Chiefs, Ravens unveil limited-capacity seating plans for 2020 season

Arrowhead Stadium after the Chiefs’ win over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship game. Credit: Sam Lutz/Kansas City Chiefs

While there’s still no guarantee that the NFL will play games at all this fall, or allow fans to attend if they do, two more teams — the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens — have announced plans for limited-capacity stadium seating if the games take place.

While the Chiefs’ statement did not announce a number, the Ravens’ announcement did say that if fans were allowed in M&T Bank Stadium this season during the coronavirus pandemic, the total permitted would be “fewer than 14,000 seats per game” in order to meet specifications laid out by “the social distancing guidelines and fan safety protocols developed by health experts, governmental officials and the NFL,” the team said.

While the Chiefs did not set a baseline number, the team said it would not be able to have Arrowhead Stadium filled to capacity.

“People around the country and around the world are getting accustomed to a constantly changing environment and the same goes for all of us in Chiefs Kingdom,” Chiefs President Mark Donovan said in a prepared statement. “While our goal all offseason was to have a full stadium as we begin our Super Bowl title defense, it is out of consideration of the health and safety of our fans, employees, coaches and players that we move forward with a reduced-capacity plan that adheres to local guidelines and expert recommendations.”

Both teams outlined plans to accomodate fans who have already purchased tickets or season tickets for the upcoming season, with various credits and refund options depending on what the fans decide to do. For example, both teams are offering 2020 season ticket payments to be credited to the 2021 season, among other options.

Earlier this year, the Miami Dolphins publicly shared plans to open Hard Rock Stadium to NFL fans with a limited capacity of approximately 15,000.

Ivy League cancels all fall sports due to Covid-19

Is it the first domino, or just a separate case? Wednesday’s decision by the Ivy League to cancel all fall sports — including football — due to the pandemic may either be just the first of many such actions, especially if the current rise in coronavirus cases continues to climb.

In a press release, the league said:

The Ivy League Council of Presidents offered the following joint statement:
“As a leadership group, we have a responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of the students who attend our institutions, as well as the faculty and staff who work at our schools. These decisions are extremely difficult, particularly when they impact meaningful student-athlete experiences that so many value and cherish.

With the information available to us today regarding the continued spread of the virus, we simply do not believe we can create and maintain an environment for intercollegiate athletic competition that meets our requirements for safety and acceptable levels of risk, consistent with the policies that each of our schools is adopting as part of its reopening plans this fall.

We are entrusted to create and maintain an educational environment that is guided by health and safety considerations. There can be no greater responsibility — and that is the basis for this difficult decision.”

PGA scrubs idea for fans at Memorial Tournament

The PGA canceled its idea to have a limited amount of fans at the upcoming Memorial Tournament, “due to the rapidly changing dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In a release posted Monday on the tournament’s website, the much-ballyhooed plan to have fans tracked by wearing RFID-equipped badges and another series of related planned safety procedures turned out to not be enough in the end for the July 14-19 event to be the PGA Tour’s first with fans in attendance.

“We applaud the leadership, diligence and partnership it took from Jack Nicklaus, Dan Sullivan, the entire Memorial Tournament staff and State, County and City leadership to build a solid plan that would allow for limited fan attendance at next week’s event,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan in a prepared statement. “But given the broader challenges communities are facing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we need to stay focused on the No. 1 priority for our Return to Golf — the health and safety of all involved. While this was a difficult decision, it was one made collectively, and we are appreciative of the process undertaken to this point that will allow us to welcome on-site fans when the time is right.”

It’s worth noting that the PGA’s return to live events has had its struggles in keeping the virus at bay, with several players and caddies testing positive after what golf insiders saw as a lackluster attempt at sticking to safety protocols. There have even been calls around golf for the tour to hit the pause button on its comeback:

Stadium Tech Report has been trying to get an official response from the Memorial Tournament since May to describe the details of the RFID-tag plan that were not initially disclosed, including information on how the badges would be scanned on the course, and how the event would monitor and control the crowds. However, the tournament has declined to respond via email or by phone to any of our questions.

Commentary: What’s Next in the Return to Venues

By Bill Anderson, president, AmpThink

The NBA suspended its season in March after a player tested positive for Covid-19.

On March 11, 2020, a full house of fans had filled Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, in anticipation of an NBA game between the Thunder and the visiting Utah Jazz. But just before tipoff, the referees convened at midcourt for a discussion. Soon after that, the teams were sent back to the locker rooms, and eventually an announcement was made that the game was cancelled. A player on the Jazz, Rudy Gobert, had tested positive for the coronavirus, an incident that sent the fans home from the venue that night – and ultimately, signaled the end of attending spectator sports as we knew it, for the foreseeable future.

What followed in short order was the closing of worldwide economies and social structures as people everywhere entered stay-at-home quarantines designed to help stop the spread of the disease. All kinds of businesses, especially those like sports events, concerts and other activities involving large public groups, were effectively shut down, with no clear path to a future of when and how they might resume.

Now, as some of the positive effects of the quarantines are being realized, societies around the world are asking when and how more business and recreational activities can resume. And while social-distancing best practices that have emerged in places like grocery stores have provided a model that might allow more businesses to safely serve more customers, the idea of large groups of fans assembling packed together in stadiums during a pandemic still presents a much tougher challenge.

While the desire to return to the tribal gatherings of sports, concerts and other events is widespread, the timing of the “return to venues” is still unknown. The conversations around this topic are numerous and diverse, and involve many factors and factions, including politics, government, economics, biological science, venue operations, and personal safety. While AmpThink is not be in a position to solve the myriad problems that must be addressed, we do see that technology will have a significant role in the
final solution. And that role will be layered.

There is no ‘silver bullet’

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue is our comprehensive study on how venues can cope with Covid-19, plus a profile of Globe Life Field! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

Unfortunately, right now much of the discussion around technology for venue security is increasingly one-dimensional, searching for a silver bullet that doesn’t exist. Heat-sensing cameras, robotic cleaners, disinfectant chemicals, UV lights and mobile-device tracking applications may all have a role, but no single solution solves the problem of “when will fans return” because there isn’t one problem. Technology will just be one part of a larger solution set.

Starting in late March, AmpThink kicked off a partnership with Stadium Tech Report to look at the future of large public gatherings. The goal of the effort was to have meaningful discussions with industry thought leaders to understand the framework for our collective “return to venues.” We are attempting to develop that understanding through the lens of decision makers who will control the process. We’ve broken our analysis into “stages of return.” This phrase reminds us of the top level concerns that must be addressed before the “return to venues” can occur, including: government approval; legal liability mitigation; and the restoration of fan confidence.

What is it is going to take for the government to allow public venues to open?

While venues can propose their own paths to opening their doors to fans, their ability to execute is premised on the assumption that they will be allowed to open their doors. Though opinions on readiness will likely be different from national and local perspectives, the decision to open the doors of venues will rest heavily on the ability to convince public health authorities that the risks of spreading an infection can be managed to the point that they believe that the benefits of gathering a crowd are not outweighed by the risks of the gathering.

Achieving this approval will require that venues are able to explain how the venue will identify and then mitigate the risks of mass public gatherings. This can be achieved on an ad-hoc basis and progress will occur at different speeds in different jurisdictions. However, establishing a national mandate, a framework, and a plan to measure execution can move the conversation along faster – achieving an accelerated return to venues.

If the government says yes to opening a venue, what liability does the venue have and what does it need to do to mitigate the risk?

Any responsible venue operator or owner has to ask if the gains to be made by opening the venue will outweigh the risks. Mortgage payments and balance sheet pressures will influence the decision, but the legal risks will not be ignored.

After addressing official mandates, venue owners and operators must be confident that they can safely open their building. And then, if and when the worst-case scenario happens – infection of some group of attendees – they can answer the tough questions regarding the execution of their plan. Who implemented the plan, how was it implemented, how was its effectiveness measured, were the plan elements repeatable, was training sufficient? The answers could save or damn the venue both legally and in the court of public opinion.

Having a government-endorsed strategy, a well-articulated plan, and a mechanism to document execution will provide venue owners and operators with the legal confidence that they require to open their buildings, and to provide a clear sense of responsibility toward the guests they will invite inside their doors.

Assuming there is an open venue, what has to happen to cause fans to become comfortable with attending a live event?

It is likely that if public health officials and venue owners have reached the decision to re-open public venues, the decision was not arrived at lightly. Buildings will be opening under plans that materially reduce the threat of mass infection at a public venue.

However, fans may remain wary and without an effective vaccine, fans may prefer the comfort (and safety) of their home to the live venue experience.

Communication of the efforts to identify and address the risk of exposure to an infected attendee, proactively identify exposed fans, and otherwise reduce the risks of attendance will need to be effectively communicated. While much of the communication will focus on reaching fans before they arrive at the building, their experience when they reach the venue will be an important part of developing momentum, using fans to build the case that the return to venues is safe.

How technology will help enable the ‘stages of return’

Emerging technologies that addresses critical problems for venues relating to coronavirus (for example threat identification, threat mitigation, sanitation, tracking and contact tracing, messaging, and communication) will take center stage in the coming months. But behind these point solutions there will be a need to build networking infrastructure to make their products work. Devices will need to be connected (for power, or by wire or over the air for networks), traffic will need to be transported, compute resources deployed, and systems built. The success of these systems will depend on architecting reliable, scalable, service provider class networks in these venues.

What is the new normal?

Is the current shutdown permanent? Will all future events be held without fans in attendance? Likely no! But returning fans to LPVs will take time and require a plan that addresses the needs of all stakeholders: Government officials, venue owners and operators, team owners, concert promoters, leagues, athletes and musicians, venue employees and contractors, and of course fans.

On behalf of our customers, we can listen, learn, and position them to execute on a strategy that gets us all to a common goal – the opening our stadiums, arenas, convention centers, malls, and other public
places to the public within a framework that manages the risk that we pose to each other when faced with a pandemic. Stay tuned as we present more findings of our ongoing research and interviews with thought leaders, subject matter experts, technology company leaders and venue, team and school IT professionals in the weeks and months to come.

Bill Anderson, AmpThink

Bill Anderson, AmpThink

Bill Anderson has been involved in the design and construction of wireless networks for over 20 years, pre-dating Wi-Fi. His first experience with wireless networking was as a software developer building software for mobile computers communicating over 400 MHz and 900 MHz base stations developed by Aironet (now part of Cisco Systems).

His work with mobile computing and wireless networks in distribution and manufacturing afforded him a front row seat to the emergence of Wi-Fi and the transformation of Wi-Fi from a niche technology to a business critical system. Since 2011 at AmpThink Bill has been actively involved in constructing some of the largest single venue wireless networks in the world.

Dodgers up the ante with new Wi-Fi 6 network

Dodger Stadium upgraded its wireless with a new Wi-Fi 6 network installed this past offseason. Credit all photos: Los Angeles Dodgers (click on any picture for a larger image)

Professional sports may have put games and exhibitions on hold, but a handful of IT executives from Major League Baseball teams have been using pandemic downtime to upgrade Wi-Fi and DAS systems in their stadiums.

Case in point: The Los Angeles Dodgers just completed the league’s first Wi-Fi 6 overhaul along with adding new 5G cellular antennas to ensure Blue Believers stay seamlessly connected to social media, email, text and good old-fashioned voice calls during home games. When baseball returns to venues, Dodger Stadium and the new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, will lead the way as the first stadiums with Wi-Fi 6 fan-facing networks.

“We’re up against the same challenges that every stadium has, which is how to deal with the density of individuals trying to connect simultaneously – a challenge that’s unique to our industry,” explained Ralph Esquibel, vice president of IT for the Dodgers. “Wi-Fi 6 was created for this kind of high-density environment.”

Wi-Fi 6, better known in IEEE circles as the 802.11ax standard, is a significant upgrade for Wi-Fi networks that started appearing last year. Among its benefits are that use of the new standard can increase the amount of available spectrum and number of channels available for users; it can also significantly accelerate users’ average data rates, while also decreasing the amount of battery power used by devices searching for a Wi-Fi connection.

As long as they have newer phones that support the new standard, Wi-Fi 6 networks provide everything a team could want for its connection-conscious fans.

Replacing the Wi-Fi 4 network

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue is our comprehensive study on how venues can cope with Covid-19, plus a profile of Globe Life Field! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

Like its predecessor, the Wi-Fi 6 network will use under-seat APs in the bowl

It’s been barely five years since the Dodgers installed Wi-Fi 4 in the stadium, making use of under-seat APs and what were the league’s first APs cleverly concealed inside hand railings for even denser coverage. There were about 900 APs powering the network then, which easily accommodated 8,000 simultaneous users on its maiden voyage.

“It was state of the art back at that point in time,” Esquibel recalled. But usage and uptake quickly soared among fans and it wasn’t long before 30,000 simultaneous users were contending for bandwidth at each game.

“That was when I’d get a call from previous ownership, usually sometime in the second inning with, ‘I can’t get on email or make a phone call…’,” Esquibel laughed. Suddenly, it didn’t matter how close your seat was to home plate; anybody watching the game became inadvertent victims of Wi-Fi’s highly successful rollout at Dodger Stadium.

Other baseball stadiums experienced similar capacity and uptake issues. That’s in part what prompted MLB to dispatch its technology committee to look at technology upgrades to make sure baseball fans could do all the wireless networking they wanted to while watching a game. Though MLB did not respond to a request for more information, STR was able to get some information from other sources about the pending upgrade plans.

Wi-Fi 6 coming to more ballparks

According to our sources, MLB technologists settled on Wi-Fi 6 upgrades as their next strategic push. So while the Dodgers will be the first baseball team to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6, other teams were also reportedly in the first steps of adding Wi-Fi 6 before the coronavirus pandemic put a hold on many upgrade plans.

More APs were added in overhangs and roofed areas

It’s unclear if the MLB technology committee brought any financial help to the table along with their wireless expertise for these six upgrades. When MLB put together a consortium to bring wireless connectivity to parks starting back in 2014, it got financial buy-in from wireless carriers, equipment vendors and teams to help spread the costs around. Esquibel wouldn’t specify any dollar amounts for the Dodgers’ Wi-Fi 6 budget or whether the league contributed anything. He did note that the team negotiated an upgrade clause into its previous Wi-Fi networking contract.

Construction for the Dodgers’ new network began last fall, right after the Dodgers lost to the Washington Nationals in the NLDS playoffs. Back then, there were 880 APs that comprised the Wi-Fi 4 network; the upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 bumped that total closer to 1,100 APs, Esquibel said. The Dodgers installed 9100 series APs from Cisco in most of the same locations, reusing the cabling and conduits in the process. The Dodgers also replaced network switches (Cisco again, and its 9300 switching line) to handle greater throughput and the increased processing capacity, Esquibel added.

On the cellular side, Esquibel said carriers are adding 5G gear to the stadium, with AT&T having the most extensive deployment right now. Customers of AT&T and Verizon will also be able to be switched over to the Wi-Fi network when entering the park.

The upgrades to its wireless infrastructure also set the stage for some new capabilities coming down the pike. The combo of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G services will help the Dodgers deliver 4k and 8k video formats; it will also help as professional sports move toward “probability gaming,” i.e., online sports betting. Esquibel credits partners Cisco, AmpThink, Horizon Communications and MLB with building a powerful solution to enable these emerging services and capabilities.

Bench seating also got under-seat APs

There were other elements to the Dodgers’ 2020 tech stack refresh as well. Inside the stadium, they reworked the outfield to create a centerfield plaza with left- and right-field pavilions, with cut-outs and walkways above the pavilions plus more APs than last year to accommodate more seated and standing spectators. Esquibel said the team has also replaced its point-of-sale system, and has added Appetize, a cloud-based POS concessions app, as well as ParkHub to keep closer tabs on the Dodgers’ parking lots.

While the Wi-Fi 6 construction is complete, advance testing and fine-tuning are on indefinite hold. As of early June, Esquibel and his Dodger colleagues were sheltering in place and had been since mid-March.

“The pandemic has slowed down testing,” he said, nothing that the stadium needs capacity crowds to gauge how well the new networks are engineered and where antennas need adjusting. And it’s clear that contemplating the first post-pandemic home game brings out Esquibel’s fan boy, broadband wireless notwithstanding.

“I want to smell the grass and be with the crowd,” Esquibel said. “Like everyone else, I just want to see some baseball.”

Perform Path launches to bring UV disinfection technology to sports venues

UV disinfecting systems from Perform Path will be available in designs that can be mounted in ceiling tiles or on walls. Credit: Violet Defense

Will ultraviolet light be part of the disinfection solution for sports venues as they build an infrastructure that can deal with the Covid-19 pandemic? That’s the bet behind Perform Path, a Lake Mary, Fla.-based startup built to sell UV-disinfection solutions to teams and venues that the company says are “effective at killing up to 99.9% of harmful bacteria and viruses.”

Though no certified tests have proven that UV light can kill the coronavirus, since it is effective against many other types of pathogens many medical professionals seem to believe that UV systems could also work to eliminate Covid-19. Perform Path will be using devices based on technology from an Orlando, Fla., company called Violet Defense, which last year deployed its UV cleaning systems in the Orlando Magic’s locker rooms and other player social areas.

Jack Elkins, former director of innovation for the Magic, said the UV systems from Violet Defense were deployed before the world had even heard of the coronavirus. “We had initiated the project in order to protect players from all kinds of dangerous pathogens, which have become increasingly hard to kill,” Elkins said. Though Elkins later left the Magic to start an innovation-consulting firm called Sidekick Innovations, he’s balancing that initiative to also take over as president of Perform Path, which he thinks answers a growing need in the venue technology space.

“We did not get in this because we’re making a bet on the pandemic driving business,” Elkins said. “My near term effort is to help point my friends and colleagues in the right direction as they are putting protocols together. Sports should be safe and inspirational and we shouldn’t all have to be infectious disease experts to make it that way. We don’t want a world without sports. We want a world where we win against germs.”

Disinfects in 30 minutes

Given the news this past week of players from multiple sports testing positive for Covid-19 due to exposure during team activities, it seems like any technology that might help with active disinfections would be of potential interest to teams, schools and venues. According to Elkins the tests done by the Magic on its UV system deployment — which covered locker rooms, player lounges and some other common team areas — showed that it was extremely effective in eliminating pathogens in the air and on surfaces. According to Elkins the light system can “kill things to baseline zero” within a 30-minute time period.

Portable UV units can be rolled into different rooms. Credit: Violet Defense

One big benefit of the UV system, Elkins said, is that it runs by itself and is not prone to “cleaning errors” such as incorrect application of cleaning products or missed spots in hands-on disinfectant methods.

“We implemented a new versatile, smart UV disinfection technology because germs cannot become resistant to UV, and it wouldn’t require any effort on our staff,” said Elkins about the Magic’s initial deployment of UV systems. While hospitals have used UV systems for years, Elkins said the development of smaller UV systems will give teams the flexibility to deploy the technology in many different spaces.

Perform Path will offer products based on Violet Defense technology that are also resold by Puro Lighting of Lakewood, Colo., including units that can be mounted in ceiling tiles or on walls, as well as portable stand-type devices. Puro, along with Violet Defense, is currently participating in a project with the New York City mass transit system where the portable stand units are being used to disinfect trains.

The Perform Path devices use pulsed Xenon light to deliver the disinfecting light. According to the Violet Defense website:

“Pulsed Xenon technology delivers powerful, broad spectrum UV-C, UV-B, UV-A and Violet-blue light to begin killing germs immediately. Kills up to 99.9% of bacteria and viruses, including E. coli, Salmonella, Norovirus and even superbugs like MRSA.”

Elkins also said that Perform Path will donate a percentage of its revenues or provide UV disinfection systems “to groups of people at the margins of society who deserve pro-level protection.

“We’re not crisis chasing,” Elkins said. “We’re in this for the long run.”