Built.io formally announces sports-app business

Screenshots from Built.io’s under-development mobile app for the NBA’s Miami Heat. Credit: Miami Heat

Built.io, 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, Built.io 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, Built.io 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, Built.io’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 Built.io 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, Built.io 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 Built.io’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.

Stadium Tech Report: Kansas State taps Boingo, Aruba for new Wi-Fi and DAS networks

Kansas State's Bill Snyder Family Stadium, now home to a new Wi-Fi and DAS network. All Photos: Kansas State, Boingo Wireless (click on any photo for a larger image)

Kansas State’s Bill Snyder Family Stadium, now home to a new Wi-Fi and DAS network. All Photos: Kansas State, Boingo Wireless (click on any photo for a larger image)

When Kansas State University took on the self-imposed challenge of delivering “the best fan experience in the Big 12” a couple years ago, it was clear that something had to be done about the lack of wireless connectivity in its largest sports venues.

Before this football season, KSU took a big step forward in living up to its goals by partnering with Boingo Wireless and Aruba Networks to bring stadium-wide Wi-Fi and DAS networks for fans to the Bill Snyder Family Stadium, with plans to follow up with similar connectivity for Bramlage Coliseum, the school’s basketball arena. With 380 Wi-Fi access points and 200-plus DAS antennas in Snyder Stadium, fans there will no longer have to complain about not being able to get a signal, a problem that reached a tipping point last year, according to the K-State network staff.

According to Scott Garrett, the senior associate athletic director for external operations, the idea of fan-facing Wi-Fi or improved cellular via a DAS (distributed antenna system) had been talked about internally since 2008 or 2009, especially so when the stadium underwent significant construction revisions in 2012. Built in 1967, the football stadium had expanded to its current capacity of 50,000 fans, who in the last couple years started letting the school know that “no signal” was no fun.

“Our [yearly] fan survey, especially the last couple years, had a growing feedback about the inability to connect [at the stadium],” Garrett said. Back in 2010 and 2011, there really wasn’t a hue and cry, but “every year since then, the negative feedback [about connectivity] had doubled,” Garrett said. “It was really painful after last season.”

Antennas visible on top of stands

Antennas visible on top of stands

Building two networks at once

What fans didn’t know last year was that a plan was already in place to fix the issue, thanks to an RFP crafted by the athletics department and the campus telecom office. After sorting through several candidates, including carrier-driven DAS-only plans, Kansas State went with Boingo Wireless as the lead deployer for both a DAS and a Wi-Fi network, with rental revenues from the former helping offset the deployment costs of the latter.

“Boingo has a lot of experience in the [stadium] marketplace, and their financial model allows us to install a DAS and get money to build a Wi-Fi network,” Garrett said. Even though the deal was signed in 2014, the complexity of bringing new networks to older buildings was such that the target date for launch became the start of the 2015 football season.

Doug Lodder, vice president of business development at Boingo, said there was a “boatload of synergy” in doing both a DAS and a Wi-Fi network deployment at the same time. “Just knowing where antennas will be placed for either one makes both better,” Lodder said.

The biggest deployment challenges for both networks were in both end zones of the stadium, both of which have only one section of stands with no overhangs, making it tough to locate antennas. Without using under-seat antennas (“we are firm believers that going up from under is a last resort,” said Lodder) Lodder said Boingo was able to make its design work — “we found enough ways to get the APs in,” he said.

More antennas on an overhang

More antennas on an overhang

For the Wi-Fi network, Boingo used gear from Aruba Networks, a choice made in part because Aruba gear was already in use in other parts of the Kansas State campus.

For the DAS, Boingo used Teko gear from JMA Wireless. Currently Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile are on the DAS, with Garrett “hoping to add AT&T” sometime soon.

Another classic issue for many deployments in older stadiums, where to locate the head-end room, was solved for this season with a temporary structure since the proximity of the basketball arena — according to Garrett it sits about 30 yards beyond the football stadium’s south end zone — was just one of several factors putting a crimp on available head-end real estate.

“We’re still trying to figure out a permanent place for the head end,” Garrett said. “We just didn’t have room for it on the [existing] site.”

Soft launches and a new app

With construction taking place over the summer, Kansas State knew it couldn’t keep its network a secret. On Aug. 12, athletic director John Currie posted a letter on the K-State website, which in part told fans about the new networks being installed, as well as the availability of a new game day application, built by SportsLabs, a 2-year-old startup based in Boulder, Colo.

Screenshot of map on new K-State app.

Screenshot of map on new K-State app.

Garrett said the “teaser” letter from the AD helped alert fans to the new connectivity options, and some started taking and sharing photos of the antennas during pre-season activities at the stadium. But just to make sure the launch didn’t overset expectations, Garrett said the KSU staff kept mostly silent through the first game of the season on Sept. 5, allowing them to have a bit of a “beta” type soft launch.

The go-slow start helped, he said, because it allowed network administrators to identify and correct a logon issue before the next home game. Garrett said Kansas State also monitors social media in real time, allowing for on-the-spot fixes when fans are having problems.

“We once saw two tweets about a problem in Section 9 [of the stadium] where some fans got kicked off the Wi-Fi,” Garrett said. “We were able to test and monitor and provide immediate feedback.”

Throughout the season, Garrett and his staff stepped up the promotion of the network, and drove fans to download the new game-day app, which includes interactive stadium maps and integrated access to social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram so fans can follow and post directly from the KSU app.

Rebecca Cameron, senior account director for SportsLabs, said that in addition to in-stadium use there is also a lot of app usage for fans who aren’t at the game, with the live game audio being the app’s most popular service. According to Cameron more than 4,000 fans have downloaded the app so far this season.

Garrett said KSU and SportsLabs will continue to add to the app, with a future eye on support of services like mobile concession ordering and instant replays. Garrett said Kansas State is a bit unusual for a big NCAA school in that it controls its own media rights, allowing it to make final decisions on technology providers.

The WIldcats take the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

The WIldcats take the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

“We were looking for a more sophisticated digital effort, and we really liked what SportsLabs had to offer,” Garrett said. Though not widely known, SportsLabs is making a name for itself in the sports app and websites field, having already secured the College Football Playoff series as a customer, along with the University of Kentucky and the ACC and West Coast Conference.

The new network and all its trappings, Boingo’s Lodder said, places Kansas State among the leaders in the collegiate connectivity race, ahead of many larger schools in bigger media markets.

“A lot of Pac-12 schools haven’t put in Wi-Fi yet,” Lodder noted. “It’s interesting to see who is taking that first step.”

Kansas State’s Garrett is happy that the initial problem of no signal is solved, and is enjoying seeing what a high-definition network can produce.

“It’s incredible to go from having no ability to text or call at all to having that problem totally solved,” Garrett said. “Now it’s great to see how many people are getting on Facebook and Twitter, sharing with friends. We’re looking forward to expanding and seeing what other new things we can add.”