New Report: State of the art Wi-Fi network at Braves’ new SunTrust Park

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Summer 2017 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

In addition to our historical in-depth profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, our second issue for 2017 has additional news and analysis, including a look at how the business model for DAS deployments is changing. Download your FREE copy today!

Inside the report our editorial coverage also includes:
— SunTrust Park first look: A review of sizzling network performance at the new home of the Atlanta Braves;
— Coors Field profile: A look at how the Wi-Fi network at “old” Coors Field is still serving fans with solid performance;
— Westfield Century City Mall profile: A close look at a new Wi-Fi network and other digital services emerging at an extensive renovation of this historic Los Angeles shopping center;
— Additional profiles of a new DAS deployment at Sonoma Raceway and new Wi-Fi for Red Bull Arena!

Download your free copy today!

Let the NFL streaming battles begin: AT&T brings live streaming to basic Sunday Ticket plan

Screen shot of DirecTV Sunday Ticket app for iPad

Screen shot of DirecTV Sunday Ticket app for iPad

If you are a regular MSR reader you may remember that when the AT&T/DirecTV acquisition came to pass, we wondered how long it would take before AT&T and Verizon started battling each other in the quest to bring live NFL action to fans on their phones. The answer: wait no more, the battle’s here.

Today, AT&T announced that all subscribers to the DirecTV Sunday Ticket plan “will be able to stream Sunday afternoon out-of-market football games to almost any device” when action kicks off this fall. Previously, Sunday Ticket subscribers had to shell out about an extra hundred bucks to get the Sunday Ticket Max package, which offered streaming. Last year, the basic Sunday Ticket package was about $250; so far we can’t find a price for this season (and we don’t want to hunt through all the splash screens trying to get us to sign up for DirecTV services). Suffice to say it will still be a premium product, but one that many NFL fans can’t live without.

According to AT&T, live streaming via the Sunday Ticket plan was up 35 percent last year, a figure that doesn’t surprise us at all. We’ve been tracking Verizon Wireless and its NFL Mobile package of live-streamed games (which varies but usually includes Monday, Thursday and any weekend games, as well as Sunday out-of-market games) for some time now, and posts about NFL Mobile typically draw the highest traffic to our site. Verizon has never released subscriber numbers for NFL Mobile, but if you guessed it was among the most popular sports apps out there, you would probably be right. Even at $1 billion for four years, the rights fees seem a bargain for Verizon.

DirecTV pays the NFL more (about $1.5 billion a year, according to reports) but it gets more; NFL Mobile is exclusive to cell phone devices, meaning you can’t use it on tablets or PCs. And now thrown into the mobile mix is Twitter, whose reported $10 million deal with the NFL for Thursday-night games also includes the rights to stream to cell phones and any other device. Anyone else out there want to play?

Why is NFL action so popular on mobile devices? Mainly, I think, because of several factors, including fantasy betting and the fact that the screens have gotten so big and sharp, you can actually watch a game on a phone and it’s not painful. As many of us mobile-NFL freaks know, the best part of the deals isn’t necessarily the games themselves, but instead it’s access to the NFL’s RedZone channel, which keeps you up to date on action all across the league (and despite its name, it offers way more than just plays “in the red zone.” They try to keep live action going at all times, and NO COMMMERCIALS makes it a football junkie’s dream).

Plus, on the West coast, RedZone will often just show all of later games since there are fewer contests to jump in between. I don’t know how many people will sit every Sunday through several games on the couch, but if you can watch a few minutes or a final drive while you’re somewhere else it’s pretty addictive.

No news yet this year from Verizon on what the NFL Mobile package of games might look like, but stay tuned: This battle is just getting started. Good news is, more competition means more access and lower prices for fans. That’s something we can all cheer, no matter which teams we root for.

March Madness viewing: More digital options, plus some virtual reality

MML_iPhone_01-WatchRemember when college basketball tournament season only had a small slice of games available online? Or when you had to pay extra to watch online? It wasn’t that long ago. Thankfully though the future is here now and for 2016 the college hoops postseason has even more ways to watch games mobile or online, including one option to watch games via virtual reality programming.

Like last year, if you have a qualifying cable contract, you are basically covered and should be able to watch all the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games live, on whichever platform you want. The best way to start is to head to the NCAA’s March Madness home page, where you should be able to find any and all information on devices, apps and other avenues to streaming coverage. According to Turner Sports, the NCAA and CBS Sports the games will be available live on 12 different platforms, including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku players and Roku TV models. The new March Madness Live app isn’t avalable until Thursday, so check back soon for the go-to app for everything March Madness.

Also like last year, you should be able to watch a few minutes of the first game you see without having to log in — great if you are just trying to catch a buzzer beater. The games of course will be available on regular TV, and the March Madness home page has what may be a great time saver, a widget that helps you find those obscure cable channels other than CBS or TNT where the games might be on. Since we’ve just moved, MSR’s NCAA viewing team might make good use of the Zip Code-powered channel finder.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 12.14.34 PMEven if you don’t have a cable contract you can still watch a lot of games that are streamed online; games broadcast on CBS will be available for no charge on desktop, mobile and tablet platforms, while games broadcast on the other channels (TNT, TBS, truTV and local channels) should be available on those providers’ websites. Again, if you get stuck or lost just defaulting back to the March Madness home page should give you a path to whatever game it is you’re looking for.

Big East tourney available in VR

If you have a NextVR platform you will be able to watch the 2016 Big East tournament (it starts Thursday, March 10) thanks to a partnership between FOX Sports and NextVR. We’re not VR-savvy here at MSR headquarters yet but with seven games and 15 hours of programming scheduled this might be a cool treat for VR fans. NextVR has an instruction page on how to watch the games in VR; if anyone tries this out, send us an email with a report on how it worked (or didn’t) and we’ll let everyone else know.

Also, don’t forget — this year for the first time the NCAA Men’s Championship game, scheduled for Monday, April 4, will be on TBS, NOT on CBS, the first time the champs game has been only on cable. And, there will be streaming options as well during Final Four weekend, according to the official announcement:

For the NCAA Final Four National Semifinals on Saturday, April 2, from Houston, NCAA March Madness Live will provide three distinct live video streams of both games to provide unprecedented viewing options for fans – live streaming of the traditional game coverage provided on TBS, along with “Team Stream by Bleacher Report” coverage or team-specific presentations offered via TNT and truTV. This year’s NCAA Tournament will include the National Championship airing on TBS, the first time the championship has ever been televised on cable television.

Wi-Fi stats left on the bench in RootMetrics’ baseball stadium network performance scores

The folks at RootMetrics have another network research project out, one that claims to determine the best wireless connectivity in all the U.S. Major League Baseball stadiums. However, the report doesn’t include Wi-Fi network performance in any of its scoring processes, and it doesn’t publicly reveal the limits of its network tests, which are based on just one day’s results from a handful of devices in each venue and do not include any results from Apple iOS devices.

According to the RootMetrics survey, Fenway Park in Boston ended up atop their results, with strong scores for all the four major U.S. wireless carriers, a list that includes AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile. But the caveat about those “scores” is that they are composite results devised by RootMetrics itself and not a direct reflection of numerical network performance.

At Fenway, for instance, RootMetrics’ own results show that T-Mobile’s median upload and download speeds are 3.0 Mbps and 3.5 Mbps, respectively, while Verizon’s are 20.7 Mbps and 13.0 Mbps. Yet RootMetrics gives T-Mobile a third place at Fenway with a 89.5 “Rootscore,” compared to Verizon’s winning mark of 97.9, meaning that in RootMetrics’ scoring system a network six times as fast is only 10 percent better.

While it’s not included in the scoring or ranking, the Wi-Fi network at Fenway as measured by RootMetrics delivered speeds of 23.1 Mbps down and 22.0 up, besting all the cellular networks in the stadium. In its blog post RootMetrics does not explain why it doesn’t include Wi-Fi networks in its network measurements or scoring, even though its testing does show Wi-Fi performance at individual stadiums. Over the past year, Major League Baseball led a $300 million effort to install Wi-Fi networks in all MLB parks.

Unlike its metro-area tests, where RootMetrics uses “millions of data points,” the baseball stadium tests were calculated using just one device from each carrier — and all are Android-based, since RootMetrics’ internal testing system doesn’t run on iOS devices. And while RootMetrics said that for its results each park was visited “at least once,” in going through all 29 stadium reports there was only a single visit date mentioned for each one. RootMetrics also did not visit Rogers Centre in Toronto, home of the American League’s Blue Jays.

PGA Tour’s live-action online service for Thursday-Friday rounds debuts this week at $4.99 per month

Screen shot of PGA TOUR LIVE service on iPhone. Photo: PGA Tour

Screen shot of PGA TOUR LIVE service on iPhone. Photo: PGA Tour

The PGA’s over-the-top live action service for Thursday and Friday rounds debuts this week during the Quicken Loans National event, with a seven-day free trial before the $4.99 per month charge applies.

Announced earlier this year, the service produced by Major League Baseball’s Advanced Media (MLBAM) operations will be initially available for any desktop devices at PGATOURLIVE.com, but only for Apple iPhones and iPads on the mobile front. According to the PGA Tour the service will be available through Android and other platforms “at a later date.”

Here’s the official skinny on who you’ll be able to watch live (yes of course tournament “host” Tiger Woods will be part of the coverage) as part of the service’s “marquee group” format, which basically follows selected groups of players over their entire round. For those who can’t get enough golf it will be an interesting “second screen” to the Golf Channel cable coverage of Thursday and Friday rounds.

PGA TOUR LIVE debuts Thursday at 7:30 a.m. ET and will provide exclusive shot-by-shot coverage of the following groups on Thursday: 8:10 a.m., THE PLAYERS champion Rickie Fowler paired with Ben Crane and James Hahn; 8:21 a.m., former Quicken Loans National champion and The Presidents Cup 2015 International Team vice-captain K.J. Choi from host country South Korea with International Team hopefuls Danny Lee of New Zealand and John Senden of Australia.

Friday’s 8:10 a.m. feature group includes three former Quicken Loans National champions: tournament host Tiger Woods, Bill Haas and Nick Watney. At 8:21 a.m., defending Quicken Loans National champion Justin Rose tees off with Jimmy Walker, No. 3 in the FedExCup points standings with two wins this season, and David Lingmerth of Sweden, who won his first PGA TOUR title last month at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.

Following the conclusion of the featured groups on Thursday and Friday, PGA TOUR LIVE will shift its live broadcast coverage to the Featured Holes at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club – a pair of par-3s, the 11th and 16th. Overall, PGA TOUR LIVE will deliver access to more than 11 hours of live coverage to fans each day.

For the remainder of the season, PGA TOUR LIVE will be available during the following tournaments: next week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational (Aug. 6-7), the Wyndham Championship (Aug. 20-21), and then the FedExCup Playoff events: The Barclays (Aug. 27-28), Deutsche Bank Championship (Sept. 4-5, which actually is Friday-Saturday with a Monday finish), BMW Championship (Sept. 17-18) and the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola (Sept. 24-25). According to the PGA, the $4.99 charge is good for 30 days whenever it is purchased, so time your buy accordingly.

Report excerpt: MLB’s Wi-Fi everywhere plan nears completion

By the end of the season, Major League Baseball’s $300 million plan to bring Wi-Fi and DAS to every ballpark should be mostly complete, cementing the league’s title as the best-connected sport for now, and most likely for the near-term future as well.

While other sports, leagues and conferences rely on individual teams, schools and stadiums to figure out their own budgetary paths to connectivity, MLB’s unique decision to foot a major portion of the networking build-out bill should reap dividends for fans, clubs, and all the parties involved in the business of in-stadium wireless, said Joe Inzerillo, the executive vice president and chief technology officer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM).

“In general, things are going pretty well [with the build-outs],” said Inzerillo in a recent interview. “By the end of the calendar year, all the major construction will be complete.”

Vague on specifics, but clear on the goal

Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from our latest Stadium Tech Report, the BASEBALL (and Soccer!) ISSUE, which is available now for free download from our site. The report includes a focus on baseball and soccer stadium technology deployments, and team-by-team coverage of technology deployments for all 30 MLS teams — AND all 20 MLS teams. DOWNLOAD THE REPORT now and read for yourself!

Joe Inzerillo, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM)

Joe Inzerillo, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM)

In somewhat curious fashion, Inzerillo and MLBAM pointedly do not provide specifics on the buildouts, which include both new Wi-Fi networks for parks that didn’t have deployments, and many upgrades for those that did. While Inzerillo did provide a short list of some of the new MLBAM-led deployments, including those for the Kansas City Royals, the Colorado Rockies, the Texas Rangers, the Houston Astros, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins, to find out others we had to call or contact teams directly.

New networks coming in at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium and Milwaukee’s Miller Park are also MLBAM-led projects, according to sources with each team. So even though there is no master list of deployments, MSR research shows that by the end of the 2015 season all but two of the league’s 30 stadiums should have working, updated Wi-Fi and DAS deployments, with MLB primarily responsible for putting networks into eight of the 10 venues that didn’t have Wi-Fi as of last season.

The two-year-plus plan also includes construction of multiple new or retooled distributed antenna systems (DAS) that ensure participation by all four of the major U.S. wireless carriers, since all four also contributed to the overall buildout budget.

When asked for specifics on the amount that each entity – MLB, the carriers or the teams – contributed to the buildout pool, Inzerillo declined to give exact figures, other than the $300 million total.

“The notion is, everybody has an interest in making sure the people attending the game are happy with their [wireless] experience,” said Inzerillo, describing the thinking behind the deal that brought together the league, the carriers and the teams. While some industry sources seem to believe that carriers and MLBAM footed most of the deployment costs, Inzerillo said all entities involved paid some share of the total bill.

“It’s fair to say everybody has some skin in the game,” Inzerillo said.

For MLBAM, the reason behind seeking a solid level of connectivity at all parks is clear, due to “Ballpark,” its league-wide single app for in-stadium use. Though its features differ slightly from park to park depending on technology deployments (such as beacons) and desired uses, MLB’s plans to monetize its own apps depend on their being reliable connectivity on hand – so instead of waiting for teams to get there on their own, MLBAM led the charge, a move Inzerillo said made sense for several reasons, including the ability to herd carriers together and to share rare expertise.

Herding the cats known as carriers

If there’s a topic that scares stadium tech pros the most, it’s having to deal with all the major wireless carriers in negotiating DAS deployments. One of the top reasons some stadiums end up choosing a neutral host for their DAS is so that the neutral host provider can act as a buffer for the catfights that can occur between different carriers’ desires and needs. In MLB’s case, Inzerillo said MLBAM was that lukewarm water between the fire and ice.

Railing Wi-Fi AP enclosure at Seatte's Safeco Field. Photo: MLBAM

Railing Wi-Fi AP enclosure at Seatte’s Safeco Field. Photo: MLBAM

“We [MLBAM] are uniquely positioned to bring all the carriers together, and to give them a ‘safe zone’ to talk about potential issues,” Inzerillo said. Through its short history of supporting original team apps and then its own apps, Inzerillo said that MLBAM also gained a significant amount of internal telecom expertise, a resource not available to most teams.

Having dedicated app or telecom expertise in the form of a full-time employee is something that is hard to do locally, Inzerillo said. “It’s hard to find people with these skills,” he noted, especially for the smaller IT staffs found inside sports teams. The same thing goes for overall deployment expertise, Inzerillo said. “These deployments are big, capital-intensive projects, and they require specialized assets from a human standpoint,” Inzerillo said. “It’d be impossible to have resources [like MLBAM has] on a local staff.”

Construction is half the cost

That said, Inzerillo is quick to add that without the teams’ help and internal expertise, the entire project probably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.

“We really couldn’t do this without the teams – there’s just a huge effort at each of the facilities,” Inzerillo said. The recognition of the local hard work, he said, is the main reason why MLBAM isn’t putting out a “master list” of its stadium upgrades – “It’s really a team story, and it’s something for them to tell their local markets,” Inzerillo said.

And for all the focus on the latest Wi-Fi antennas and fine-tuned DAS gear, Inzerillo also noted that it’s the other end of deployment – the physical work of putting networks in – that is the hardest part of the puzzle to solve.

“Things that can make or break a deployment are low tech,” Inzerillo said, claiming that half of the cost of any deployment is usually the labor to put it in. “Power, conduits and just knowing how to perform [construction] inside a ballpark cannot be understated,” Inzerillo said.

That’s especially true when you are putting a network in a venue like Boston’s Fenway Park, which is not just old but also has historic construction parameters that need to be worked around. Even Coors Field in Denver, which is a baby compared to Fenway, was still “old” when compared to the era of cellphones, Inzerillo noted.

“When it was built 20 years ago, there were no smartphones and barely an Internet,” said Inzerillo of Coors Field. So things like conduit easements, he said, weren’t anticipated, and added to construction costs.

“Twenty years doesn’t seem old, but compared to technology changes, it is,” he said.

And even though Inzerillo is eager to get to the end of the first long phase of deployments – he talked of “clearing the trees and getting ready to plant crops and tend the garden” – he also knows it’s a job that’s never quite over.

“It’s sort of like painting the Golden Gate bridge, where as soon as you’re done you need to start again,” Inzerillo said. “We’ve got beacons in 29 parks that we’re just starting to use, and now you have to think about things like wearables and the Apple Watch. There’s always new stuff, which is why infrastructure is so important. We’re always going to be thinking, do I have enough stuff in the walls?”