Extreme Networks to provide Wi-Fi 6 to 16 Major League Baseball stadiums

Extreme Wi-Fi gear (small white box in center) at Wrigley Field. Credit: Paul Kapustka, STR

In one of the biggest sports-venue Wi-Fi deals ever, Major League Baseball said it has selected Extreme Networks as its new “official Wi-Fi solutions provider,” a deal that will see Extreme Wi-Fi 6 gear being deployed in at least 16 MLB venues, beginning with the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park.

In an announcement today, Extreme and MLB said the deal would bring in-stadium Wi-Fi gear as well as Extreme’s network analytics software to at least 16 stadiums by 2026.

According to Major League Baseball, the Extreme deal represents the latest step for the league’s “technology consortium,” a plan started in 2014 where the league brought together a consortium of technology and service providers to more quickly bring better connectivity to MLB venues through pre-arranged and shared pricing structures. (In the first version of the consortium plan, Cisco was the preferred Wi-Fi gear supplier.)

Truman Boyes, MLB’s senior vice president for technology infrastructure, said that adding Wi-Fi 6 technology to the consortium offerings was driven by the continued increase in network data consumption by fans at ballparks.

“We’ve seen growth [in network usage] ramp up year after year,” Boyes said.

And while an earlier version of the Wi-Fi 6 rollout plan was set to start last spring, Boyes said that the Covid pandemic and its subsequent closing of almost all venues to fans in 2020 actually helped MLB solidify its plans.

More Extreme Wi-Fi gear underneath the roof at Wrigley Field. Credit: Paul Kapustka, STR

“We did have some delays [due to the pandemic] but because there still wasn’t an actual standardized approach to Wi-Fi 6 at this time last year, it became a good time to wait it out,” Boyes said. And after evaluating all the equipment providers in the Wi-Fi space, Boyes said Extreme’s experience in large-venue Wi-Fi networks helped make Extreme MLB’s choice based on technical merit.

“When it comes to networks of 20,000 to 40,000 [users], it’s a totally different landscape,” Boyes said. With Extreme’s experience in NFL-size venues, he said, “they know how to make it scale.”

According to Boyes, 10 of the network deployments are expected to be completed by the end of the year, with Fenway’s deployment scheduled to be live by opening day. (See full list at bottom of story)

MLB deal follows NFL deal

The “official” Wi-Fi deal adds another win to Extreme’s sports-industry ledger, following the company’s current similar deal with the NFL. Next year will be Extreme’s ninth season as the official Wi-Fi supplier to the NFL, where 10 of the 30 venues use Extreme gear exclusively for Wi-Fi, with two other NFL venues having a mix of gear with some Extreme included. Extreme’s current deal with the NFL lasts until March of 2022, according to the NFL.

Like its NFL deal, Extreme’s contract with MLB does not require venues to use Extreme equipment; it simply provides teams with a league-approved deal that most likely has economics that are potentially more favorable than those available outside the consortium pricing, given that Extreme is both a supplier and a sponsor to the league.

“Teams can join if they want to share in the benefits of centralized management,” said Boyes of MLB’s consortium efforts. While 16 MLB teams have committed to the Wi-Fi 6 deal with Extreme, Boyes said there is “interest from other teams” as well. Currently, Boyes said 20 of MLB’s 30 teams have used consortium deals for connectivity in the past.

Extreme currently has two existing MLB customers for stadium Wi-Fi, the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field and the Baltimore Orioles’ home, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles’ deal with Extreme had not been previously reported, other than that Verizon had paid for Wi-Fi at the park.

While Extreme has gotten big visibility out of its NFL deal — one which allows Extreme to control the announcement of network-usage results from the Super Bowl each year, even if Extreme gear is not used at the venue — it has also not won any recent deals for new NFL Wi-Fi networks. The two newest NFL venues, SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, both chose Cisco as their Wi-Fi 6 gear supplier.

However, some long-standing Extreme customers in the NFL have recently stuck with Extreme for renovations, including updates at the last two Super Bowl venues, Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium and Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium. Extreme and the Seattle Seahawks were also set to announce a Wi-Fi 6 upgrade to the network at Lumen Field this past year, but that announcement was delayed by the team due to the Covid pandemic.

Wes Durow, chief marketing officer for Extreme, said in a phone interview that Extreme’s focus on analytics makes it a great fit with Major League Baseball, which he said has been out in front of the entire sports world when it comes to emphasizing new statistics as a way to engage fans more closely.

And while acknowledging that a sponsorship with MLB was part of the equation, he said “that’s not what drove this deal. They [MLB] needeed to make a technology decision first.”

Consortium focusing on Wi-Fi

Unlike the past version of the consortium efforts, which included cellular distributed antenna network (DAS) systems as well as Wi-Fi, Boyes said the MLB consortium would “focus on Wi-Fi” going forward.

Part of MLB’s stance of “keeping DAS a little bit at arm’s length for now,” Boyes said, has to do with the complexity of 5G cellular deployments. Unlike 4G LTE cellular, where the top U.S. carriers all used similar spectrum spaces, the early 5G deployments from the top carriers all use different spectrum bands, which doesn’t work with a shared-antenna system.

MLB Stadiums that will get Extreme Wi-Fi 6:

Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)
Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox)
Great American Ballpark (Cincinnati Reds)
Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians)
Comerica Park (Detroit Tigers)
Minute Maid Park (Houston Astros)
Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals)
Marlins Park (Miami Marlins)
Citi Field (New York Mets)
Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia Phillies)
PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Petco Park (San Diego Padres)
T-Mobile Park (Seattle Mariners)
Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals)
Nationals Park (Washington Nationals)

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.

Report excerpt: MLB’s Wi-Fi everywhere plan nears completion

By the end of the season, Major League Baseball’s $300 million plan to bring Wi-Fi and DAS to every ballpark should be mostly complete, cementing the league’s title as the best-connected sport for now, and most likely for the near-term future as well.

While other sports, leagues and conferences rely on individual teams, schools and stadiums to figure out their own budgetary paths to connectivity, MLB’s unique decision to foot a major portion of the networking build-out bill should reap dividends for fans, clubs, and all the parties involved in the business of in-stadium wireless, said Joe Inzerillo, the executive vice president and chief technology officer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM).

“In general, things are going pretty well [with the build-outs],” said Inzerillo in a recent interview. “By the end of the calendar year, all the major construction will be complete.”

Vague on specifics, but clear on the goal

Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from our latest Stadium Tech Report, the BASEBALL (and Soccer!) ISSUE, which is available now for free download from our site. The report includes a focus on baseball and soccer stadium technology deployments, and team-by-team coverage of technology deployments for all 30 MLS teams — AND all 20 MLS teams. DOWNLOAD THE REPORT now and read for yourself!

Joe Inzerillo, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM)

Joe Inzerillo, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM)

In somewhat curious fashion, Inzerillo and MLBAM pointedly do not provide specifics on the buildouts, which include both new Wi-Fi networks for parks that didn’t have deployments, and many upgrades for those that did. While Inzerillo did provide a short list of some of the new MLBAM-led deployments, including those for the Kansas City Royals, the Colorado Rockies, the Texas Rangers, the Houston Astros, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins, to find out others we had to call or contact teams directly.

New networks coming in at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium and Milwaukee’s Miller Park are also MLBAM-led projects, according to sources with each team. So even though there is no master list of deployments, MSR research shows that by the end of the 2015 season all but two of the league’s 30 stadiums should have working, updated Wi-Fi and DAS deployments, with MLB primarily responsible for putting networks into eight of the 10 venues that didn’t have Wi-Fi as of last season.

The two-year-plus plan also includes construction of multiple new or retooled distributed antenna systems (DAS) that ensure participation by all four of the major U.S. wireless carriers, since all four also contributed to the overall buildout budget.

When asked for specifics on the amount that each entity – MLB, the carriers or the teams – contributed to the buildout pool, Inzerillo declined to give exact figures, other than the $300 million total.

“The notion is, everybody has an interest in making sure the people attending the game are happy with their [wireless] experience,” said Inzerillo, describing the thinking behind the deal that brought together the league, the carriers and the teams. While some industry sources seem to believe that carriers and MLBAM footed most of the deployment costs, Inzerillo said all entities involved paid some share of the total bill.

“It’s fair to say everybody has some skin in the game,” Inzerillo said.

For MLBAM, the reason behind seeking a solid level of connectivity at all parks is clear, due to “Ballpark,” its league-wide single app for in-stadium use. Though its features differ slightly from park to park depending on technology deployments (such as beacons) and desired uses, MLB’s plans to monetize its own apps depend on their being reliable connectivity on hand – so instead of waiting for teams to get there on their own, MLBAM led the charge, a move Inzerillo said made sense for several reasons, including the ability to herd carriers together and to share rare expertise.

Herding the cats known as carriers

If there’s a topic that scares stadium tech pros the most, it’s having to deal with all the major wireless carriers in negotiating DAS deployments. One of the top reasons some stadiums end up choosing a neutral host for their DAS is so that the neutral host provider can act as a buffer for the catfights that can occur between different carriers’ desires and needs. In MLB’s case, Inzerillo said MLBAM was that lukewarm water between the fire and ice.

Railing Wi-Fi AP enclosure at Seatte's Safeco Field. Photo: MLBAM

Railing Wi-Fi AP enclosure at Seatte’s Safeco Field. Photo: MLBAM

“We [MLBAM] are uniquely positioned to bring all the carriers together, and to give them a ‘safe zone’ to talk about potential issues,” Inzerillo said. Through its short history of supporting original team apps and then its own apps, Inzerillo said that MLBAM also gained a significant amount of internal telecom expertise, a resource not available to most teams.

Having dedicated app or telecom expertise in the form of a full-time employee is something that is hard to do locally, Inzerillo said. “It’s hard to find people with these skills,” he noted, especially for the smaller IT staffs found inside sports teams. The same thing goes for overall deployment expertise, Inzerillo said. “These deployments are big, capital-intensive projects, and they require specialized assets from a human standpoint,” Inzerillo said. “It’d be impossible to have resources [like MLBAM has] on a local staff.”

Construction is half the cost

That said, Inzerillo is quick to add that without the teams’ help and internal expertise, the entire project probably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.

“We really couldn’t do this without the teams – there’s just a huge effort at each of the facilities,” Inzerillo said. The recognition of the local hard work, he said, is the main reason why MLBAM isn’t putting out a “master list” of its stadium upgrades – “It’s really a team story, and it’s something for them to tell their local markets,” Inzerillo said.

And for all the focus on the latest Wi-Fi antennas and fine-tuned DAS gear, Inzerillo also noted that it’s the other end of deployment – the physical work of putting networks in – that is the hardest part of the puzzle to solve.

“Things that can make or break a deployment are low tech,” Inzerillo said, claiming that half of the cost of any deployment is usually the labor to put it in. “Power, conduits and just knowing how to perform [construction] inside a ballpark cannot be understated,” Inzerillo said.

That’s especially true when you are putting a network in a venue like Boston’s Fenway Park, which is not just old but also has historic construction parameters that need to be worked around. Even Coors Field in Denver, which is a baby compared to Fenway, was still “old” when compared to the era of cellphones, Inzerillo noted.

“When it was built 20 years ago, there were no smartphones and barely an Internet,” said Inzerillo of Coors Field. So things like conduit easements, he said, weren’t anticipated, and added to construction costs.

“Twenty years doesn’t seem old, but compared to technology changes, it is,” he said.

And even though Inzerillo is eager to get to the end of the first long phase of deployments – he talked of “clearing the trees and getting ready to plant crops and tend the garden” – he also knows it’s a job that’s never quite over.

“It’s sort of like painting the Golden Gate bridge, where as soon as you’re done you need to start again,” Inzerillo said. “We’ve got beacons in 29 parks that we’re just starting to use, and now you have to think about things like wearables and the Apple Watch. There’s always new stuff, which is why infrastructure is so important. We’re always going to be thinking, do I have enough stuff in the walls?”

Stadium Tech Report: MLB stadium technology reports — AL East

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of MLB stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014, which focuses on Major League Baseball. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

AL EAST

Reporting by Chris Gallo

Boston Red Sox
Fenway Park
Seating Capacity: 37,493 (night), 37,065 (day)
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS:Yes
Beaconing: Yes

Fenway Park is one of the iconic ballparks in all of sports. It first opened more than 100 years ago, but today it remains a great place to catch a ballgame. Meru Networks outfitted the historic park with Wi-Fi in 2012. Combined with Verizon DAS antennas, Red Sox fans can connect at once while watching the reigning World Series Champions.

Thanks to the solid network, fans can stroll down Yawkey Way using the MLB At the Ballpark app to receive discounts on Red Sox gear and stream video from the Green Monster. This makes the Fenway Park experience even more memorable.

New York Yankees
Yankee Stadium
Seating Capacity: 49,642
Wi-Fi: No for full park; Yes for luxury suites
DAS:Yes
Beaconing: No

Despite opening in 2009 and with money to finance a monster payroll every year, the New York Yankees have yet to bring free Wi-Fi to fans in the new Yankee Stadium. It’s somehow fitting that Wi-Fi is available to fans in luxury suites and to employees. Call Costanza! We want Wi-Fi!

For a team that once banned iPads at its stadium, the Yankees are still behind in the division when it comes to stadium connectivity.

Toronto Blue Jays
Rogers Centre
Seating Capacity: 48,282
Wi-Fi: No for full park; Yes for luxury suites
DAS:Yes
Beaconing: Yes

The Toronto Blue Jays call the Rogers Centre home, but do not benefit from the sponsor’s service. Rogers is one of the largest telecommunications providers in all of Canada, but the Blue Jays do not deliver free public Wi-Fi to all fans.
Wi-Fi is available only in limited seating areas. There are DAS antennas installed and the Rogers Centre is experimenting with iBeacons. But Blue Jays representatives said that fans can expect an expansion of the network throughout the stadium in the near future.

Tampa Bay Rays
Tropicana Field
Seating Capacity: 31,042
Wi-Fi: Yes, 250 access points
DAS: Yes, 680 antennas
Beaconing: No

Lightning struck a transformer near Tropicana Field earlier this year causing a 19-minute delay between the Orioles and Rays. From catwalks that remain in play to blackouts, the stadium has a colorful history. Despite the odd quirks, the indoor stadium does offer free Wi-Fi. Rays’ fans are greeted with 250 Wi-Fi access points and 680 DAS antennas at the Trop.

Baltimore Orioles
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Seating Capacity: 45,971
Wi-Fi: No
DAS: No
Beaconing: No

Opened in 1992, Oriole Park
at Camden Yards does not yet provide free Wi-Fi or DAS to fans. The Maryland Stadium Authority, who owns the ballpark, assures us that the organization is in discussions about how to proceed. A ball- park that’s been to home to historic games, Camden Yards would be a great place to share memories with increased connectivity.

To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

Friday Grab Bag: O Canada’s Olympic beer fridge

Everybody has that one friend that always manages to drink most of the beer in your fridge and never seems to bring any to replace it. It looks like the Olympics have that problem but at least one nation has come up with an innovative way to keep the beer available only for those who have a right to it.

In the Team Canada athletes compound the only way you can get the beer fridges to open is to have your Canadian passport scanned in order to get a cold Molson. I wonder if they are marketing this technology to home owners?

Rick Reilly really likes Rick Reilly

It seems like a very dim memory now, but at one time Rick Reilly was one of the must reads in sports. And if you did read him religiously in the past there is probably no reason to read him now as it seems that he is increasingly plagiarizing himself in his latest work.

It has gotten so bad for the ESPN columnist that now when people report on his latest transgressions they have a large selection of past examples to bring up. Aside from this he has been embarrassed by Fox Sports 1 announcers, misquoted his father-in-law and complained that he did not get credit for a Twitter news item. What may be even worse is that satire on the subject looks real.

There is an (ESPN) app for that
ESPN touts itself as the worldwide leader in sports and one of the methods that the sports network is now reaching out to fans is via apps for mobile devices.

Most sports fans that I know have the general ESPN app on their phone but that is just the start. There are a range of apps that are locally targeted with the first five covering Los Angeles, Dallas, Boston, Chicago and New York.

No Cactus League games from ESPN
ESPN has released the lineup of games that it will be broadcasting for this years Spring Training slate and if you are not a fan of the Yankees and Red Sox you are very likely to be uninterested in this heavily slanted broadcast schedule.

There will only be seven games and two of them are featuring the Yankees-Red Sox, and the Cactus League, that serves teams from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, apparently does not exist to the network as it has been shut out, again.

A look at climbing one of the tallest buildings in the world
BASE jumping is the sport of leaping off tall structures, so is there a name for climbing them? Well even if there is not it is quite an achievement and the video for the guys that climbed the Shanghai Towers shows how hard it is.

The tower is 650 meters, or 2,132 feet, and these two men did it with their bare hands. I wonder what the winds are like at that height on a building?

Will sports help Apple win the indoor location market?

ibeacon

A few months ago Apple, Major League Baseball and the New York Mets showed off iBeacon, a technology that is embedded in Apple’s iOS 7 operating system and how it can be used for indoor location services.

If you are not too familiar with iBeacon that is not surprising, Apple really has not publicized the technology that much since it was rolled out as part of the iOS7 release last September. It is an indoor positioning system that is designed to enable a facility to push notifications, coupons and other material to enabled iOS mobile devices. It is built around a low powered version of Bluetooth technology and has the advantage of being very precise and essentially serves as an indoor GPS, but with a much greater degree of accuracy.

The advantages for a sporting facility are obvious. It can track where a user is and send them discount coupons when they are in front of a souvenir shop or a two for one hot dog offer when they are at the food stands. Facilities can see where fans visit and where they do not and customize both their offers to the fans, and the layout of the retail outlets to better meet fans usage models.

It is no surprise that MLB’s Advanced Media group, which has been very aggressive in delivering apps that both engage fans when they are in attendance and when they are not, would be interested in this technology. It has the potential to help increase sales while also enabling fans to take an unescorted but informative tour of ballparks such as Fenway and hear all of the history of the park.

After that announcement it seemed the technology fell off the radar but last week Macy’s said that it will use the technology to send alerts to shoppers when they enter stress over the holiday season at select stores via an app called Shopkick.

Apple delivered its own version of maps a while ago and emerged with egg on its face as the maps were in some cases very inaccurate and rival Google and others made fun of Apple’s efforts. A shakeup later Apple seems to have the map app working well and according to this piece from Mobile Marketer Apple has taken 23 million users from Google in the maps space, but still trails Google’s impressive lead in that space.

However indoor is a different area and Apple could be heading to a lead there, in part because of the effort by sports leagues to add enhanced networking capabilities to their facilities. In addition they have a great deal of familiarity developing for Apple’s platform as apps for Apple’s iOS are often the first to appear for sports leagues and fans can already use them to locate hot dog stands and swap seats, among other uses. An app that does significantly more would simply fit in with the fans already established mindset of using a mobile device to assist them in a facility.

Fans can get upset with the lack of access at a stadium when using a mobile device and all major US sports leagues are expanding and enhancing their Wi-Fi networks. Since teams want a return on investment aside from fan satisfaction this presents them with a solid opportunity.

I suspect that come next year we will be seeing an influx of apps not just from Apple developers but also Android and Windows 8 seeking to take advantage of the new networking and connectivity capabilities of stadiums and it will be interesting to track which ones are using indoor positioning as a feature since it certainly appears to present a solid advantage to its users.