Preakness gets Aruba Wi-Fi network just in time for Saturday’s race

Selfies should be easier to share this year at the Preakness, thanks to a new Wi-Fi network at Pimlico Race Course. Credit: Preakness Instagram (click on any photo for a larger image)

Talk about a photo finish: According to executives at the Pimlico Race Course, a new Wi-Fi network using gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, will be ready to greet fans who arrive for Saturday’s 143rd running of the Preakness Stakes.

Thanks to some hard work from network construction teams who are good mudders, the new network and its 330-plus APs for both the main buildings and the infield at the Baltimore, Maryland track that hosts the second stop of the Triple Crown got finished at the wire, according to Joe Blaylock, director of IT for Pimlico.

“We took a 4-to-6 month project and did it in 3 weeks,” said Blaylock in a phone interview, chuckling as he recalled the challenges of deploying a network around bad weather and tight deadlines.

“We weren’t laughing three weeks ago,” Blaylock said. “But we’re at 99 point 5 percent. Anyone at the property [Saturday] will get on Wi-Fi.”

Improving the fan experience

Though Pimlico had some limited Wi-Fi prior to this year, Blaylock said Belinda Stronach, the chairman and president of track owners the Stronach Group, gave his group a goal to bring more extensive connectivity to the venue so fans could use mobile devices however they wanted. With a history of using Hewlett Packard technology in its back end networks the track’s IT team found what they needed in the Aruba Wi-Fi offerings and with the help of deployers MS Benbow, got the network installed just before post time.

Two hundred-plus new APs will serve the infield crowd at the Preakness

According to Blaylock the new network increased the AP count for the infield (where 60,000 or more of the expected Preakness crowd of 140,000 congregates) to 200 APs, up from about 38 last year; in the main seating structures, there are now 130 Wi-Fi APs, up from 40 in 2017.

“Last year we could barely support 4,000 or 5,000 fans [on the network],” Blaylock said. “Now we can handle 50,000 concurrent users.”

One thing the new network will enable is mobile betting for the entire facility, through the Xpressbet service also owned and run by the Stronach Group. While the venue does not have a distributed antenna system (DAS) for enhanced cellular service, Blaylock said both AT&T and Verizon Wireless have brought in Matsing Ball antennas for temporary coverage, especially for the infield crowds. There is also a new 10 Gbps backbone pipe to support the new Wi-Fi network, Blaylock said.

And thanks to his crew’s ability to conquer a construction “trifecta” of “no time, bad weather and tired humans,” fans at this year’s race who don’t cash in at the betting window should still find the Wi-Fi connectivity a winning bet, Blaylock said.

(Thanks to the Pimlico folks, Aruba and MS Benbow for sending along the following photos.)

We are guessing on these photos, but some like this one are pretty self-explanatory.

Guessing again but most likely an infield AP deployment.

That’s one way to get an AP out over the overhang to cover seats below.

AP in upper right corner to serve what looks like betting/hospitality area.

If you look closely there are APs on larger front stanchions serving this premium seating area.

Wi-Fi, new app features a welcome addition at historic Saratoga Race Course

Horses round the turn at Saratoga Race Course. Credit all photos: Saratoga Race Course.

Just because a sporting venue is old and historic doesn’t mean it has to stay behind the times. The welcome arrival this year at the famed Saratoga Race Course of a high-density Wi-Fi network and a new mobile app with services including live video, express food ordering and mobile betting was a winner for all fans, according to racetrack executives.

“I’m pretty proud of Saratoga — we’ve got history, tradition, and now the 21st Century,” said Bob Hughes, vice president and chief information officer for the New York Racing Association, which runs thoroughbred racing at the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based Saratoga as well as at Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park. The new Wi-Fi network, which was fully installed for Saratoga’s 2017 season, “was a wild success for us,” Hughes said. “The fans were engaged, and the media noticed.”

Saratoga’s summer schedule — a tradition in upstate New York since racing first happened there in 1863 — is one of the more revered happenings on the horse-racing schedule, and the Race Course grounds are widely admired as one of the best experiences in sports. But up until a few years ago, that experience didn’t have much in the way of wireless connectivity, an issue Hughes said the NYRA started working on to correct after the 2015 season.

More mobility for race fans

With an executive direction to bring more mobility, access and convenience to fans, Saratoga started down the path that ended with a network using 220 Ruckus access points, Kezar scanners and a new app designed by VenueNext, and 1,000 bluetooth beacons from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, to support wayfinding and other services. With more than 48,000 client user sessions on one of the summer’s busiest days — the Aug. 26 Travers Day — and an average of more than 1 terabyte of traffic each day, the new network at Saratoga was an instant hit, and something likely to keep the old venue even more relevant to a new generation of racing fans.

“The New York Racing Association was pleased this year to introduce cutting edge technology to Saratoga Race Course, the oldest active sporting venue in America,” said NYRA CEO and president Chris Kay in a prepared statement. “Given our ever growing reliance on mobile devices, these improvements are critical to the long-term success and sustainability of Saratoga.”

The unique schedule of Saratoga — 40 days of racing in the summer — also means some long days of races, with fans at the track from before noon until 7 p.m. some days, Hughes said. With the new network and app in place, those fans can not only stay connected to their outside lives, but they can also watch live and archived racing videos, pre-order concessions for express pickup, and even place bets from their mobile device.

“With 25 or 30 minutes between races, you now see a lot of people watching replays of former races” to gain betting insights, Hughes said. And that connectivity even extends from the racetrack seating areas out to the track’s famed picnic grounds, where Hughes said Saratoga deployed “mushroom” looking AP enclosures that put antennas at waist level, to bring connectivity close to the seating areas.

From the more than 1 million fans who attended races this season, Hughes said the Wi-Fi network saw pretty consistent take rates of 25 percent of fans present on the network at any given time. Having that wireless connectivity to outside lives as well as to tap into venue amenities, Hughes said, “takes any stress away.”

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.

AT&T sees 13.6 TB of cell data used for Kentucky Derby weekend; Verizon hits 7.17 TB on Derby Day

Race winner Always Dreaming. Credit: Coady Photography /Churchill Downs

Once again, fans at the Kentucky Derby used more wireless data than they did the previous year, with AT&T seeing a total of 13.6 terabytes of cellular data over the racing weekend at famed Churchill Downs.

For the muddy Derby race day itself, AT&T said its customers used a total of 8.1 TB of data on the in-venue DAS, the temporary COWs (cell trucks on wheels) and the AT&T macro network in the area. That number surpassed the 6.7 TB AT&T saw on Derby Day last year.

With an additional 5.5 TB of traffic seen on the “Kentucky Oaks” race day Friday, AT&T saw a total of 13.6 TB for the race weekend, a 19 percent increase from last year’s AT&T total of 11.4 TB for the weekend.

UPDATE: Verizon Wireless said it saw 7.17 TB of traffic on Kentucky Derby Day, up from 5.5 TB the year before. For the full three days of racing (including Thursday’s “Thurby” events), Verizon said it saw a total of 14.27 TB of traffic, meaning that this year’s events handily surpassed last year’s combined-carrier mark of 20.15 TB. In the venue, wireless carriers run on a DAS deployed by Mobilitie.

Kentucky Derby app adds more content for version 2.0

Call it a content-focused refresh — the Kentucky Derby app developed for Churchill Downs by VenueNext will add several new features for race-day fans, including live odds and betting tips.

The mobile app, which debuted at last year’s race, will once again offer the ability to place bets from within the app, so the new content may help produce more winners if the betting tips are correct. Also new to this year’s version of the app are a “today’s events” section which will detail what is happening at the racetrack throughout the Kentucky Derby weekend, as well as a “Derby News” section which will, in the words of Churchill Downs, provide “racing, lifestyle & equine information in one place.”

Like last year, the app will also support mobile ordering for in-seat food and beverage delivery or express pickup, but only in certain selected sections of the venue, which will see somewhere near 170,000 attendees over the race weekend. Last year, the track made delivery available to 500 seats in its Turf Club section, and express pickup available to another 15 sections of seating areas. We don’t have any details yet whether or not those services expanded for this year’s race, but stay tuned.

We’ll also be watching to see if this year’s wireless activity surpasses last year’s totals of 12.2 terabytes of cellular data for Derby Day and 20.15 TB for the weekend, numbers from the combined traffic of AT&T and Verizon Wireless customers.

New Report: US Bank Stadium sneak peek, Wi-Fi analytics and more!

DOC12Our newest STADIUM TECH REPORT features a look inside the Minnesota Vikings’ new home, US Bank Stadium, with a sneak peek photo essay ahead of the venue’s August opening dates. Also included in our latest issue is a feature on Wi-Fi analytics, as well as in-depth profiles of technology deployments at the St. Louis Cardinals’ Busch Stadium, and the Buffalo Bills’ Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Our Q2 issue for 2016 also has a big focus on DAS deployments, specifically at two venues with extra-large attendance issues — namely, the Kentucky Derby and the Daytona 500. You can get all this analysis and reporting by simply downloading a free copy of the report!

From its architecturally striking exterior to its sunny glass-walled interior, US Bank Stadium looks like a jewel for downtown Minneapolis. While we’ll have a full report on the technology inside a bit later this summer, you can feast your eyes on what we saw during a hard-hat tour of the stadium in early June.

On the Wi-Fi analytics side, you can hear from several leaders in stadium Wi-Fi implementations about how they are using data from their networks to improve the fan experience while also finding new ways to boost their own stadium businesses. Our profiles of Busch Stadium, Ralph Wilson Stadium and a bonus profile of the Los Angeles Coliseum all provide in-depth coverage of the unique challenges each one of these venues faces when it comes to technology deployments. And our DAS-focused coverage of deployments at Churchill Downs and Daytona International Speedway illustrate how expanded cellular coverage can provide enough connectivity when Wi-Fi isn’t an economic option. DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY of the report today and get this knowledge inside your head!