Warriors go ‘biggest’ with Chase Center digital displays

The exterior of Chase Center, with its humongous video board. Credit: Brian Nitenson, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build the best basketball arena around, the Golden State Warriors went all in on digital displays at Chase Center, installing the NBA’s largest video board while putting in more pixels overall than any other arena in the league.

The the star of the show is the centerhung video board, a mammoth 9,699-square-foot display from Samsung’s Prismview with 15 separate boards, including ones underneath so the courtside fans don’t have to crane their necks too far upward. While the so-called “chandelier” dominates the view inside the Warriors’ new home, one hint that the Warriors are getting display restraint right is the fact that the board can be completely hidden if so desired, sucked up into a hiding hole in the ceiling. The hide-the-scoreboard trick seems to be proof that the Warriors care enough about the venue experience if it means they have to stow away their favorite toy every now and then.

In a mid-October 2019 visit to Chase Center, Mobile Sports Report can tell you that there is no missing the video displays inside the new $1.4 billion arena, which opened in September 2019 in San Francisco, just south of the San Francisco Giants’ Oracle Park alongside the San Francisco Bay. With 64 different video boards in total, which according to Samsung includes 53.6 million individual pixels – as well as another 1,100 Samsung LCD TV screens – Chase Center is as digitally visual as can be, with (according to the Warriors) 40 percent more display screen area than any other comparable-size venue.

The most pixels inside

Editor’s note: This profile is from our recent Venue Display Report, which you can view in its entirety online, with embedded videos and much better photography! You can also read about Chase Center’s wireless networking in our recent Stadium Tech Report, also available for instant online reading! When it comes to technology at Chase Center, there is no better in-depth resource than Mobile Sports Report!

The impressive Chase Center centerhung video board from Samsung’s Prismview. Credit all following photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The display deployment actually starts outside Chase Center, where at the western entry there sits a 74-foot by 42-foot screen that welcomes fans to the arena. The outdoor video board, according to the Warriors the only live video screen in the city, faces an interesting bit of architecture, a stand of steps that will serve as a de facto outdoor gathering space, a feature many stadiums are incorporating lately. Just inside that entryway sits another visual treat, a wide high-definition (1.5mm pitch) video board that provides instant connection to whatever event is taking place, whether it be a Warriors game or a concert.

Inside the main bowl, the centerhung video board dominates all views, with its incredibly crisp (6.7mm pixel pitch) main screens. While all the numbers can be staggering, according to Warriors president and COO Rick Welts, the team didn’t install the biggest and brightest displays simply to win some kind of imaginary tech title.

Instead, he claims, it’s all about creating the best possible fan experience for a following that represents a unique confluence of events, namely the economic success of Silicon Valley and the recent run of NBA championships by the Warriors.

Keeping the focus on the game, or the event

“There’s no doubt we are in an arms race (in regards to stadium technology) but we didn’t want to let that drive us,” said Welts, who was our guide for a media tour of Chase Center in October. But it’s also worthwhile to note that there are probably less than a handful of other professional or college teams who could currently match the Warriors’ unique combination of a rabid fan base with immense amounts of disposable income.

In a day and age when most new venues are built with at least some kind of public tax money, the Warriors’ new $1.4 billion home was entirely privately financed, helped along by things like the new courtside premium suites, which come with their own wine locker and wine butler, and cost around $2 million per year, according to Welts.

Upper-deck seating has an extra LED board to provide more stats

“It’s just what you can do when you combine the hottest economic model in the world [in Silicon Valley] with an amazing team,” said Welts, who noted that the courtside suites all sold out. “I would not recommend this format for most teams.”

But even with more blinking lights than any other facility, the Warriors seem very conscious about not making the venue seem like the Las Vegas strip, or New York’s Times Square. Instead, the team wants to make sure that all its digital-board messaging contributes to the moment, whether that moment is a Warriors’ game or a concert or some other type of show.

“The trick is to strike a balance, between commercial content and Warriors content,” said Mike Kitts, the Warriors’ senior vice president for partnerships. According to Kitts, the Warriors are working with sponsor partners to create digital messages that are at least what he calls “Warrior-esque” – such as combining some kind of basketball theme to advertising messages.

“You want something that feels authentic to the moment,” Kitts said.

Feeding the content beast with things fans want

When the San Francisco Giants installed a new huge video board at Oracle Park this past season, the Giants’ team had an interesting problem in deciding what kind of information to include on all the new space.

Similarly, the Warriors’ expansive digital canvas gives the team the ability to indulge the geekiest of hoops junkies with incredibly specific information – while also trying not to overwhelm the average fan.

“What we want to do is provide all the things that fans say, ‘I want.’ “ Kitts said. At a preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers the Chase Center screens not only provided the regular kind of statistical information (shots made and missed) for players on the court, they also had some changing screens that could do tricks like show exactly where on the court a player just made a shot from – and what that player’s “heat check” stats were for all shots taken so far that game.

Can you see me? The centerhung video board can disappear into the rafters as needed

“We are continually programming [the displays],” said Paul Hawkins, the executive producer of the Warriors’ in-house content team, called Warriors Studio. “It’s a huge challenge for us as content creators to make this come to life.”

To that end, the Warriors have assembled what is probably also the largest team of content creators and programmers. With 23 full-time employees and another 15 part-time contributors (“and that doesn’t count the freelancers”), the Warriors think they may have the NBA’s biggest in-house content creation team, though they say the Miami Heat may have just as many.

If that seems like an excessive number, remember the stats from the start of the story – with 64 different LED boards, the math to make a single sponsor’s message fit all the different screen dimensions for an arena-wide “moment of exclusivity” is a much different challenge at Chase Center than at other arenas.

And even while back in October the content team admitted it was still “not perfect yet” at dialing in its on-screen workflows, from attending both a Phil Collins concert and the Warriors game on back-to-back nights, MSR can attest that the ability to change looks and feels based on what’s on (or not on) the digital displays can significantly improve the attendee experience – including not seeing the huge centerhung display at all when we sat and listened to Phil Collins and his band playing all the hits from the musician’s vast historical library.

From our limited exposure, we still think the Golden State Warriors did what they wanted to at Chase Center when it comes to digital displays: They used the biggest and best technology, but did it in a way where the technology isn’t the star – but the experience it allows is.

Displays in the luxury suites can be programmed to a point-of-view camera from the owners’ seats


All the display stats, courtesy of Samsung’s own screen

The high-definition lobby display

Concessions menus offer live action, advertisements and menu prices

Sometimes, a non-digital display works just as well

Broncos fans get technology to help speed up concessions at Mile High

A fan uses the visual-recognition system to purchase concessions at Empower Field at Mile High earlier this fall. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Can technology finally help improve one of the biggest pain points in the game-day experience, namely waiting in line for concessions? At the Denver Broncos’ Empower Field at Mile High, a number of new technology initiatives debuted this year, all designed to improve the fan experience around concession purchases by providing more choice and streamlined checkout procedures.

While there are no hard numbers yet on the experiments, a Mobile Sports Report visit to Mile High earlier this year saw heavy use of the new technologies, which mainly include touch-screen ordering and payment systems as well as an innovative visual-recognition device to tabulate items in grab-and-go scenarios. A few quick interviews with fans at the stands got mixed reactions on whether or not the new technology actually speeded up the processes, but some stopwatch clocking showed speedy checkouts, especially those using the visual-recognition technology, where items are placed on a scanner bed which then quickly recognizes and tabulates the total on an attached payment screen.

For those of us who are now (maybe unwillingly) becoming accustomed to checking out our own items at supermarket self-checkout terminals, the Broncos’ stands that utilize the visual-recognition devices (from a company called Mashgin) are far easier to use than trying to scan a barcode for each item. At Mile High, the scanners are the perfect endpoint for a series of stands called “Drink MKT,” which are basically spaces with coolers filled with multiple beverage choices, from bottled water through multiple types of beer and other alcoholic drinks, including $100 bottles of John Elway Cabernet. At those stands fans simply walk in, choose what they want from a cooler and queue up for the scanners. When items are placed on the scanner beds the system’s cameras detect the items and generate a total bill, which is paid for by credit card on an attached terminal. Human-staff intervention is only needed to check IDs and to help fans open up the beverages before they leave the stand.

Fans line up to order fried chicken via a digital-screen kiosk.

While one fully jammed Drink MKT stand on the main concourse level didn’t seem to be moving any more quickly than traditional concessions windows (“It’s not faster, but there are way more choices,” said one fan), on the top-level concourse a stream of fans grabbed beverages just after the game’s start, with each transaction taking only a minute or less from setting the items on the scanner to leaving the stand. “It’s fun!” said two fans leaving the Drink MKT stand on the top-level concourse. “And it’s way faster.”

The Mashgin scanners were also in use at another stand clearly designed to speed up the food-getting process, a walk-through type arrangement where fans could grab from a limited selection of food and beverage items (pizza, popcorn, hot dogs, plus beer and soft drinks) before paying at a Mashgin scanner. Again, the only human interaction from a staffing point was to check IDs, help customers with the payment system, and ensure all beverages were opened before the fans left the stands. Truly, the interaction that took the longest was the can opening process, which is tricky to do yourself if you are carrying several items (there are no bags to carry the concessions from the stands). The Mashgin systems are showing up in other sports venues, including this report of it being combined with the Clear system to speed up payments even more.

Display ordering and payment systems also emerge

Another self-service technology (which many have probably seen in fast-food restaurants or other venues like airports) in use at Mile High is the use of digital display screens to let fans order from on-screen menus and pay with a credit card at the same terminal. At Mile High, like other systems used at some stadiums and at many fast-food restaurants, the digital terminals spit out a paper slip with an order number that fans use to pick up their items at a separate window.

Fans with club-level seats can order drinks and food for delivery to their seats via the team app.

On the main lower-level concourse at Mile High, such a system was in heavy use at a fried-chicken food stand, with many fans clearly comfortable with the ordering, payment and pickup process. MSR saw some similar systems in use at Chase Center, the Golden State Warriors’ new home, on a recent visit there this fall.

The Broncos also have another type of digital-screen ordering system in one of their premium club areas, where fans can order items from several different “stands,” each with a different entree or dessert item. Again, a paper ticket is generated that the fans then take to the food-preparation stands to pick up their orders.

Club-level fans also have the opportunity at Mile High to order food and drink to be delivered to their seats, via the team app. The food ordering and delivery function is powered by Tap.in2, a company we’ve profiled before.

We’ll circle back with the Broncos after this season to try to get some stats on whether or not the new stands and technologies won over fans and improved the service, but it’s heartening to see stadiums and teams push the envelope a bit to help fans get back to their seats more quickly. More photos below!


A look at the entry to one of the Drink MKT stands

The grab-and-go format of the Drink MKT stands offers fans a lot of choice

Technology can help, but the just-before-kickoff crush will always produce a line

The order-and-pay kiosks at a fried chicken stand are familiar to anyone who’s done fast food recently


A club-level kiosk system allows fans to pick from several different food stands


Most kiosk systems seemed to have a good amount of customization available

The club-level stands offer flexible choices


The Mashgin checkout systems were also used at a grab-and-go food/beverage stand


Tailgating at Mile High can still be classy and old-school


In case you hadn’t heard, the place has a new name

Hard to beat a sunny Sunday at Mile High

Converged fiber network the hidden gem at Dickies Arena

Dickies Arena, now open in Fort Worth, Texas, has a single converged fiber backbone to bring order and efficiency to its networking needs. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With its soaring roof and its high-end cosmetic finishes, Fort Worth’s new Dickies Arena will be a wonder to look at for fans of all events that will take place there.

But what may be even more impressive, certainly from an IT perspective, is something you can’t see: The single, converged fiber network that supports all network operations, including the cellular DAS, the arena Wi-Fi and the IPTV operations, in an orderly, future-proofed way.

Built by AmpThink for the arena, the network is a departure from what has long been the norm in venue IT deployments, where multiple service providers typically build their own networks, with multiple cabling systems competing for conduit space. At Dickies Arena, AmpThink was able to control the fiber systems to follow a single, specific path, allowing the company to save costs and space for the client while building out a system with enough extra capacity to handle future needs for bandwidth, according to AmpThink.

“This is really our master class [on stadium network design],” said AmpThink president Bill Anderson, during a September MSR visit and tour of the almost-ready arena. If you’re not familiar with the Dickies Arena story, the 14,000-seat arena is part of a public-private venture between the city of Fort Worth and a consortium of investors and donors led by local Fort Worth philanthropist Ed Bass. Though it doesn’t have a professional basketball or hockey tenant, the NBA-sized venue will fill an arena-sized need for events in the growing Fort Worth area, while also serving as the new home for the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.

Following the lead of AT&T Stadium, where high-end finishes were a hallmark of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ influence, Dickies Arena appears to take cosmetic matters a full step further, with intricate tile flooring and art-quality finishes on areas like stairway handrails and bar facades. In an early September walkaround while workers were still completing finishing touches like polishing concrete floors to make the surfaces shine, MSR also got to see the results of owners’ requests of “not having a single cellular or Wi-Fi antenna visible,” according to AmpThink’s Anderson.

No fiber allowed outside of the single path

Editor’s note: This report 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 the new Wi-Fi 6 network at Ohio Stadium, and an in-person research report on the new Wi-Fi network at Las Vegas Ballpark. You can either VIEW THE REPORT LIVE (no registration needed) or DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

In the suite and concourse areas, for example, Wi-Fi APs and DAS antennas are hidden behind ceiling panels, with no electronics in sight. But what’s even more impressive from an engineering and construction standpoint is what’s happening further down the network path from the endpoints, where all cable and fiber follows a structured pathway, first to an IDF and then back to the head end rooms in the arena’s basement.

Fiber cables head to the head end room in orderly fashion.

“No fiber is allowed to follow a path that doesn’t tie to an IDF, or directly to the head end,” said Anderson. “And we didn’t allow DAS vendors to be outside the closet. It’s the venue’s fiber network. Nobody else could come in and build their own.”

Looking from the end of the project back, it’s clear why you might want to pursue such a path: With a single, converged network, design and planning and eventually operations are streamlined, since there aren’t multiple infrastructures to deploy and maintain. The conditions also allowed AmpThink to fully pre-design and perform many construction techniques like splicing and cable measurement and cutting beforehand – according to Anderson, there was not a single fiber termination done in the field.

“For venues it used to be, use the ‘brute force’ method and just go figure it out in the field,” Anderson said.

At Dickies Arena, that method simply wasn’t the case. In addition to fiber cabling and splicing work, AmpThink also built many custom enclosures (the company has a large machine shop at its Dallas-area headquarters where it can design and manufacture parts like metal wiring boxes and the plastic enclosures it uses for stadium Wi-Fi and DAS deployments) to simplify installation while complying with the strict aesthetic requirements.

“AmpThink helped us think proactively so we are prepared to build on this solid foundation for the future,” said Matt Homan, president and general manager of Trail Drive Management Corp (TDMC), the not-for-profit operating entity for Dickies Arena. “This has allowed us to have a much more cost-effective approach, which is important for us as a 501c3 organization operating Dickies Arena. The AmpThink team has done a phenomenal job of assisting with the architectural integrity of the building to ensure that no Wi-Fi or DAS antennas were seen.”

High-end finishes are everywhere in Dickies Arena, even in the stairwells.

Jeff Alexander, senior vice president at ExteNet Systems, said Dickies Arena was the first time ExteNet ever participated in a converged network design for a large public venue. But Alexander also said ExteNet, which is responsible for the DAS design and 5G cellular installations at Dickies Arena, had years of experience in situations where service providers had to work together.

“Most [other] DAS deployments give no consideration for Wi-Fi, or anything else,” said Alexander in a phone interview. “Given ExteNet’s experience and our track record, these are things we were forced to think about 10 years ago.”

According to Alexander, the directive to work with a single converged fiber network wasn’t “harder” than a regular installation.

“It was unique,” Alexander said of the Dickies Arena installation experience. “It made us think of things we hadn’t thought about, and challenged us to consider other things than the typical DAS installation, which isn’t a bad thing. I consider it a success.”

At Dickies Arena, the DAS uses the Corning ONE DAS hardware system with approximately 500 active antennas in 12 zones for the DAS.

As future-proofed as possible

As part of the overall fiber network design, AmpThink’s Anderson said the company maximized capacity throughout the building, with hundreds of extra fiber strands available to support future capacity needs. By using optical fiber with hundreds of strands wound together – including some stretches with 864 different fiber strands inside a single cable – AmpThink actually saved time, money and space by preventing the need for additional infrastructure or future cable pulls.

The center-hung video board in testing mode

“The bulk of the cost [of fiber deployments] is the labor to pull the fiber,” Anderson said. By using large-bundle fiber, Anderson said AmpThink was able to drive the cost per strand to “a very low number,” while also clearing conduit space since a large-bundle fiber strand saves a huge amount of space when compared to multiple smaller-bundle strands which must each have their own insulation.

While ExteNet’s Alexander contends that no network design can ever be truly “future-proofed” – if you ask him he will tell you a story about a large sports venue where ExteNet is currently replacing 864-strand fiber put in 5 years ago with 1,728-strand fiber – he does agree that putting in as much fiber as the design and cost allows buys a venue time to support the always-growing demand for bandwidth.

“The industry is full of venues that didn’t do that, and 12 months later they’re expanding their fiber plant,” Alexander said. AmpThink’s Anderson noted that even during the arena’s construction, there were demands for additional fiber – such as for a densification in the LED ribbon boards – that were easily addressed.

“People came back to us, and said they needed more fiber, and we had it to give to them, no problem,” Anderson said. “It didn’t cost us a lot to do it [add in more fiber strands]. It’s a model everyone should look at.”

Want to read more in-depth reports from our latest issue? VIEW THE REPORT LIVE (no registration needed).

The rodeo will be the main event at Dickies Arena every year

The soaring, open rooftop is meant to mimic the wide open skies of Texas

The AmpThink-designed and manufactured cabling cabinets helped complete the ‘master class’ installation

New Report: Wi-Fi arrives at Ohio Stadium

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Fall 2019 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Our latest issue contains an in-person report on the new Wi-Fi 6 network installed at Ohio Stadium, which is already the top collegiate Wi-Fi network in the country, producing record results. This issue also has an in-person profile of the Wi-Fi network at the new Las Vegas Ballpark, as well as a “first look” at Chase Center, the new home of the Golden State Warriors! Download your FREE copy today!

Inside the report our editorial coverage includes:
— An in-depth look at the new Wi-Fi 6 network installed at Ohio State University’s Ohio Stadium;
— An in-person report on the Wi-Fi network at the ‘hottest’ stadium in minor league baseball, the Las Vegas Ballpark;
— A look at the single, converged fiber network infrastructure at the soon-to-open Dickies Arena in Fort Worth;
— A “First Look” at the Chase Center, the new home of the Golden State Warriors.

Download your free copy today!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Connectivity Wireless, and American Tower. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

As always, we are here to hear what you have to say: Send me an email to kaps@mobilesportsreport.com and let us know what you think of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series.

Bigger is better for San Francisco Giants with new video board at Oracle Park

The new video board at Oracle Park, which stretches from light tower to light tower. Credit: San Francisco Giants (click on any picture for a larger image)

When it comes time for a stadium to replace its main video board, the rule of thumb almost always is that bigger is better.

The San Francisco Giants certainly think so, as the team replaced its main outfield display this season with a new screen that is three and a half times bigger, and a lot sharper than the previous technology.

Though he said it wasn’t a slam-dunk decision internally, Giants senior vice president and chief information officer Bill Schlough said the team eventually went with as big a screen as the park’s existing infrastructure allowed, with improving the fan experience as the main driver.

What fans at the newly renamed Oracle Park are looking at this season is a 71-foot high, 153-foot wide LED board from Mitsubishi, with a 10-mm pixel pitch and resolution of 2,160 x 4,672, dense enough to support 4K content when it becomes available. The new board stretches to fill the space between two light towers in centerfield, replacing a previous arrangement of a smaller board surrounded by a batch of static display signs, an arrangement that was part of the internal controversy, according to Schlough.

Is digital always better?

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent issue of our VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series, where we focus on telling the stories of successful venue display technology deployments and the business opportunities these deployments enable. This issue also contains profiles of the innovative directory displays at the Mall of America, and an in-depth look at display technology at U.S. Bank Stadium during the Final Four! START READING the issue today!

“It was an incredibly controversial topic inside the organization,” said Schlough of the debate about how big the Giants’ new screen should be. Though conventional wisdom says that digital signage can produce greater revenue than fixed signage due to its ability to change on demand, Schlough said that some salespeople and sponsors still like the permanence of a fixed display.

Crab sandwich and an Anchor Steam is an only-in-SF treat. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“When you are selling sponsorships there are pros and cons for each method,” Schlough said. “With digital you can have moments of exclusivity, where one sponsor can take over all the signage, and you can animate to capture the attention of fans.”

But the cons of digital signs include the fact that they can be turned off, a fact that may make a signage sponsor less willing to commit if it knows its message may be blanked out — as opposed to a static sign, which can’t be changed. According to Schlough the debate about the size of the new board was one of the most contentious technology decisions he’s seen during his 20-year career at the Giants, with only the team’s then-controversial decision to put Wi-Fi APs under seats (in 2013) coming close.

In the end the bigger-is-better side won out, in what Schlough said is part a nod to everyday experience with TVs as well as a hedge against the fact that stadium video screens often stay in place for many years.

“When’s the last time you came home with a TV from Best Buy and said, ‘it’s too big’ ?” Schlough joked.

On the more serious side, he did note that the Giants’ previous screen had lasted for 12 years — going from being just the third high-definition screen in all of Major League Baseball when it was installed to being the fifth-smallest and second-oldest in MLB by last season.

“You don’t get that many bites at the apple, and if you’re only making this kind of an investment every 10 years, there’s no way you can go too big,” Schlough said. The new board is now the third-largest in MLB, behind only Cleveland and Seattle. The team did seem to compromise for the fixed-sign contingent, adding more static display spots mounted to the light tower structures for this season. The new board also forced the Giants to replace an analog clock, installing a digital version a bit higher above the new board.

More stats, and 4K to come

In researching technology for its new $10 million investment, Schlough said the Giants went around to a host of other stadiums that had recently replaced their video boards, including the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, the Baltimore Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium, and the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field, among others. After looking at display technology from all the leading vendors, Schlough said the Giants stuck with longtime “great partner” Mitsubishi, who had provided the screen the Giants installed in 2007, which replaced an older board that was present when the venue opened in 2000.

The 4K-ready clarity of the screen is apparent in daylight or night. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

With all the new space to play with, the Giants are already finding new things to show on the board, including a much longer list of statistics.

“It’s not just batting averages anymore, fans today want all the new things like launch velocity,” Schlough said. “Our baseball analytics team said ‘let’s give fans everything we’re looking at ourselves,’ so we’re putting up as much as we can.”

On a recent visit to Oracle Park, Mobile Sports Report witnessed the board in action, and came away incredibly impressed by the clarity and stunning scenes made possible by the large screen. Schlough wasn’t kidding about the wealth of new stats available for each batter, and the size and resolution made the between-innings video entertainment jump right out at you. Our favorites were a live shot of the San Francisco skyline from Treasure Island (see video below) and a between-inning t-shirt giveaway that inadvertently had MSR editor Paul Kapustka visible on the screen for a few almost-famous moments.

In the future, Schlough forsees the Giants showing 4K resolution content, which has not yet arrived for stadiums on the production side — but knowing that it someday will, he’s happy that the team has “future proofed” its main display for when 4K content arrives.

So far, Schlough said, fan response has been “awesome” in support of the new screen, making it clear that people in the seats agree that a bigger screen was a great choice.

“In the end the fans won,” Schlough said.

(More photos and a video from our recent visit below)

If this video looks blurry, blame the cameraman’s iPhone, not the Giants’ video board.

Can you spot MSR editor Paul Kapustka in this picture?

New static signs were pushed into the light towers to free up more room for the video screen.

Venue Display Report: Small directories do big job at Mall of America

The Mall of America turned to small digital directories to solve a big wayfinding problem. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, VDR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With hundreds of stores, shops and restaurants – and an embedded amusement park – being big only starts to describe the breadth of the Mall of America. Yet to help guests find what they are looking for and to find their way around the 5.6 million square-foot property, the Mall went small with its digital-display directories, a winning move that has produced more than 10 million interactions since going fully live just more than a year ago.

Once upon a time, the Bloomington, Minn.-based Mall of America was no different from any other shopping mall when it came to directories. In what was somewhat of a shopping center tradition, the Mall of America had four-sided standalone structures with four-foot wide printed displays, crammed with maps and lists of locations. While big, printed directories may have been the way malls always did things, they didn’t fit in with the Mall of America’s recent moves to embrace digital technology to improve the guest experience.

“Those old directories were monstrosities, and they were obsolete the moment you printed them,” said Janette Smrcka, information technology director for the Mall of America. During a visit this spring by Venue Display Report to the Mall, Smrcka said attempts to put granular information on the printed maps – like stacked graphics showing the multiple oor levels close together – produced a mostly frustrating experience for guests.

“You had to walk around these things, and it was really difficult to find anything, because there are so many stores,” Smrcka said. “And the maps were kind of information overload. We found guests didn’t react well tothem.”

Going digital for directories

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent issue of our VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series, where we focus on telling the stories of successful venue display technology deployments and the business opportunities these deployments enable. This issue also contains profiles of the new big video board at Oracle Park in San Francisco, and an in-depth look at display technology at U.S. Bank Stadium during the Final Four! START READING the issue today!

Thin lighted poles show where directories are located, without blocking the view

For the technology-forward Mall of America – which installed a high-definition Wi-Fi network throughout the property a few years ago – digital touch-screen directories seemed a logical next step ahead. According to Smrcka, the generational shift to embrace more touchscreen devices like phones and tablets, and the emergence of similar devices in many public places like airports and restaurants has produced a public that is far more comfortable with touching a display.

“Five or 10 years ago a touchscreen directory might have been too soon, but now very few people are hesitant [to use touchscreens],” Smrcka said. “Everything is a touchscreen, and people expect it. Everyone feels comfortable [using them].”

An important caveat for Mall of America, Smrcka said, was finding a way to make the mall directory experience more personal and private, like using an ATM.

“We always knew we wanted the screens to be smaller,” Smrcka said. Some other shopping centers that the Mall of America team had scouted had larger interactive displays, which Smrcka said could produce a “creepy” feeling since personal searches could potentially be viewed by people walking by.

“We felt like we wanted the screens to be a size where your body could be a shield,” Smrcka said. “Nobody needs to know what I’m looking for.”

As part of its deployment strategy, the Mall of America followed its agile development ethos and rolled out a small number of test units live in the Mall in late 2016. The displays, about the size of an iMac desktop screen tilted vertically, are from Aopen, and use a Chromebox commercial base for the operating system. A local Minneapolis-area wayfinding solutions firm, Express Image, provided the programming, and without much fanfare, the Mall flipped the switch and let its guests interact with the devices to see what happened.

Reducing search times to under a minute

“We didn’t exactly stalk people, but we did watch them [using the directories],” Smrcka said. Though some of the features enabled by the devices – like a search field – were obvious adds, exposing other services like maps and wayfinding weren’t as straightforward.

“There is a real problem of how do you logistically show 5 million square feet,” Smrcka said.

The start screen exposes some of the most-used directory services.

After watching users interact, the Mall of America has currently settled on a 2D mapping feature that can, if users choose it, show an animated path from where they are to where their desired destination is.

“The focus is how quickly can we help guests find what they are looking for,” Smrcka said.

After pulling the trigger to roll out 100 of the directories in mid-2017, the Mall’s IT team was rewarded with extensive usage analytics, which they put into an immediate feedback loop to improve the directories’ feature list and what was shown to users first.

“By far, the number one search was for restrooms,” Smrcka said. The Mall took that information and now has a prominent button on the main screen that will quickly show users the closest restrooms to that spot.

“There’s nothing like that immediate need,” Smrcka sAaid. “That was a quick win.”

Analyzing more of the data helps the Mall’s IT team do a better job of predicting what users are looking for when they misspell store names, or if users are having difficulty with directions. According to Smrcka some data analysis showed that one physical location of a set of directories was causing confusion since “people told to take a left turn ended up inside a Cinnabon.” Moving the directories around the nearby corner helped improve the directions feature, she said.

The directories got a good workout during Final Four weekend.

The problem of how to show directions to places on different levels of the mall was solved by having a different screen for each level; the animated directions will even advance the pathways up and down escalators or stairways. Srmcka is also proud of the Mall’s desire to make information as real-time as possible; that effort includes a kind of “mall hack” where cheap power meters feed information into the directory system to let guests know if, say, an escalator is temporarily out of service.

“Little things like that make a big difference,” said Smrcka.

In a casual mall walkaround, VDR observed many guests taking turns at the numerous directory locations, seeming to find what they need quickly without any obvious confusion. According to Smrcka, the directories have now logged more than 10 million interactions, with the average interaction time at 38.98 seconds.

Some features in the directories, like the ability for users to enter their phone number to get information via text message, may take longer to take off, Smrcka said. “There are always going to be some people who don’t have the comfort level to put their number into a public device,” Smrcka said. But overall, the small digital directories have added up to a huge success.