Extreme Networks to provide Wi-Fi 6 to 16 Major League Baseball stadiums

Extreme Wi-Fi gear (small white box in center) at Wrigley Field. Credit: Paul Kapustka, STR

In one of the biggest sports-venue Wi-Fi deals ever, Major League Baseball said it has selected Extreme Networks as its new “official Wi-Fi solutions provider,” a deal that will see Extreme Wi-Fi 6 gear being deployed in at least 16 MLB venues, beginning with the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park.

In an announcement today, Extreme and MLB said the deal would bring in-stadium Wi-Fi gear as well as Extreme’s network analytics software to at least 16 stadiums by 2026.

According to Major League Baseball, the Extreme deal represents the latest step for the league’s “technology consortium,” a plan started in 2014 where the league brought together a consortium of technology and service providers to more quickly bring better connectivity to MLB venues through pre-arranged and shared pricing structures. (In the first version of the consortium plan, Cisco was the preferred Wi-Fi gear supplier.)

Truman Boyes, MLB’s senior vice president for technology infrastructure, said that adding Wi-Fi 6 technology to the consortium offerings was driven by the continued increase in network data consumption by fans at ballparks.

“We’ve seen growth [in network usage] ramp up year after year,” Boyes said.

And while an earlier version of the Wi-Fi 6 rollout plan was set to start last spring, Boyes said that the Covid pandemic and its subsequent closing of almost all venues to fans in 2020 actually helped MLB solidify its plans.

More Extreme Wi-Fi gear underneath the roof at Wrigley Field. Credit: Paul Kapustka, STR

“We did have some delays [due to the pandemic] but because there still wasn’t an actual standardized approach to Wi-Fi 6 at this time last year, it became a good time to wait it out,” Boyes said. And after evaluating all the equipment providers in the Wi-Fi space, Boyes said Extreme’s experience in large-venue Wi-Fi networks helped make Extreme MLB’s choice based on technical merit.

“When it comes to networks of 20,000 to 40,000 [users], it’s a totally different landscape,” Boyes said. With Extreme’s experience in NFL-size venues, he said, “they know how to make it scale.”

According to Boyes, 10 of the network deployments are expected to be completed by the end of the year, with Fenway’s deployment scheduled to be live by opening day. (See full list at bottom of story)

MLB deal follows NFL deal

The “official” Wi-Fi deal adds another win to Extreme’s sports-industry ledger, following the company’s current similar deal with the NFL. Next year will be Extreme’s ninth season as the official Wi-Fi supplier to the NFL, where 10 of the 30 venues use Extreme gear exclusively for Wi-Fi, with two other NFL venues having a mix of gear with some Extreme included. Extreme’s current deal with the NFL lasts until March of 2022, according to the NFL.

Like its NFL deal, Extreme’s contract with MLB does not require venues to use Extreme equipment; it simply provides teams with a league-approved deal that most likely has economics that are potentially more favorable than those available outside the consortium pricing, given that Extreme is both a supplier and a sponsor to the league.

“Teams can join if they want to share in the benefits of centralized management,” said Boyes of MLB’s consortium efforts. While 16 MLB teams have committed to the Wi-Fi 6 deal with Extreme, Boyes said there is “interest from other teams” as well. Currently, Boyes said 20 of MLB’s 30 teams have used consortium deals for connectivity in the past.

Extreme currently has two existing MLB customers for stadium Wi-Fi, the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field and the Baltimore Orioles’ home, Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles’ deal with Extreme had not been previously reported, other than that Verizon had paid for Wi-Fi at the park.

While Extreme has gotten big visibility out of its NFL deal — one which allows Extreme to control the announcement of network-usage results from the Super Bowl each year, even if Extreme gear is not used at the venue — it has also not won any recent deals for new NFL Wi-Fi networks. The two newest NFL venues, SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, both chose Cisco as their Wi-Fi 6 gear supplier.

However, some long-standing Extreme customers in the NFL have recently stuck with Extreme for renovations, including updates at the last two Super Bowl venues, Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium and Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium. Extreme and the Seattle Seahawks were also set to announce a Wi-Fi 6 upgrade to the network at Lumen Field this past year, but that announcement was delayed by the team due to the Covid pandemic.

Wes Durow, chief marketing officer for Extreme, said in a phone interview that Extreme’s focus on analytics makes it a great fit with Major League Baseball, which he said has been out in front of the entire sports world when it comes to emphasizing new statistics as a way to engage fans more closely.

And while acknowledging that a sponsorship with MLB was part of the equation, he said “that’s not what drove this deal. They [MLB] needeed to make a technology decision first.”

Consortium focusing on Wi-Fi

Unlike the past version of the consortium efforts, which included cellular distributed antenna network (DAS) systems as well as Wi-Fi, Boyes said the MLB consortium would “focus on Wi-Fi” going forward.

Part of MLB’s stance of “keeping DAS a little bit at arm’s length for now,” Boyes said, has to do with the complexity of 5G cellular deployments. Unlike 4G LTE cellular, where the top U.S. carriers all used similar spectrum spaces, the early 5G deployments from the top carriers all use different spectrum bands, which doesn’t work with a shared-antenna system.

MLB Stadiums that will get Extreme Wi-Fi 6:

Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)
Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Guaranteed Rate Field (Chicago White Sox)
Great American Ballpark (Cincinnati Reds)
Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians)
Comerica Park (Detroit Tigers)
Minute Maid Park (Houston Astros)
Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals)
Marlins Park (Miami Marlins)
Citi Field (New York Mets)
Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia Phillies)
PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Petco Park (San Diego Padres)
T-Mobile Park (Seattle Mariners)
Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals)
Nationals Park (Washington Nationals)

Minnesota Twins’ Target Field: Photo Essay and Wi-Fi tests

Great sight to see when you get off the plane in Minnesota.

Great sight to see when you get off the plane in Minnesota.

During Mobile Sports Report’s visit to Minneapolis earlier this summer, we had a free afternoon so we took the public tour of the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field, home of the 2014 MLB All Star Game. Though it was a kind of drizzly day we still got a lot of looks (and tests) of the thing we came to see: The park’s new Wi-Fi and DAS networks, which were operational and since it was an empty house, probably running at full capacity for all our tests.

After a short (~30 min.) light rail trip from the airport to downtown, we dumped our bags at the hotel and hoofed it over to Target Field, staying dry by cleverly using the city’s skywalk pathways. Once at the stadium it was just a short wait for the 3 p.m. tour to start, so we cruised the Twins’ gift store where the full-body Twins jammies made us think of cold September nights.

Tech you can and can’t see

Target Field from a nearby walkway. Notice the freeway running underneath.

Target Field from a nearby walkway. Notice the freeway running underneath.

I’d never been on one of these public tours before, but our group of 7 dudes learned a lot of lore from our excellent guide Rick, who had his stats down cold. The big glove outside the stadium, he let us know, is 522 feet from home plate, the longest home run recorded by Twins legend Harmon Killebrew. That home run was hit in 1967 at the old Metropolitan Stadium, where the Mall of America now stands.

Rick started out our tour by informing us that the $600 million Target Field, which opened in 2010, has a whole lot of technology under the field, pipes that heat the field and carry water away from it; there’s no dirt on the playing field, just sand underneath a very thin covering of grass. Baseball capacity now is 38,868, Rick said, though on opening day the park had 40,000+ there. That’s great stuff, man, but what about the Wi-Fi? Though I couldn’t get a Wi-Fi signal outside the gates, once inside the network was clearly humming: As Rick took us through the press box, where there were Ethernet cords in front of each seat, I wondered how necessary those were with a reading of 59.26 Mbps down and 62.67 up as I sat in a front-row seat.

Twins jammies for those cold Minnesota nights.

Twins jammies for those cold Minnesota nights.

As one the MLBAM-led technology deployment deals (in part to get ready for the All Star Game demands) the Wi-Fi inside Target Field is mainly Cisco gear, at least those that you can see. The familiar white boxes (now with MLBAM ID stickers) are fairly ubiquitous. Since we weren’t able to get ahold of the Twins’ IT crew before our visit I’m not sure what the final AP or DAS antenna count is these days. But if you know where to look, and we do, you can see a lot of antennas around.

Dealing with outside-the-park interference

One of the interesting things we learned in our profile of the park prior to the All Star Game was that since the stadium is right downtown, the Twins and the major carriers had to figure out how to keep macro antennas on buildings outside the ballpark from bleeding into the stadium’s DAS. According to another source we spoke with in Minnesota, this year was the first year that Target Field’s DAS didn’t need any more alterations; as you can see by one of pictures here of the Ford Center, which is across the street from the back side of Target Field, there’s a lot of RF on rooftops in the near vicinity.

Inside the press box. Grandpa, what's that cord for?

Inside the press box. Grandpa, what’s that cord for?

Down near field level, the Wi-Fi was still cranking in the mid-40s, an excellent score for a place that’s normally hard to cover. Looking around I didn’t initially see any APs, with none on the wall facing backwards as some stadiums do it. Then after some more inspection I saw the source of the bandwidth, some well-covered railing APs mounted on the railing behind the 10 or so rows of near-the-field seats. On our way out I saw some of the distinctive AmpThink-designed sideways railing enclosures, for the open-bowl seating not covered by overhangs.

Though ideally we’d love to come back on a game day, from the looks of the physical placements we were able to see and the tests we took, it seems like both the cellular and Wi-Fi networks at Target Field are high performers, good news for Twins fans who need connectivity. And if you need to drown your sorrows or celebrate, there is also an in-stadium beer network, which supplies suds from main keg rooms through conduits that are definitely more tasty than copper or fiber. Prosit!

Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

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Target Field in panoramic view.

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A silhouette of a Wi-Fi antenna. MSR geek art.

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A Wi-Fi AP and some kind of gun antenna. Anyone know what that is?

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You bought it, you put your name on it.

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Another panoramic view, showing how close downtown is.

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The Ford Center is across the street from the back of the park. We’re guessing those macro antennas on top had to be tuned to keep their signals from interfering.

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Not Wi-Fi, but a network worth building for thirsty fans.

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Anyone want to test download speeds of these pipes?

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Great quote overheard in Minnesota: “It takes a lot of wire to make a park wireless.”

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Tour guide Rick getting set to take his “team” out on the field. BUT NOT ON THE GRASS!

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The railing APs that cover the field-level seats.

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An AmpThink railing enclosure. Rick didn’t know what those were, but he does now.

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Nice hardware in the Twins’ high-rollers club area.

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Our tour didn’t get to see inside, but we can guess what’s behind that door.

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If you can hit one here, the Twins want to talk to you.

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That’s about as close as MSR will ever get to being in “The Show.” Until next time!

Twins to test VR for fans at Target Field

The Minnesota Twins will test virtual reality content for fans at a July 29 game at Target Field. Credit all photos: Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins will test virtual reality content for fans at a July 29 game at Target Field. Credit all photos: Minnesota Twins

The Minnesota Twins are partnering with SuperSphere VR to offer 5,000 fans the chance to “virtually” walk with a Twins player onto Target Field. On the July 29 test run, the Twins plan to distribute Google cardboard style virtual reality (VR) viewers to the first 5,000 attendees of the night’s game against the Chicago White Sox. The VR viewer offers users a low-cost means of experiencing VR by placing their phones inside a foldable cardboard headset shaped like a pair of binoculars.

Chris Iles, Senior Director of Content for the Twins, sees this promotion as an excellent way to engage with fans. “It’s giving fans the opportunity to do something they’ve never done before, and we think it will enhance their ball park visit.” Iles went on to explain that enhancing fan engagement is a major, organization-wide goal for the Twins.

Demo spurs another demo

According to Iles, the Twins began exploring VR after seeing a demonstration of the technology at a spring training showcase with Major League Baseball Advanced Media.

Panoramic views are possible with VR technology

Panoramic views are possible with VR technology

Iles and the Twins “saw some potential for using virtual reality to bring fans closer to the game.” After seeing the demo and experimenting with the tech themselves, the Twins got in touch with SuperSphere VR to develop the upcoming VR experiment for Twins fans. SuperSphere VR specializes in VR content production for many applications, including sporting events.

The Twins’ VR content will be distributed to fans at the game only, using a geofencing feature within the MLB Ballpark app. Once fans check in through the Ballpark app they will be able to access the VR content on their phones. Iles expects the content will be made available to all fans, inside or outside the park, through the app later on.

The VR experience will be prerecorded on this first go-around in order to reduce the technical complexity of content delivery. “For this first foray,” Iies said, “we wanted something a little more controlled. That way we can confidently deliver that great experience.”

The Twins VR deployment may be the beginning of broader VR use for the organization. However, it’s still tough to say how VR is going to fit into a broader fan engagement strategy. For now, the Twins are among the first MLB franchises to explore the possibilities presented by VR for fan engagement on the day of the game.

Christopher Meier is an intern for Mobile Sports Report.

MLB Stadium Tech and Wi-Fi Reports — AL Central

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of MLB stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE BASEBALL (And Soccer!) ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

AL Central

Reporting by Paul Kapustka

Kauffman Stadium during 2014 World Series

Kauffman Stadium during 2014 World Series

Kansas City Royals
Kauffman Stadium
Seating Capacity: 37,903
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes (under construction)

Venerable Kauffman Stadium turned on its MLBAM-powered Wi-Fi network just in time for the Royals’ historic run to the World Series last year, where it was found and enjoyed by true blue fans even without any promotion. A new four-carrier neutral DAS is under construction for 2015.

Minnesota Twins
Target Field
Seating Capacity: 39,504
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Host of the 2014 All-Star Game, Twins fans can now enjoy the Wi-Fi and DAS networks installed last year. MLBAM helped install the Wi-Fi network, while the DAS includes gear and expertise from InSite Wireless and TE Connectivity.

Chicago White Sox
U.S. Cellular Field
Seating Capacity: 40,615
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

One of the losers in the MLBAM program to bring Wi-Fi to all stadiums was Boingo Wireless, the previous provider of Wi-Fi at U.S. Cellular Field. For 2015, a MLBAM network will be in place with 550 new APs from MLBAM equipment provider Cisco.

Detroit Tigers
Comerica Park
Seating Capacity: 41,681
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes (under construction)

Tigers fans are yet another group who have in-park Wi-Fi this season courtesy of MLB, with 600 APs installed for the 2015 season. A full-featured DAS is currently under construction, and is expected to be operational by mid-season with all four major wireless carriers participating.

Cleveland Indians
Progressive Field
Seating Capacity: 43,545
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Recognized as one of baseball’s most Twitter-friendly teams, the Cleveland Indians have stepped up their game with not one but two social media areas inside the stadium that will take advantage of the Verizon-powered Wi-Fi. Formerly known as the Social Suite, the Indians now have #Tribelive, which will have its own seating section inside a right-field bar; Cleveland will also have a Family Social Suite, in a more kid-friendly environment.

Stadium Tech Report: MLB stadium technology reports — AL Central

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of MLB stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014, which focuses on Major League Baseball. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

AL CENTRAL

Reporting by Chris Gallo

Minnesota Twins
Target Field
Seating Capacity: 39,50
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS:Yes
Beaconing: Yes

Target Field, the downtown home of the Minnesota Twins. Credit: Minnesota Twins

Target Field, the downtown home of the Minnesota Twins. Credit: Minnesota Twins

Host of the 2014 All-Star Game, the Minnesota Twins are making necessary upgrades this season to accommodate fans and media for the midsummer classic. Target Field is outfitted with stadium-wide Wi-Fi, as well as a DAS from InSite Wireless and TE Connectivity.

Because Target Field is in downtown Minneapolis, the Twins are forced to be creative in how they deliver new DAS antennas in the stadium. The stadium has gone through a series of reconfigurations to put DAS gear in the right place. A ballpark that is just 4 years old, the Twins’ upgrades are proof that organizations must continually improve their stadium networks to bring the best experience to fans.

Chicago White Sox
U.S. Cellular Field
Seating Capacity: 40,615
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS:Yes
Beaconing: Yes

With a name like U.S. Cellular Field, it’s no mistake fans are well connected at White Sox games. In 2012, the Chicago White Sox partnered with Boingo Wireless to bring free Wi-Fi to the stadium.

A couple years later, the White Sox have capitalized on a deal with Comcast to bring the XFinity Zone to U.S. Cellular Field. This 2,220 square foot area is the perfect place to grab food, drink, and stay connected with an interactive social media wall.

Detroit Tigers
Comerica Park
Seating Capacity: 41,681
Wi-Fi: No
DAS: No
Beaconing: No

The Detroit Tigers have more than a few screenshots floating around the internet with SSIDs and passwords for their media networks. Unfortunately, it’s hard for Tigers fans to share their tweets the next time Miguel Cabrera drives in a run. That’s because there is still no public Wi-Fi or a DAS for Tigers fans.

Cleveland Indians
Progressive Field
Seating Capacity: 43,545
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS:Yes
Beaconing: Yes

Recognized as one of baseball’s most Twitter-friendly teams, the Cleveland Indians have featured a social media suite at Progressive Field. But rather than limiting to one area at the ballpark, the Indians have brought Wi-Fi and DAS to all of Progressive Field this season.

The Indians teamed up with Verizon Wireless to deliver DAS antennas and Wi-Fi. And now with iBeacons installed in the stadium, Indians’ fans receive exclusive deals when walking through Progressive Field.

Kansas City Royals
Kauffman Stadium
Seating Capacity: 37,903
Wi-Fi: No
DAS:Yes
Beaconing: Yes

Kansas City is home to one of the fastest internet connections in the world with Google Fiber now available in some neighborhoods. However, the Royals still do not deliver free Wi-Fi to fans. There are the famous outfield fountains, which deliver fun shows at every game. Still, it’s hard to send out a selfie of yourself dancing in the fountains without Wi-Fi.

To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

Stadium Tech Report: Minnesota Twins tap InSite and TE Connectivity to get DAS ready for All-Star Game

Target Field, the downtown home of the Minnesota Twins. Credit: Minnesota Twins

Target Field, the downtown home of the Minnesota Twins. Credit all photos: Minnesota Twins

Even at a new stadium, getting the wireless network right is a constantly changing target. And for 4-year-old Target Field in Minneapolis, that meant an upgrade to the DAS not too long after the facility opened its doors.

“Nobody will ever have the perfect [network] install, and that’s part of the fun of it,” said John Avenson, vice president of infrastructure for the Minnesota Twins baseball club, in a phone interview with MSR. “The problem is not solvable as in, one year and you’re done. You need to be continuously improving.”

For the Twins, improving cellular connectivity was especially important since this year the club and the stadium will host baseball’s midsummer classic, the All-Star game. Thanks to help from InSite Wireless and DAS gear from TE Connectivity, Target Field’s DAS should be able to handle not just the overall growth in Twins fans’ wireless needs, but also the extra demands of a special event and all the selfies that go along with it.

“Fortunately, InSite and the carriers have been able to react quickly, and we should be ready for the test of the All-Star game,” said Dan Starkey, director for ballpark development and planning, in the same interview. “We’ll be ready to fully test the system.”

Wi-Fi and DAS, a perfect double play

Dan Starkey, director for ballpark development and planning

Dan Starkey, director for ballpark development and planning

As a new facility, Target Field was ahead of the curve when it came to Wi-Fi. On opening day the park had free Wi-Fi service for fans, with 225 access points initially available. “Back then that was a big number,” Avenson said. And while some carrier execs have been voicing an opinion that DAS is all that’s needed in a stadium, Avenson isn’t convinced.

“At this point you need both Wi-Fi and DAS,” he said.

Though the Twins do a good job of promoting the Wi-Fi service, most fans in stadiums everywhere usually default first to a cellular connection, either because they don’t know about the Wi-Fi, or don’t want to be bothered with the process or aren’t sure how to connect. Since people still think they should be able to send pictures or watch videos over a cellular connection, even at a crowded ballpark, that means the DAS – the Distributed Antenna System – needs to keep pace with all the smartphones and tablets being used.

“Some fans put their phones away [when they come to the stadium] but the younger crowd does not do that,” Avenson said. “Nothing interrupts their need for a good [wireless] experience.”

AllstarlogoAccording to Avenson, even before the facility opened the IT team new that they wanted a neutral host partner to lead the DAS effort.

“It just made sense to us,” said Avenson of having a neutral host DAS supplier, since as he said, carriers can be like siblings who have to share a bedroom. “InSite really enables the carriers, so they don’t have to fight with each other [over technology deployments].

Verizon Wireless and AT&T, the two biggest cellular carriers in the U.S., were on the neutral host DAS at the start, and were later joined by Sprint and T-Mobile. And even though the park is fairly new, Avenson said everyone involved realized quickly that wireless demands were growing, meaning that an upgrade was needed sooner rather than later.

According to the team, the most recent upgrades were to add MIMO capability for 1900 and AWS 2100 MHz bands, as well as adding four additional sectors in the bowl for AT&T. The new DAS can also support newer 4G LTE technologies, the Twins said.

“It’s just part of the evolution of DAS,” said Starkey. “Once we realized we needed additional coverage and capacity, InSite and the carriers acted quickly.”

Suite view of Target Field

Suite view of Target Field

The downtown difference

Like many other stadiums and large public facilities, Target Field had to be creative in finding space for the DAS head end equipment.

“In 2008 and 2009, we thought we’d fit it [the DAS head end] in a corner but it grew to a larger space and then that wasn’t big enough,” said Avenson, who added that AT&T and Verizon each have 10 to 12 cabinets of back-end gear for their DAS operations. “When the building was being built in 2008, the architects were not aware that we’d be needing more space. It’s amazing how much space and power a DAS takes at the head end.”

Adding to the complexity of the Target Field deployment is the fact that the field is in the middle of downtown Minneapolis, with large office buildings peeking over the roof of the stadium. According to Avenson, carriers and the team had to perform a series of reconfigurations to antennas both inside the park and out, so that the macro metro cellular network didn’t interfere with the DAS network inside the stadium.

“When the macro network wants to invade [the stadium] you have to push the macro network out,” said Avenson. “If you’re Miller Park [the baseball field in Milwaukee] and you have a big parking lot around the stadium you can control your own destiny. Parks in the middle of cities have a much different challenge.”

Editor’s note: This profile was originally published on May 1, 2014. It is also included in our Stadium Tech Report for Q2 2014, which you can download for free from our site.