NFL exec: U.S. Bank Stadium Wi-Fi network ‘in a strong place’ ahead of Super Bowl LII

A Wi-Fi handrail enclosure at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Like many football fans, I was jaw-dropping excited while watching the Minnesota Vikings’ dramatic walk-off touchdown win in last Sunday’s playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. Unlike many football fans but probably more like our readership, my next thought while watching the celebrations was: I hope the Wi-Fi holds up!

According to a top NFL IT executive who was at the game, the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium was more than up to the load applied to it by the Vikings’ exciting win and victory celebration, a good stress test ahead of the stadium’s hosting of Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4. “There were an amazing amount of [Wi-Fi] connections” after the game’s end, said Aaron Amendolia, vice president of IT in the NFL’s office of the CIO, in a phone interview Thursday.

The “massive spike” in connectivity after the game’s exciting conclusion produced numerous social media posts from fans present, mainly on Facebook and Snapchat, Amendolia said. Though he didn’t have full networking statistics from the game, Amendolia did share one interesting number, the fact that there were approximately 37,000 unique connections to the Wi-Fi network during the game — a total greater than that at last year’s Super Bowl LI in Houston, where 35,430 fans out of 71,795 in attendance at NRG Stadium used the Wi-Fi at some point. Attendance at Sunday’s playoff game in Minneapolis was 66,612.

“I feel we’re in a strong place now” with the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium, Amendolia said. “We’re hoping to set some new records.”

Still no sign of bandwidth demand decline

Amendolia, part of the NFL’s networking team that ensures good connectivity at the league’s championship event, said testing work on the AmpThink-designed network (which uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear) started last year, and then ramped up through the current season.

Seen in the main concourse at U.S. Bank Stadium: Two IPTV screens, one Wi-Fi AP and a DAS antenna. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“Starting with the presason [games] we had staff sitting in seats, doing Facebook, visiting websites,” said Amendolia. “The unique architecture in each stadium makes Wi-Fi [performance] unique. We had people sitting in odd corners, and next to big concrete structures.”

Ever since Wi-Fi has been a part of Super Bowls, the total data used and numbers of fans connecting have steadily increased each year, always setting current records for single-day use of a large venue network. At Super Bowl 49 in 2015, fans used 6.23 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.; the next year, it was 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.; and last year at NRG Stadium in Houston there was 11.8 TB of Wi-Fi data used. (Cellular data use on stadium DAS networks has also increased apace, from almost 16 TB at Super Bowl 50 to more than 25.8 TB last year.)

What’s interesting is that networking usage totals for games the following NFL season usually increase as well, not to Super Bowl levels but surpassing marks from years before. For this season’s opening game at the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium, the Wi-Fi network there saw 8.08 TB of data used, a mark that trails only the last two Super Bowls.

“Super Bowls set the benchmark for the next season,” said Amendolia, who agrees that there may never be an end to the growth.

“Even if [current] usage levels off, there’s new technology like augmented reality and wearable glasses,” Amendolia said. “How does that change the future?” formally announces sports-app business

Screenshots from’s under-development mobile app for the NBA’s Miami Heat. Credit: Miami Heat, the startup behind the Sacramento Kings’ new team and stadium app, formally announced its “fan experience platform” today, putting the company more directly in competition with market leaders YinzCam and VenueNext.

A San Francisco-based company, did not have a standalone sports-app business when it was selected by the Kings to be the base app technology for both the Kings’ team app as well as the app for the Kings’ new home, the Golden 1 Center. Since that arena’s launch last year, has also signed the Miami Heat as a customer, ahead of today’s formal launch of the sports-app platform.

In the larger sports world, YinzCam is by far and away the company with the most apps developed for teams and stadiums, with many of its content-focused developments used by numerous pro league teams as well as many large colleges. VenueNext, which entered the world as the app developer for the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium a few years ago, has since signed up multiple pro teams like the NHL’s San Jose Sharks as well as entertainment entities like Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.

Of the two market leaders,’s platform-based approach to app building — where third-party components for features like wayfinding and parking can be added via an API structure — is more like VenueNext’s, though YinzCam also has the ability to add third-party components as needed. The challenge for all stadium- and team-app builders, as well as for venue owners and teams, is to get fans to download and use the apps, so that teams can take advantage of the opportunities afforded by digitally connected customers.

Screenshot of part of the app for the Kings.

While there is plenty of promise and perceived opportunity in team and stadium apps, the current reality sees fans at stadiums using public social-media apps like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, or other tools like email and search, far more often than team- or stadium-specific apps. However, by driving fans to use apps for digital ticketing and other necessary service transactions, team and stadium apps are likely to be more used over time, following the adoption curves for other businesses like coffee shops and airline tickets.

Though still small, has been around for a bit, as it was founded in 2007. The company has previous experience connecting larger enterprise businesses, experience founder Neha Sampat told us will work well as stadiums and teams become more connected in all their businesses.

“What the Kings are trying to do is a large-scale enterprise use case,” said Sampat in an interview last year. “There are a lot of big-data analytics and so much personalization that is dependent on data.”

Sampat said’s model of a “back end as a service” and its ability to quickly connect other programs’ APIs should be a good fit for the Kings, as well as for other teams looking to blend more services and functions into team and stadium apps.

NFL builds its own Super Bowl app, with no concessions delivery and fewer replays

Screen shot of map function on NFL Super Bowl LI app.

Screen shot of map function on NFL Super Bowl LI app.

The NFL has built its own Super Bowl mobile app, breaking with a recent history of using stadium-app specialists like VenueNext and YinzCam to develop specific apps for Super Sunday.

Also unlike recent years, the NFL’s Super Bowl app will not feature instant replays or have any kind of food or drink delivery services. Instead, there appears to be a big focus on promoting Super Bowl events (especially those for this weekend) and for helping out of town tourists find their way to Super Bowl events and to the game itself.

Curiously, an interview about the app with the NFL’s CIO claimed that this year’s app will also be the first to include the ability for fans at the game to watch Super Bowl commercials. The story also claims without any attribution that “In the past, commercials weren’t on the app in order to avoid using too much bandwidth in the stadium.” However, at the most recent Super Bowls, including the past two, stadium bandwidth has been more than sufficient enough to stream plenty of video. And in fact, both of the last two Super Bowl apps have included the ability for fans at the game to see Super Bowl commercials.

Last year’s app, developed by VenueNext for the Levi’s Stadium hosting of Super Bowl 50, definitely showed Super Bowl commercials, part of what the San Francisco 49ers network team said was a record-breaking day of app-based video watching. The Super Bowl 49 app, built by YinzCam, also included Super Bowl commercials according to this NFL video and according to our previous reporting.

Fewer replays, no food or beverage delivery service

Screen shot of transportation info links from Super Bowl LI app.

Screen shot of transportation info links from Super Bowl LI app.

And even though NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle is quoted in the previous story about the new app as saying “You won’t feel like you’re using two separate apps as fans have in the past,” the Super Bowl LI app contains a link to download the separate NFL Mobile app, which is apparently where Super Bowl highlights and replays will live. There was no confirmation from the NFL or Verizon about whether or not fans in the stands would be able to watch the live broadcast of the game via NFL Mobile. Fans not at the game will be able to use NFL Mobile to watch the game on cellular devices; fans can also stream the game from the FoxSports website, for PCs or tablet devices.

This year’s app will also not include any way for fans to use the app to order food or beverage delivery to their seats; last year’s app did have the ability to order in-seat delivery of beverages or to place an order for food and beverage express pickup, a service used for 3,284 orders. NRG Stadium, however, does not offer full-stadium in-seat ordering like Levi’s Stadium does; the stadium does have serving staff with wireless devices providing in-seat ordering services for club sections, which will likely be in use at the Super Bowl as well.

Twitter and the NFL: What does the deal mean for team apps and mobile video? Stadium Tech Report Podcast No. 3 tells you!

Episode 3 of the STADIUM TECH REPORT PODCAST is live, in which hosts Phil Harvey and Paul Kapustka discuss the NFL’s Thursday Night Football streaming deal with Twitter, and what that deal means for both team stadium apps in particular and for mobile video use in general. Take a listen and let us know what you think!

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PODCAST: Here is the link to the podcast on iTunes!

Miami Dolphins go long on multiple social-media platforms for Gase intro

The team website was just one of the vehicles the Miami Dolphins used in their multi-platform social media campaign for the hiring of Adam Gase. All images: Miami Dolphins (click on any photo for a larger image)

The team website was just one of the vehicles the Miami Dolphins used in their multi-platform social media campaign for the hiring of Adam Gase. All images: Miami Dolphins (click on any photo for a larger image)

Intelligent marketers of professional sports know they have to get their messaging to where the fans are – the stadium, their living rooms, and in today’s world, their smartphones. Small wonder, then, that the NFL’s Miami Dolphins chose multiple social media outlets in early January to introduce their new head coach, Adam Gase, in a multi-platform, social-cast event.

The Dolphins engineered a live Q&A session and broadcast the press conference with Gase that spanned Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Meerkat and Snapchat. This multi-platform event, the first of its kind in professional sports according to the Dolphins, included video and text chat and was intended to reach online fans and encourage engagement, said the event’s planners, Jason Jenkins, senior vice president of communications and community affairs for the Dolphins, and Surf Melendez, managing director of content and creative services for the team.

Joined by his wife, Jennifer, and their three young children, Gase told fans that outside of football, he was most looking forward to the Miami weather. “It was 15 degrees when we left” Chicago, he said, where he’d been working as the Bears’ offensive coordinator. By the end of the press conference, the Dolphins’ Facebook video page registered more than 100,000 views, with a peak of approximately 11,700 simultaneous viewers, according to the Dolphins’ press office.

“The whole point of [of the social-cast] was to make sure that we were using our brand and all our platforms in an innovative way,” Melendez said. “Whenever we communicate or get the brand out there, we try to be innovative, this time with a live, social broadcast.” The team also streamed Gase’s introduction on its website and the Miami Dolphins official smartphone app; Melendez said the intention wasn’t to bypass the general media but to complement them.

md2“We have the luxury of experimenting and innovating because our owner, Stephen Ross, and CEO [Tom Garfinkel] are there supporting us,” Jenkins added. “This is a new place to be.”

Technical challenges for new approaches

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A new place, and a challenging one, at least technically. Melendez said the first requirement was making sure they had enough smartphones for all the different platforms. “We needed the right people and the right devices to make sure we got the right shot, that the audio was good, that someone was posting and someone else was monitoring the feed,” Melendez explained.

He and his department are constantly experimenting with these different technology to improve or fine-tune performance. “We had a dry run [for the Gase introduction]. But once it’s go-time, things happen, like Wi-Fi,” he laughed.

Live video was another of the Dolphins' social-media tactics

Live video was another of the Dolphins’ social-media tactics

Still, the approach seemed to be a hit with Dolphins’ fans. “As we were broadcasting live, the responses were, ‘Wow, this is tremendous, they’re getting me in there’ [the Dolphins’ offices],” Melendez said. “This is a new and fresh place to be.”

In addition to reach, impressions and views, the Dolphins are closely monitoring how social media grows the brand and creates new revenue. Like most businesses, the Dolphins conduct regular lead-generation campaigns; most have been telephone-based, according to Melendez, but that is quickly changing.

“We’ve done a couple dry runs on social media, where you can put out a call to action and target a specific audience for leads,” he said. “The response was 4-5 times as fruitful for good, qualified leads.”

As a new medium, social media requires continuous education with the Dolphins’ partners on how to use the platforms. “We then educate our sponsors that social does X, Y and Z and how that benefits them,” Melendez said.

But the door for social education swings both ways, according to Vince Pannozzo, social media manager for the Dolphins. “We work with the team and with Facebook and Twitter directly to talk about personal brands as well as best practices,” he said.

“Cheerleaders, too,” Jenkins hastened to add.

The next big test of the Dolphins social strategy will come when the NFL’s free agency begins in mid-March. “That’s going to be a fun time to tune into what we’re doing,” Melendez said. “Generally we’re taking a step back at the content we’re creating overall and how we’re broadcasting, quote unquote, because we’re looking at how to serve up things that we used to do on more traditional avenues. It will look different next season.”

Facebook introduces ‘Sports Stadium’ game-day environment to join second-screen battle

Facebook screen shot of new 'Facebook Sports Stadium' service

Facebook screen shot of new ‘Facebook Sports Stadium’ service

Facebook is getting into the game-day sports conversation market with the introduction today of the Facebook Sports Stadium, “a dedicated place to experience sports in real-time with your friends and the world.”

While there is certainly no shortage of places online for live, game-day sports chatter — probably starting first with Twitter — the sheer reach of Facebook and its more-than-a-billion active users makes it an instant heavyweight, even if only a small percentage of Facebook users find and use the new service. (A quick search by yours truly took about 5 minutes to find the Sports Stadium page, and there was no indication we were actually there; it’s rather hard to single out due to all the other sports noise on Facebook, so…)

It will be interesting to see how the service works in real life, since one of the biggest problems I’ve always had with online “social streams” is that there is either way too much info from people I don’t care about, or information is too poorly organized to add to the second-screen experience. While Facebook’s post about the service promises the ability to incorporate posts from your friends along with “commentary from experts” as well as live scores, stats and play-by-play, it’s not clear how all this will appear in your Facebook app feed. And, initially the service will only be available to iPhone users in the U.S., for the upcoming NFL conference championship games this weekend and Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7.

Since it looks like folks will be able to post their own on-site pictures into the Sports Stadium flow we are wondering if there will be any possible copyright issues a la Periscope, or if Facebook and the NFL have already figured out a cash deal to eliminate those concerns. If there is one edge that Facebook might have on other commentary streams it’s the real-name authentication necessary on Facebook, which might help cut down on the huge number of anonymous idiotic comments that can cram other live game-day streams and make them pretty much useless (we’re looking at you, ESPN).

It will also be interesting to see how quickly instant replays appear in the Facebook stream, as opposed to team game-day apps or stadium apps, which can typically make replays live within seconds. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who uses the service this weekend, since I typically only message with a few close sports friends on game days while also monitoring Twitter, streams that are reliably real-time and easy to manage.