Philadelphia Flyers pick Venuetize for new stadium app

Screen shot of Venuetize’s new app for the Philadelphia Flyers and Wells Fargo Center.

The NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers have tapped app builder Venuetize for the team’s new stadium app for Wells Fargo Center, an app that includes digital ticketing support for now with other features planned for a later arrival.

According to a press release from the Flyers and Venuetize, the new app will allow fans to completely manage, transfer and scan tickets for all events at Wells Fargo Center, eliminating the need to print paper tickets at home. While the release did not specify which additional features would be available soon, screen shots of the app showed support for digital parking tickets and the ability to order concessions through the device.

The win with the Flyers is the second NHL deal for Venuetize this year, following being picked to develop the Tampa Bay Lightning’s new app earlier this year. Venuetize also counts the Detroit Red Wings and the Buffalo Sabres among its team-app clients.

Paying for beer with a fingerprint gets thumbs-up at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field

A fan at a Seattle Seahawks game pays for concessions using his fingerprint, via the Clear system. Credit all photos: David Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Seattle football and soccer fans are giving a big thumbs-up to a new concessions system at CenturyLink Field that lets them buy a beer or other items simply by tapping their fingerprint at payment time.

Clear, the same firm that gives travelers a way to pay for access to faster security lines at airports, is now moving into sports venues with a free version of its plan to let fans enter stadiums via special “Clear” lines. In Seattle, Clear and the Seahawks and Sounders are also testing a point-of-sale system where registered Clear users can pay for concessions and be age-verified by simply tapping their finger on a special concession-stand device. Currently, the system is only in use at four concession stands at CenturyLink but Seattle network executives said there are plans to expand the offering as the seasons progress. The system was also used earlier this season at the Seattle Mariners’ home, Safeco Field.

With more than 1,500 football and soccer fans having signed up for Clear at the stadium through the first week of October, Clear and CenturyLink are now seeing an average of around 1,000 fans using Clear to enter the stadium per football game and 200-plus similar verifications at Seattle Sounders games, according to statistics provided to MSR by Chip Suttles, vice president of technology for the Seahawks. The stadium started offering the service this preseason for both the NFL and MLS events. Fans who had previously signed up for Clear either at airports or online can use that same membership to enter the stadium.

The workings of the concession system are pretty simple: Once a user signs up for Clear — which requires personal data including age and a valid credit card — the user orders food and drink at the concession stand window, then completes the transaction with a fingertip tap in a special counter device. The biometrics confirm both that a user is old enough to purchase alcohol, and has a valid credit card to bill, eliminating the need for personal eyewitness verification of I.D. and the time needed to transact via credit card or cash.

At the Seahawks’ Oct. 7 home game against the Los Angeles Rams, another 199 fans enrolled for the Clear system on-site, and 911 fans used Clear to get into the venue, according to Suttles. The Clear system was used for 239 concession transactions at the game.

Speeding up the concessions lines

Fans could sign up for Clear inside and outside CenturyLink Field.


While the numbers may seem small right now, the promise of using technology to produce much faster concessions transactions are a welcome beginning to an area of stadium operations that in many places seems stuck in the far past, with cash transactions and counter staffers who take orders, fulfill them and then take payments.

“We are always looking for new, innovative ways to enhance the fan experience,” said Suttles, who said feedback so far from Seahawks and Sounders fans has been overwhelmingly positive. David Kapustka, Seattle Bureau Chief for Mobile Sports Report, attended the Seahawks’ Sept. 23 home game against the Dallas Cowboys and did an on-site test of the Clear system, and not just for the free beer Clear was offering as a sign-up promotion.

Once signed up for the system, Kapustka reported that the concession-stand finger-scan interaction “took less than a minute,” though there was some waiting beforehand to order since the Clear payment lanes share space with regular ordering and payment lanes at the two stands where the Clear service was offered that day.

The only drawbacks Kapustka saw for the Clear operation had mainly to do with its popularity, as a long line of fans queued up before the game to sign up at a Clear kiosk, ironically causing some delay for fans getting into the stadium. Once inside, one request Kapustka heard from fans was to have more Clear-enabled lines, feedback that Clear and the network folks are probably glad to hear. (More photos from our visit below)

Like many venues, CenturyLink Field has long lines for entry security measures

The Clear sign-up kiosk outside the stadium

A long line before the game started to sign up for Clear

One of the Clear-enabled concession stands at CenturyLink Field. Note the non-existent line at the Clear lane

Another fan taps a fingertip to pay

Good promotion

There’s good Wi-Fi at CenturyLink too

Team-app builder Built.io acquired by Software AG

Screenshot of part of the Built.io app for the Kings.

San Francisco startup Built.io has been acquired by German software giant Software AG, a deal that will not mean the end to Built.io’s nascent stadium- and team-app business, according to an update from the company.

Started in 2007 as a company with tools to help enterprise businesses move operations to the cloud, Built.io made a splash in the sports scene when it was chosen as the base technology for the stadium and team apps for the Sacramento Kings and their tech-centered new stadium, Golden 1 Center. Built.io subsequently announced a separate business focused on sports operations, and signed the Miami Heat as its second client.

Publicly, Built.io has not announced any new sports customers since last year, and founder and former CEO Neha Sampat has shifted duties somewhat to another company that was part of a sort of conglomerate inside Built.io, a bit of a confusing situation that was cleared up with this message from a Built.io spokesperson late Friday:

Before its acquisition today, Built.io was the best known of the brands under the umbrella of a company called Raw Engineering, which also comprised the sports business and a company named Contentstack. Neha Sampat is still very much involved with Raw Engineering as president, and with Contentstack as CEO. Until recently, these three businesses – Raw Engineering, Built.io and Contentstack – all operated as one company, Raw Engineering, which was doing business as Built.io because that was the best known brand. In 2017, the decision was made to split the organization, in part to differentiate the sports offering and not have it be continuously confused with the things that Built.io was really known for, which is the enterprise integration platform. That platform [Built.io] was the business that Software AG acquired today.

According to the company spokesperson, the sports app business is still alive and well, so we will keep an eye out for more news from that standpoint.

Why is venue parking still mainly low-tech?

Mountain View city sign to parking lots

If it’s not the number one pain point for a fan’s game day experience, parking is at least in the top five headaches list for any venue, and from where we sit it’s a puzzle as to why we haven’t heard more success stories about technology-based parking systems. Is it mainly due to lack of control of real estate and venue services contracts, or is it just a low priority that is still an overlooked possible money maker?

For every press release or story we hear about charging fans extra for an in-stadium “experience” like meeting team members during a practice or shootaround, I’m confused as to why there aren’t similarly numerous stories about premium parking plans that are available to the everyday fan, and not just season-ticket holders. At just about any venue we’ve been to, it’s easy to spot where the club-level patrons get to park their late-model imports: Right near the door.

No parking perks for regular fans

Editor’s note: This essay is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of a new MatSing ball DAS deployment at Amalie Arena, a new under-seat DAS deployment for the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, and a look at the new DAS at Wrigley Field! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

That’s an obvious perk for those who are scratching big checks, but what about the thousands of “regular” fans whose best bet is often just to arrive hours before game time to get a better spot? Why aren’t there more systems that would allow the upper-deck crowd to spend maybe 10 or 20 bucks more to guarantee a closer spot, or one with other amenities (close to the exit, bathrooms, etc.)? Is it because teams may not have control over lot spaces, or is it just due to lack of interest and/or creative thinking?

Maybe we need to dig deeper to find these stories ourselves, but if this kind of thing is happening at your venue, let us know. Though I don’t qualify for handicapped status, on some days a flareup in my surgically repaired back would make it extremely worthwhile for me to pay extra to be closer to the stadium, or to park in a lot that has a shuttle or pedicab service. I’d also pay a premium to be able to reserve a spot next to a friend, to make sure we can tailgate together.

Uber, Lyft causing cellular overload?

I also throw ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft into the mix here, and wonder if any venue has successfully solved what I call the “Uber overload” problem. Even as most venues now have a set-aside area for Uber and Lyft dropoff and pickup, I have now twice heard of a problem I’d bet is duplicated in many other venues: Namely, ride-share services that are screwed up because there isn’t enough connectivity outside the stadium to handle the crush of fans seeking that final connection with their driver.

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

In one place I heard of this happening — AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas — the Uber driver I was with said that many drivers had the experience of getting a ride request, only to be unable to find (and confirm) the ride because neither driver nor rider could connect outside the stadium walls. Maybe that’s improved lately (this conversation was a year ago) but the driver told me an interesting workaround — drivers en route to AT&T Stadium would first head to a fast-food restaurant on the parking lot fringes and use the restaurant’s free Wi-Fi signal to tell riders to meet them there. Anyone else out there have this problem and/or found a solution? Let me know. I will also start trying to check ride-sharing services and parking at stadiums in our profile visits, so stay tuned.

In forward-thinking places like the Westfield-managed Century City Mall we’ve seen parking technology installed with priority status, perhaps because a guaranteed place for the car is of higher importance to shoppers than to eventgoers. We have seen some parking startups help teams and venues shift payment systems to digital platforms, which has produced savings in time and money from the inevitable failures of cash-based transactions through a car window. But that seems like just the start. If your team, venue or startup has a story to tell here, you know where to find us.

VenueNext names Orlando’s Perez as new CEO

Anthony Perez

Anthony Perez, former chief marketing officer for the Orlando Magic, has been named the new CEO of stadium- and team-application developer VenueNext, replacing founding CEO John Paul.

According to a VenueNext press release, Perez had been with the Magic for the past 10 years in “various leadership roles,” including executive vice president for strategy and CMO, a title he gained in 2017. According to the release, Perez helped develop the Magic’s virtual currency strategy which has been one of the big successes for VenueNext as its app powers the program. The Magic were VenueNext’s first NBA customer and the second customer overall after the San Francisco 49ers.

Former CEO Paul will remain as vice chairman on VenueNext’s board, and according to the release will assist the company on future moves like a planned expansion into European markets. A longtime computer industry veteran, Paul led VenueNext’s charge into the app market for stadiums and arenas with a strategy based more on enabling services like ticketing, loyalty programs and mobile concession ordering and delivery, with the Niners’ new Levi’s Stadium as its proof of concept platform in 2014.

With $24 million in venture funding as of 2016, VenueNext appears to be in good shape, even if it is still a ways away from reaching its publicly claimed target of 30 customers that Paul said it would have three years ago. While the company’s website does not have a full list of customers, VenueNext has said in the past that it does have clients signed already in the healthcare and hospitality markets, but cannot name them due to confidentiality agreements.

LAFC scores technology hat trick at Banc of California Stadium

Banc of California Stadium, the new home of the Los Angeles Football Club. Credit all photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

There’s an elegance to the advancing striker – the foot work, feints, arc of the kick – as they target the opponent’s goal. For the Los Angeles Football Club, that elegance gets reflected back in its newly christened home field, Banc of California Stadium, with its graceful lines and minimalist design, plus visibility and a connection to the field rivaling venues half its size.

LAFC, one of Major League Soccer’s newest expansion teams, had a particular sort of experience in mind for fans inside the venue, with its capacity of 22,000. The steeply pitched stands create an intimate sporting and entertainment space. Multiple clubs, suites and concession areas are there to satisfy food and beverage desires. Team owners were equally adamant about having top-notch technology, according to Christian Lau, vice president of information technology for LAFC, especially where wireless networking was concerned. The requirement was for “unprecedented coverage,” he added. “We wanted to avoid doing any retrofitting for at least five years.”

Opened in April, LAFC’s gleaming new stadium sits adjacent to the Los Angeles Coliseum (home to USC football, and to the NFL’s Rams, at least for now), replacing what used to be the Los Angeles Sports Arena. That structure was demolished in early 2016 and LAFC’s lengthy list of owners (Peter Guber, Magic Johnson, Will Ferrell and Mia Hamm, to name just a few of the sports and entertainment luminaries with a stake in the team) set the timer for April 29, 2018, LAFC’s first home game for its inaugural season.

Construction crews worked relentlessly to meet the deadline; the venue was ready one month early, thanks to good planning and construction crews putting in 16-hour days to be ready for BofC Stadium’s debut. On April 29, the gates opened and a new era had begun with the ‘hat trick’ of a fiber backbone, solid wireless coverage and an advanced app strategy.

The optics of LAFC networking

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of a new MatSing ball DAS deployment at Amalie Arena, a new under-seat DAS deployment for the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park, and a look at the new DAS at Wrigley Field! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

No doubt where you are at. Welcome to LA… FC.

The foundation for LAFC’s networking is a gigabit passive optical network (GPON) backbone with two chassis, plus fiber links from two service providers, AT&T and Crown Castle. The stadium backbone is 10-Gbps fiber with 100-Gbps dark fiber in place, Lau explained. LAFC is one of just a few sporting venues using GPON, along with Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and Texas A&M’s Kyle Field in College Station. Perhaps not coincidentally, the technology contractor for all three projects was IBM.

Wi-Fi was an obvious requirement for BofC Stadium; back-of-the-house networks support ticketing processes at the gates, along with POS applications and LAFC administrative needs. Fan-facing Wi-Fi (“LAFC Guest”) blankets the venue with 487 access points; Lau’s leaving open the door to add more APs as requirements dictate. About 60 percent of the existing APs are installed under seats in the stands. Ruckus Networks is the Wi-Fi AP vendor and helped with system engineering and tuning.

While engineered for 70,000 users, the venue’s Wi-Fi has been averaging about 8,700 simultaneous users, according to Lau. The LAFC Guest network has no landing page since at some venues, loading times for landing pages can be long, leading to frustrated users abandoning the Wi-Fi. Users have also come to consider Wi-Fi a de facto amenity, so LAFC wanted to ensure its guest Wi-Fi network was easily and quickly accessible, Lau said.

The DAS details

On the cellular side, LAFC called on wireless services and engineering firm Mobilitie to pull together the distributed antenna system (DAS) for BofC Stadium. The venue’s DAS network consists of 25 zones powered by Ericsson gear; there are 160 antennas and over 7 miles of cabling to handle nearly 1.5 million square feet of DAS coverage.

Wireless gear covers the concessions areas

All four of the major wireless carriers — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint – have signed up for BofC’s DAS network. Verizon was on air for the first game; Sprint was scheduled to fully integrate into the DAS network by the end of June, according to Stephanie Gray, senior director, wireless coverage solutions for Mobilitie.

LAFC was looking something transformative in its use of technology that would set BofC stadium apart from other stadiums, Gray told Mobile Sports Report. LAFC wanted seamless wireless especially in transition zones, part of strict requirements for the DAS network.

“They wanted a high percentage of coverage throughout the venue, particularly where people are using SeatGeek and wireless/paperless ticketing at the gates,” she explained. “We needed optimum coverage that could handle the stadium under load.”

Mobilitie brought engineering know-how to deal with the inevitable onsite quirks unique to every venue. In the case of BofC Stadium, the overall design aesthetic is modern and slick. The ceiling materials in many parts of the stadium – clubs, suites and some concession areas — are sheathed in metal, which presents an RF propagation challenge for RF, reducing signal strength.

On-field DAS coverage was also challenging, according to Jamie Witherspoon, director, technical solutions, for Mobilitie. Antennas had to be mounted on stadium trusses before the trusses were craned into place, an unusual technical cart-before-the-horse process. The reason? Cherry-picker equipment couldn’t be on the field or its freshly laid sod to adjust DAS antennas. In addition, Witherspoon reported lots of negotiations with the architecture firm, Gensler, to ensure the DAS antennas were as unobtrusive as possible and to preserve the stadium’s design aesthetic.

“With DAS, we’re more accustomed to building out a pre-existing venue, coming in after the fact,” Witherspoon explained. “This was brand new construction, so we had to work around multiple construction teams.”

Bandwidth snapshots

Mobile Sports Report put the fan-facing Wi-Fi and DAS to the test at BofC Stadium’s opening day, a match between LAFC and the Seattle Sounders. We sampled upload and download speeds around the stadium using the Speedtest app to measure performance. All our tests are only from Verizon’s services inside the venue.

Underseat mounts for Wi-Fi

In general, the BofC wireless services appear well engineered and cover the stadium’s common areas effectively. As to be expected, bandwidth performance was higher in the areas around the suites and clubs, where Wi-Fi downloads clocked in anywhere from 12.38 Mbps in the Sunset Loge on the west side of the stadium to 15.26 Mbps in the Founder’s Club. Wi-Fi upload speeds came in at 63.92 Mbps and 71.94 Mbps, respectively, the highest speeds measured in our tests at BofC Stadium.

Verizon’s DAS wasn’t as fast as the guest Wi-Fi. Highest DAS download speed at the south concessions was 37.67 Mbps; Section 123 on the southern side of the bowl came in at 35.43 Mbps. Highest upload speed for DAS service was 21.42 Mbps in the southeast concession area, followed by 20.92 Mbps around the southwest concessions.

A couple areas were less robust from a wireless bandwidth perspective. The DAS performance in the concession area outside the Figueroa Club on the east side of the stadium measured 9.4 Mbps download/10.97 Mbps upload; guest Wi-Fi in the west concessions area came in at 8.58 Mbps/1.93 Mbps, while Wi-Fi in the south concession wasn’t much better at 8.27 Mbps/1.98 Mbps. But generally, the guest Wi-Fi outperformed Verizon’s DAS and most Wi-Fi download/upload speeds were in the double-digits of megabits per second.

Prepping the LAFC app

LAFC worked with mobile integrator Venuetize to build out the team’s app, using the MLS team app template as its foundation. As a new team and one that started its season with a succession of away games, there was no reason to have stadium-based features in the app’s first iteration, said Lou Fontana, vice president of project management for Venuetize. The earliest iteration of the LAFC app concentrated more on content pieces, followed by the BofC Stadium-specific features.

LAFC’s app features both mobile ticketing and a sophisticated digital wallet for making onsite purchases for food or team merchandise. LAFC’s Lau volunteered that the organization is looking to have totally digital ticketing by 2019 – no paper, no PDFs to print out. Venuetize did some backend integration with payment processing partner Vantive; the ticketing part of the app works with ticket marketplace and aggregator SeatGeek.

Wi-Fi APs point down from the rafters

The LAFC app also uses and artificial intelligence-powered chatbot named Otto to help with stadium info, developed by Satis.fy. A future iteration of Otto will take it out of the Web’s view and make it a native view, incorporating elastic search. “That will enable fans to ask about players and the team schedule, and will replace search function in the app,” Fontana said, adding the upgrade could come sometime this summer.

The current version of the app has video, served up from MLS’s site. Immediate replay is something Venuetize will work on with LAFC. “When is the video content source available? That’s an issue,” Fontana said, adding that scoring plays make it out of the MLS server within about 25 minutes. While Venuetize could take that content and make it native, it’s not a top priority for the team at the moment.

BofC Stadium has installed Bluetooth beacon technology. “We haven’t gone through process of dialing in beacons, but wayfinding and navigation are on the list” for the LAFC app, Fontana said.

The integrator is also looking at GameChanger MVP, an augmented reality game developer, for a scoreboard game to fold in. “AR gaming will be the next interesting thing” for sports apps generally, according to Fontana.