app communications with the team.

The ability to toggle between different versions of the app — say, for Sharks hockey games or for a concert at SAP Center — is a feature finding its way into most stadium apps these days, including VenueNext’s app for the San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium. The Sacramento Kings have a similar two-apps-in-one strategy for the team and for Golden 1 Center, in an app developed by Built.io.

For fans, it’s a way to have all the arena-going information in one place, while for the teams and venues it’s a way to keep current customers informed of all the associated businesses. (On its face the feature sounds like a smart idea, but so far we haven’t seen any metrics from any teams showing proof that it is really working for either fans or teams/venues.)

Putting the ability to order experiences like big-screen messages (just $75!) or visits from the Shark’s toothy mascot into the app seems like a good idea, since those actions can now be acted on in the moment instead of having to plan far ahead. And for fans who like to hear play by play either at the rink or at home, having team audio is a great feature and alternative to radio.

‘Fan Mobile Pass’ will serve as NFL’s Super Bowl 52 app, from pregame activities to game day functions

For the second year in a row, the NFL is building its own mobile app for the Super Bowl, this time with a single-application strategy meant to cover both fan activities the week before Super Bowl LII, as well as game-day functionality at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

In a phone interview Thursday with Aaron Amendolia, vice president of IT services for the NFL’s office of the CIO, Amendolia said the new strategy of having a single app for pre-game and game-day activity was meant to drive adoption and eliminate confusion over which app fans might need for various Super Bowl interactions. Last year, the NFL tried to harmonize its Super Bowl app strategy but still required fans to use a separate app — the NFL Mobile app — to see game highlights and other content.

The Super Bowl LII app is now available for download, and fans can sign up on the Super Bowl app website for a chance to win tickets to the big game, while also providing personal information that Amendolia said will assist with the league’s quest to bring more “personalization” to the experience.

“There’s more gamification to the app, with the opportunity for fans to win achievements” through the week, Amendolia said. According to the sign-up web page, there will be a heavy focus on social media engagement, with promises of availability of free autographs from current and past NFL stars; the ability to take a picture of the Super Bowl trophy; and to see images of all 51 Super Bowl rings. There will also be sponsor-activation activities throughout Minneapolis, most likely at the NFL Super Bowl Live fan site on Nicollet Mall and other Super Bowl events, where presumably fans can “check in” with the app’s QR code to earn rewards.

Wayfinding maps, but no blue dots

For both the week before and game day, Amendolia said the app will have wayfinding maps, but they won’t be active “blue dot” wayfinding, even though that feature is supported in the Vikings’ own stadium app, which was developed for the Vikings by app developer VenueNext.

“We did discuss [beacon-enabled] options, but there are some challenges to that that are unique to the Super Bowl,” said Amendolia, noting things like temporary structures and closed roads for Super Bowl activities that could be harder to integrate into maps. For wayfinding beyond maps, Amendolia said there would be a heavy reliance on digital signage information in and around the stadium to help fans find their way.

Like last year, the NFL Super Bowl app will not have any functionality allowing fans to order food or drinks for delivery or express pickup, with the latter being a service that was tested at Vikings home games this season. The app will allow fans to pre-order merchandise and pick it up at locations around town during the week before the game, Amendolia said, and will also allow suite ticketholders to order merchandise for pickup during the game.

One interesting question is whether or not the Vikings will be allowed to make their own app active for the game if they make the Super Bowl by beating the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship this weekend. If so, it would represent the first time an NFL team played in the Super Bowl at its home stadium, an issue never faced in the era of team apps. Vikings officials did not respond yet to questions about the possible availability of the team app for the Super Bowl, but we will update this post if and when they do.

Full-stadium Wi-Fi lands at Miami Heat’s AmericanAirlines Arena

Wi-Fi APs mounted on catwalks at AmericanAirlines Arena. Credit: Miami Heat (click on any photo for a larger image)

Fans attending Miami Heat games at AmericanAirlines Arena now have access to a full-stadium Wi-Fi network, as one of the last NBA venues without Wi-Fi has now fully embraced the wireless technology and what it enables.

“It’s all about wanting to elevate the fan experience,” said Matthew Jafarian, vice president for digital strategy and innovation for the Heat, in a recent phone interview. With construction on the network having started more than a year ago, the 350-plus access point network is now almost fully complete, with Wi-Fi gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, and main installation by M S Benbow & Associates (MSB).

Previously, AmericanAirlines Arena had been somewhat proud about its choice to rely only on cellular DAS for wireless connectivity inside the venue. But according to Jafarian, as fans of sporting events, concerts and other attractions steadily increase their digital activities, the inevitable need for more bandwidth caused the Heat to add Wi-Fi to the building they own and operate.

“With Heat games and with concerts and events, fans want to share more and we want them to be able to share their experience,” Jafarian said. Venue-wide Wi-Fi will also make it easier for fans to comply with the Heat’s decision to only allow digital ticketing for entry to Heat games. Jafarian added that the new Wi-Fi network will also allow for more back-of-house operations (like enabling mobile point-of-sale systems) to run more effectively.

‘Make it the best’

Following a directive to make the arena’s network “the best Wi-Fi out there,” the Heat went through an RFP process that looked at Wi-Fi gear providers like Cisco and Samsung before choosing the team of Aruba and MSB. Because of the need to get the network finished before this past season’s first games, Jafarian said the option of going under-seat with Wi-Fi APs wasn’t feasible because “there weren’t enough dark days” to complete the extensive construction needed for such a deployment.

Picture of a monitor at American Airlines Arena, showing wait time information (this photo was not taken during a game). Credit: Miami Heat

Instead, MSB engineered a top-down system with most APs mounted on the arena’s catwalks, which Jafarian said is “working well.” The network was live before the start of preseason games, Jafarian said.

The network also makes use of a captive portal from Purple for fan engagement management. According to Jafarian, the Heat saw more than 50,000 unique Wi-Fi connections over the first 60 days of operation, and sees an average of around 20 percent of attendees connecting to the network both for NBA games as well as for concerts, including recent performances by Jay-Z and The Weeknd.

This year the Heat also rolled out a new mobile app, developed by Built.io and Beyond Curious. “We’ve had a lot of success with the app,” said Jafarian. One of the more popular components, he said, is a wayfinding and line-length service powered by WaitTime, which is available both via the app as well as on monitors around the arena.

“The WaitTime [service] has been a big hit with fans,” said Jafarian.

Commentary: More tech needed for signs

Security sign at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

At the Minneapolis airport, I had just checked my bag and was looking for the departure gates, wondering which way to go since I remembered from a previous trip there was a choice of security lines. Turning to my left, my question was answered without having to dig out my phone to look at an app: Instead there was a huge neon green sign that said “Less than 10 minutes… all passengers, all gates.” I smiled and kept walking toward the sign and then took a picture, to remember the power of a highly visible and intuitive message board — something stadiums and other large venues could use a lot more of.

Though we make it a point here at MSR to report as much as we can on app-based developments for stadiums, increasingly these days when at a game I find that many times it is simply not convenient to pull up information on my phone, especially so with wayfinding. Let’s leave aside wayfinding apps and beacons for a minute and ask — why, in this age when we can deliver personalized information to a phone, isn’t there more being done with large, video-based signage?

Give me direction, not just live action

Editor’s note: This column is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT for Winter 2017-18, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site. This issue has an in-depth look at the wireless networks at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home of the upcoming Super Bowl 52, as well as profiles of network deployments at the brand-new Little Caesars Arena and Orlando City Stadium! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

For sponsors and advertising, the revolution over the past few years of LED boards replacing static signage is like moving from telegraph to radio. Stadiums everywhere are pushing each other to see who can add more in the way of ribbon boards, big LED screens on concourses, on walls and of course, to see who can come up with the latest in big main video boards.

But even as it’s great that video screens are proliferating inside venues — you may never miss a live play anywhere inside a stadium again, including inside elevators — I would argue that in many stadiums, the strategy behind mounting signs and putting relevant content on them is still in its infancy, especially when it comes to things like updated wayfinding.

And while I doubt any of us really wants a future like the one depicted in Minority Report, where signs detect you and show you personalized marketing as you walk by, wouldn’t it be nice if the screens did more instead of just showing live action and synchronized ads? How about some proactive wayfinding, with time-sensitive messages, to help fans find what they need inside the stadium walls? With quick, easy to digest information that doesn’t require three clicks to find?

My beef with wait time apps and wayfinding

If there’s one loudly touted stadium app feature I’ve never fully bought into, it’s the whole “you can see how long the bathroom line is” app. Though it seems simple and good (and many reporters write about it without questioning it), I see a bunch of holes poking through that are never described in the press releases. First and most telling is that even with multiple versions of this service launched, nobody has yet provided us with any stats on usage, even though we’ve asked politely.

Picture of a monitor at American Airlines Arena, showing wait time information (not during a game). Credit: Miami Heat

(Consider this a mass appeal for more information from any app providers or teams with apps reading this: If there is a part of your app that shows wait times for bathrooms or other lines, how many fans have used it? Has use of the feature grown? What have you changed recently to improve it? We’ll hang up and wait for your answer.)

One reason I don’t think wait time apps are a powerful idea for crowded stadiums is the simple fact that sometimes it’s not safe to be looking at your device. At a recent Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium I got a refresher — if you are walking on a concourse during a sellout game, the last thing you want to do is pull out your phone and be a gaper snce you might get gored by some guy with three-foot horns on his head who plows into you when you stop suddenly. Blue-dot directions are great in theory but like texting while driving, in some situations trying to stare at your phone may be hazardous to your health.

How about using the app while sitting in your seat, before you leave for the restroom? My question to the app provider is — what guarantee do you provide that if I start toward the bathroom with the shortest line, that it will still be short when I get there? And paradoxically, if more fans start using the app the way I am, won’t that make the short lines instantly long if we all head there at the same time?

More questions: Do any of these things tell you how long it will take you to walk to and from the bathroom with the shortest line? Or is it smarter to wait instead of walking (especially with a full bladder)? Are wait time apps smart enough to figure all this out? I doubt it.

Can you find your way to the Uber pickup at MSP? Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

But here is where smarter signs with more limited options come into play. Like the huge neon words in the Minneapolis airport, more interactive displays could go a long way in wayfinding, especially if they are only trying to do a small number of simple things, like, “SHORTER BATHROOM LINE 100 FEET THIS WAY,” or, “HOT DOG AND A BEER FOR $10, AT NEXT TWO STANDS.” I see a big difference in how such signs could differ from an app, by providing just the last piece of information in a process already begun — without any need for click-throughs.

The Miami Heat are starting down this path, with video screens that face the fans when they come up from the stands at American Airlines Arena, with restroom and concession information (with simple arrows) provided by partner WaitTime. While we haven’t yet interviewed the folks at WaitTime to find out exactly how their sensors and algorithms stand up to our previous list of questions, our guess is that many more fans will find the information via the concourse displays than through any team app, simply because A) many team apps still aren’t well known or well used, and B) everyone pretty much knows how to read a sign.

This is what I mean when I say we need more tech for signs — the updated information is great stuff, but it doesn’t even have to be that digital. At Golden 1 Center in Sacramento there was an incredibly smart decision made to turn some concession signs on the concourse a simple 90 degrees — so you can read the sign while you are walking, without having to turn your head. It’s one of those things that when you see it for the first time, you wonder why we ever did it the other way.

Maybe what is needed are some new form factors, other than the standard horizontal TV screen. The Mall of America (story coming soon!) has some new interactive directories that are more like a big iPad than the old movie-poster models, and they are already reporting millions of user sessions and great feedback from guests. Why not install a bunch of smaller screens in stadiums and other large venues, which could be programmed for specific time-sensitive information?

Instead of one large screen with impossible to read small type about baggage-carousel information about your arriving flight, why not a monitor with BIG type that circles through the most recent flights, mounted above wherever you enter the baggage area? How about big arrows in stadiums as a game finishes, directing fans to less-crowded exits?

Where are we with this issue now? After Levi’s Stadium opened a few years ago, they had stadium employees with handheld signs after games, trying to direct fans to the light rail. In the Minneapolis airport, trying to find the Uber pickup area requires a treasure hunt of sorts, as you have to find and consult multiple portable printed signs to finally find the curbside spot. And at the Denver airport they use similar portable printed signs to direct passengers to quicker security lines. C’mon man. Time to tech up.

Maybe, yes, an app with blue-dot wayfinding could help here but in many real-life big-venue situations — a sellout crowd concourse, or hauling your carryon suitcase to the gate — taking your phone out is sometimes the least attractive option. Instead, let’s see some more tech directed to signs and the strategy behind their placement and content. Let’s call them signs of the times, shall we?