Timberwolves, Lynx partner with VenueNext for new stadium/team apps

The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Minnesota Lynx announced a partnership with app developer VenueNext, under which VenueNext will build stadium and team-content apps for the NBA’s Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Lynx.

The deal represents the second NBA contract for VenueNext, which has already launched a successful app and associated marketing programs with the Orlando Magic and their home arena, Amway Center. The VenueNext partnership with the Timberwolves and Lynx coincides with a current renovation of the teams’ home arena, the Target Center, which will also get a new Wi-Fi network along with the new app in time for the 2017-2018 NBA season. The Lynx app, according to the team, will be ready before the start of the 2018 season.

Screen shot of old Timberwolves app. Anyone got an old Blackberry in a drawer that could run this?

Though service specifics and screenshots of the new apps are not yet available, the press release out today said that fans can expect the usual menu of VenueNext-type app features, including digital ticketing, arena information, and team content. In other arenas, like the NFL’s Levi’s Stadium, VenueNext apps support features such as in-seat concession ordering and delivery; other VenueNext apps like the one for the Kentucky Derby offer mobile betting.

According to the Timberwolves, the new app will replace their current mobile app, which was created by app developer YinzCam. In 2015, YinzCam sold an equity stake in the company as part of a deal to re-do 22 NBA team apps.

(If you search for mobile apps on the Timberwolves website, you can see a geeky-cool photo of the team’s first mobile app running on a vintage Blackberry, which they claim was the first NBA team mobile app.)

VenueNext, which signed the San Jose Sharks as its first NHL client this season, also recently added some more venture funding to strengthen its business operations.

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.

Nuggets game visit shows Wi-Fi solid at Denver’s Pepsi Center

Nuggets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver’s Pepsi Center, April 9, 2017. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

About one year into its existence, the fan-facing Wi-Fi network at Denver’s Pepsi Center seems to be in fine working order, at least as far as we could tell by a visit during the last Denver Nuggets home game of the just-finished NBA regular season.

With speed tests showing download speeds of almost 70 Mbps in one spot on the concourse and solid, high-teens numbers in upper deck seats, the Avaya-built public Wi-Fi network allowed us to stay connected at all times. We even watched live video of The Masters golf tournament online while watching Oklahoma City beat Denver in a heartbreaking ending for the Nuggets’ home season, when Thunder star Russell Westbrook capped a 50-point performance with a long 3-pointer that won the game and eliminated Denver from playoff contention.

While we got good speed tests last summer when we toured an empty Pepsi Center, we had no idea how the network would perform under live, full-house conditions, but the Nuggets’ home closer gave us some proof points that the Wi-Fi was working fine. One test on the concourse (in full view of some overhead APs) checked in at 69.47 Mbps for download and 60.96 for upload; another concourse test on the upper deck got numbers of 37.18 / 38.30.

A look from our seats into the rafters, where (we think) we see Wi-Fi APs

In our MSR-budget upper-deck seats (we did not request media access to the game but instead bought tickets like any other fan) we still got solid Wi-Fi numbers, with one test at 15.04 Mbps / 21.44 Mbps and another in the same spot at 17.40 / 16.27. We didn’t see any APs under the seats — according to the Pepsi Center IT staff some of the bowl seats are served by APs shooting up through the concrete (see picture for one possible such location). Looking up we did see some APs hanging from the roof rafters, so perhaps it’s a bit of both.

What’s unclear going forward is who will supply the network for any upgrades, since Avaya is in the process of selling its networking business to Extreme Networks, which has its own Wi-Fi gear and a big stadium network business. For now, it seems like attendees at Nuggets, Avalanche and other Pepsi Center events are covered when it comes to connectivity. Better defense against Westbrook, however, will have to wait until next season.

Upper level concourse APs at Pepsi Center; are these shooting up through the concrete?

Even at the 300 seating level, you have a good view of the court.

Taking the RTD express bus from Boulder is a convenient if crowded option (there was also a Rockies game that day at nearby Coors Field, making the bus trips SRO in both directions)

Who knew Pepsi was found inside mountains? (this photo taken last summer)

Listen at your leisure: Live interview webinar with Vivint Smart Home Arena, Boingo and Solid, April 11

If you missed Tuesday’s event, you can still hear from the experts to learn how to deliver a seamless connectivity experience for the thousands of people coming through your venue. Listen to the replay of this Mobile Sports Report “Live Interview” webinar for exclusive access to insights from March Madness host Vivint Smart Home Arena and connectivity partners Boingo and SOLiD.

(Editor’s note: The recording starts a few minutes into the event, after your host remembered to push the “record meeting” button.)

Participants:
Vivint Smart Home Arena: Frank Zang, SVP Communications
SOLiD: Shane Hague, Director Business Development
Boingo: Doug Lodder, SVP Business Development
Mobile Sports Report: Paul Kapustka, Editor in Chief

If you have any questions please contact Paul at kaps@mobilesportsreport.com. Come hear what was an interesting discussion!


Vivint Smart Home Arena. Credit: Utah Jazz

Utah Jazz overhaul DAS, Wi-Fi at Vivint Smart Home Arena

Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Utah Jazz / Boingo. Credit all photos: Utah Jazz (click on any photo for a larger image)

A $130 million overhaul of Vivint Smart Home Arena provided the perfect opening to refresh its wireless infrastructure as well — so the venue installed new DAS and Wi-Fi to improve the game experience for fans of the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

“When we understood we’d be undertaking both a renovation and improving guest experience, we realized a severe lack in the Vivint bowl for guest wireless,” said BJ Vander Linden, CIO for Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment, which owns the downtown Salt Lake City venue as well the Jazz franchise. Wireless was an afterthought, if it was thought of at all, when Vivint was first built in 1991. “We knew we needed something more interactive for guests to watch, share and talk about the game and give them more opportunities to be involved,” Vander Linden told Mobile Sports Report.

Editor’s note: Come hear the Utah Jazz, Boingo and SOLiD talk about the new network inside Vivint Smart Home Arena during MSR’s first LIVE INTERVIEW WEBINAR on Tuesday, April 11! Register now for this event!

This wasn’t the first time that Miller Sports and the Jazz had considered Wi-Fi upgrades for Vivint, which had been using a lightweight Cisco switch and about 20 APs. “A few years ago, we looked at Extricom, Xirrus and Ruckus, but we weren’t willing to fund the project at the price points offered then,” said Aaron Cook, vice president of information technology for the Jazz.

Since then, Jazz officials talked with other NBA teams about their Wi-Fi experiences, which is when Cisco and Aruba (now part of HP Enterprise) emerged as frontrunners for Vivint’s upgrade. “We went up and looked at the Portland Trailblazers’ infrastructure and had both vendors talk about pricing and engineering designs,” Cook said. Aruba-HPE emerged as the winning supplier for Wi-Fi access points; Aruba’s engineering partner, M S Benbow & Associates, also helped tip the scales in Aruba’s favor, with Benbow’s particular expertise in sporting venues.

A DAS antenna in the arena’s ‘halo’

Surveying for wireless in the Vivint arena began in summer 2016, and installation began in November, owing to the demands on the arena’s schedule and non-Jazz bookings. The biggest engineering challenge was the halo ring for the arena’s center scoreboard, where the Jazz installed several APs. “We needed to get [the halo’s] wiring completed first and had some events that limited when it could be lowered,” Vander Linden said, since the arena needs to be empty to lower the halo. “We needed a few days or a week to leave it down so that Benbow and our local electricians could put things in place,” he added.

In addition, Vivint’s lines of sight meant the Jazz only needed overhead APs inside the arena’s bowl, avoiding the expense and additional engineering required with under-seat APs.

Most of the engineering was otherwise pretty straightforward, according to Josh Barney, director of technology and innovation for the Jazz. “We had to revisit our Level 6 plan, which is the top concourse with suites. There are corner boards and LED boards, so we had to revisit how we’d mount antennas,” he added. Benbow re-engineered the antennas so that they were inside the boards and then aimed back down toward the seats.

As of this writing, there are 108 active APs in the Vivint bowl; 32 of those hang from center halo. Ongoing demolition and construction in the concourses render those areas inaccessible til July when they’ll also be outfitted with Wi-Fi, Vander Linden said. That will give the Jazz a grand total of around 250 APs when the NBA season ramps up again in October. “We have a friends-and-family ‘beta test’ going on right now,” he noted, with an invitation to Jazz season ticket holders to test the new Wi-Fi and submit feedback.

New Cisco switches and an upgrade to Cat 6a cabling brought the Wi-Fi budget to about $1.2 million, Vander Linen confirmed.

DAS Infrastructure Gets a Boost

The Vivint renovation also allowed the Jazz organization to rework a DAS system installed in 2002. Working with Boingo and DAS gear provider Solid Inc., Boingo built two DAS networks, one for fans’ use, as well as a commercial public-safety DAS that’s part of the arena’s emergency preparedness strategy.

Solid gear in the data center racks

All four major cellular carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless) have capacity on the new 10-zone DAS system; 105 DAS antennas blanket the Vivint arena, according to Boingo, which is also managing the Jazz’s DAS infrastructure.

Vivint’s new scoreboard had a lot of “unfriendly RF characteristics,” according Doug Lodder, senior vice president for business development at Boingo. “As we were designing and installing the DAS, we had to be cautious and ensure our antenna setup and network would not be impacted by the scoreboard,” Lodder said. And bowl-based DAS often means there are fewer ideal areas to install the necessary wiring. To reduce the length of coax runs to the antennas, Boingo installed Solid’s new 2-watt remotes directly on the catwalks.

App Upgrade in the Wings

Vander Linden is also preparing to re-launch the venue’s mobile app. And given that the Jazz is the arena’s top tenant in the building, he said they’ll do one of two things: It will either be handled as a single app for just the Jazz, or it will be like the Sacramento Kings’ app that embraces both the arena and the team.

“The intent with the new app is to handle ticketing, food and beverage, merchandise, parking, and way-finding, along with in-game specific content,” Vander Linden explained. “We’ve spent time with other teams to see what’s been successful in the app world. We like a lot of what Orlando is doing.”

Yinzcam developed the Jazz’s existing app; it’s unclear if they’ll handle the upgrade, according to Vander Linden. (Orlando’s app, for instance, is developed by VenueNext.) Vander Linden wants to have the new app in place and ready to go by mid-September.

Vivint also has Bluetooth low-energy beaconing built into its wireless upgrade plan as well. “We’ll be putting up beacons over time as we can and testing and determining the right way to go,” Vander Linden said. He thinks wayfinding would be valuable for letting people know where things are around the arena, but he’s also appropriately circumspect with the fledgling technology. “We’re aware from talking to other arenas and providers that it’s a learning experience,” he laughed.

New Report: New Wi-Fi, app and digital displays for San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Spring 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.

Our profiles for this issue include a first-look visit to the San Jose Sharks’ newly wired SAP Center, where a Cisco Wi-Fi and StadiumVision network (deployed by AmpThink) has brought high-definition connectivity to the old familiar “Shark Tank.” We also have a profile of new DAS and Wi-Fi deployments at the Utah Jazz’s Vivint Smart Home Arena, as well as a recap of the wireless record-setting day at Super Bowl LI at Houston’s NRG Stadium. Plus, our first “Industry Voices” contribution, a great look at the history and progression of Wi-Fi stadium networks from AmpThink’s Bill Anderson. DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY today!

We’d also like to invite you to join in our first-ever “live interview” webinar, which will take place next Tuesday at 11 a.m. Pacific Time, 2 p.m. Eastern time. All the details are here, so register now and listen in next week for more in-depth views from Vivint Smart Home Arena, and their technology partners, Boingo and SOLiD.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this Stadium Tech Report issue include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, SOLiD, CommScope, Corning, Huber+Suhner, American Tower, and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome new readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our new partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank our growing list of repeat readers for your continued interest and support.