Wells Fargo Center gets new LED boards for concourses

New LED screens in the atrium area of Wells Fargo Center. Credit: ANC/Wells Fargo Center

Joining what looks like a developing trend for stadiums and arenas, the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia will have new LED boards in much of its atrium and concourse area this season, thanks to an ongoing partnership between signage and design provider ANC and Comcast Spectacor, the owner and operator of the venue.

According to a recent press release, ANC recently finished a “complete digital media transformation” of Wells Fargo Center, including replacing static signage with LED displays in the arena’s atriums, which are among the highest-trafficed zones in the building, according to ANC. Last year the San Jose Sharks went down a similar path, bringing LED boards to many of the internal concourse areas, replacing static signage or blank walls.

ANC, a Learfield company, said the new LED displays at the joint home of the NHL’s Flyers and the NBA’s 76ers (which include highway signage outside the stadium) can be controlled through a single management system, offering a powerful way to convey synchronized messages across all digital displays in the building. Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium has a similar system, where it can “take over” all digital displays to provide a powerful, full-stadium look at either highlights or a sponsor message.

Little Caesars Arena picks Venuetize for stadium, district app

The new Little Caesars Arena app from Venuetize will also support the District Detroit area surrounding the new stadium.

The newly opened Little Caesars Arena in Detroit picked Venuetize to develop its stadium app, which also includes functionality to support activities in the surrounding “District Detroit” area, according to the arena.

Mobile technology provider Venuetize, which also built an integrated app for the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, has included a long list of features in the app for Little Caesars Arena, the new home for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. The District Detroit is a 50-block revitalization project surrounding the new arena, with shopping, restaurants and entertainment designed to keep fans in the area for more than just sporting events.

Digital ticketing support is at the top of the new app’s features, along with express ordering, which allows fans to order and purchase concessions via the app for fast pickup.

According to the arena and Venuetize, fans will also be able to use the app to find the best directions to the arena or to other places in the district, as well as inside the arena for in-building wayfinding. Future features planned for the app include a virtual assistant that will answer live questions. The app is available now, for iPhone and Android devices.

Stadium Tech Report: Sharks bite into digital future with new Wi-Fi, app strategy for SAP Center

Welcome to the Shark Tank. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Here’s a dirty secret about Silicon Valley sports: Even in this birthplace of the digital era, the hometown hockey arena has historically had some of the worst mobile connectivity around.

Despite the fact that loyal hockey fans always faithfully filled the seats to support their San Jose Sharks, the building now known as the SAP Center somehow never had the kind of wireless network you’d think its tech-savvy locals would demand.

But that was then. This is now.

After years of low connectivity, the “Shark Tank” is now filled with speedy, high-definition Wi-Fi that forms the base of a new digital-experience strategy for the Sharks and the SAP Center. The new digital experience includes a new team app as well as multiple LED screens in all parts of the stadium, bringing the old building screaming into the forefront of older venues retrofitted with technology that both enhances the fan experience while providing new business opportunities.

“If sports is behind the world in technology, we were even behind in sports,” said John Tortora, chief operating officer for the San Jose Sharks, about the building’s historical shortcomings. Interviewed between periods during a late-January visit by Mobile Sports Report to a Sharks game at SAP Center, Tortora said a sort of perfect storm of desires and needs arrived this past postseason, ending up as an initiative that brought in the arena’s first true fan-facing Wi-Fi network, an expanded LED-screen deployment throughout the arena and a new stadium app. Together, the elements are all aimed at supporting a data-driven strategy to improve marketing efforts while simultaneously providing a huge boost to the fan experience.

And make no mistake about it, better connectivity was an amenity fans wanted most of all.

High-density Wi-Fi provides digital backbone

Handrail enclosures bring Wi-Fi APs close to the fans. Credit: San Jose Sharks

Editor’s note: this profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, which also has in-depth looks at new networks at the Utah Jazz’s Vivint Smart Home Arena, and a recap of wireless activity from Super Bowl LI! DOWNLOAD your FREE COPY today!

“We had a survey of fans from the first half of last season, and the direct response was that the Wi-Fi needed to be improved,” Tortora said. Though there was some Wi-Fi in the building — according to Tortora, there was a system deployed in 2013 — it wasn’t anything the team wanted to talk about or promote; in fact, multiple requests by MSR to review the stadium’s networking infrastructure went ignored for years, prior to the new initiative now in place.

According to Tortora, there were also previously a number of different standalone apps for the various activities that took place in the building, including separate ones for the Sharks, the seasonal Disney ice shows, for youth hockey programs and for other SAP Center events like concerts. Bringing multiple apps together into a unified strategy led the Sharks to simultaneously seek a partner to help upgrade the mobile network infrastructure. Tortora said the Sharks found that partner in Cisco, which brought Wi-Fi gear and its StadiumVision digital-display system as well as some creative financing to the table.

“We had a chance to parallel both a new app and a new infrastructure, and Cisco was a great partner,” Tortora said. Though the terms are undisclosed, Cisco is also participating in the financing and operation of the network marketing elements as a partner to the Sharks.

Under-seat AP enclosure in the lower bowl. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The Sharks also brought in Wi-Fi deployment expert firm AmpThink to lead the network design, and used Daktronics technology for the multiple new LED boards, many of which are located in the previously blank-walled concourse and club areas. The result is a high-density Wi-Fi network operating at peak speeds, which forms the base for a high-touch digital experience that will ultimately give the Sharks deeper insight into fan behaviors, and a more personal way to deliver the right experience to each fan walking through the doors.

Going low and high to deliver Wi-Fi

Even before you get inside the building, you can connect to the new SAP Center Wi-Fi network, thanks to a bank of APs mounted on the outside walls. Allison Aiello, director of information technologies for the Sharks, said that many fans typically gather just outside the arena pregame, especially in a park just to the east side, and with the push toward more digital ticketing, providing pre-entry connectivity was a must.

Once inside the doors, fans are greeted by the innovative “Kezar” scanners from app developer VenueNext, which can scan either paper or digital tickets, with a green light on the top of the cylindrical system showing that a ticket is valid. Connectivity inside the entryways is also superb, as our tests showed Wi-Fi download speeds in the mid-60 Mbps range, even as crowds of fans came in through the doors.

Wi-Fi APs hanging from the rafters. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

A quick lower-level visit to the main data room showed some of the challenges of retrofitting an older building (the arena, which opened in 1993, had been known as the Compaq Center and the HP Pavilion before becoming the SAP Center in 2013): One of the members of our tech-tour entourage bumped his head on a low-hanging pipe, part of the ice-making infrastructure, on the way to the data center doorway.

With more than 20 years of cabling history inside its walls, the SAP Center wiring closets were an ongoing challenge for the implementation crew from AmpThink, which took pride in its work to streamline and organize the wiring as it installed the new network (with some of the cabling in new, Shark-specific teal coloring). Moving out into the lower seating bowl, AmpThink president Bill Anderson showed off some of the under-seat and railing-mounted AP enclosures, where attention to detail includes drilling concrete cores around the railings below the surface level so that shoes, brooms and other items don’t catch on areas where work has been done.

Anderson said the lower-bowl network is only operating on 5 GHz Wi-Fi channels, adding San Jose to an industry trend of leaving 2.4 GHz channels off the network in fan-facing areas. The main reason for this switch has to do with both the administrative challenges of the 2.4 GHz networks, along with the fact that almost all consumer devices these days support the wider bands of the 5 GHz space. Anderson also had high praise for Cisco’s new 3800 series of Wi-Fi APs that were used in the deployment, which can support dual 5 GHz channels.

According to the Sharks’ Aiello, there are 49 handrail Wi-Fi enclosures in the lower seating bowl, with 47 of those having two APs in each enclosure. For concerts, she said the arena can hang additional APs over the sideline hockey boards, which stay in place while the end zone boards are removed. The total number of APs in the stadium is 462. Our pregame network tests prior to a Sharks-Blackhawks game on Jan. 31 showed a Wi-Fi speed of 63.39 Mbps download and 57.59 upload, halfway down the stairs between sections 114 and 115.

Overhead Wi-Fi for the upper deck

In stadiums where under-seat or handrail APs are used, it’s usually best to not combine those placements with overhead APs since client devices will often seek to connect first to overhead APs, even if they are farther away. But due to a quirk in the SAP Center’s construction, AmpThink went with a deployment strategy of overhead APs for the arena’s upper seating deck, mainly because of the low ceiling that is closer to the seats than many other indoor venues.

A look at the overhead APs from below. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Though combining different AP architectures is tricky, AmpThink’s Anderson said it’s better to pick “the one that’s economically right” rather than staying stuck with one method. Overhead placements like SAP Center’s, which are hung from the walkways near the roof, are typically much cheaper per placement than under-seat or handrail deployments, which often require extensive work including core drilling through concrete floors.

“I was a little concerned at first [about the combination of overhead and railing placements] but the roof is close enough to work,” said Aiello of the dual placement methods. According to AmpThink’s Anderson, most of the overhead antennas are about 30 feet away from the seats, with the farthest being 45 feet away — still close enough so that the power needed to reach fans doesn’t bleed the signal down into the lower bowl. Aiello also noted that an under-seat or handrail AP design for the upper deck would have required the Sharks the extra expense and work to drill through the ceilings of the stadium’s premium suites, which are located between the two main bowl seating levels.

In the upper deck section 219, we tested the Wi-Fi at several seating locations and came up with consistently fast speeds, including one at 48.88 Mbps/44.96; at the lounge area along the arena’s top row we saw even faster speeds, including a mark of 68.00/68.52. We also saw many VenueNext railing-mounted beacon enclosures, part of a planned 500-beacon network that Aiello said will be coming online sometime soon.

Since hockey games have two long breaks built into each game, it’s extremely important for venues to provide good connectivity in concourse and club areas where fans typically congregate between periods. And even though the SAP Center is an older building — which sometimes makes aesthetics a challenge — AmpThink and the Sharks were able to hide almost all of the APs that are placed every 50 feet around the main circular concourse thanks to a small drywall facade that sticks out from the main wall to support directional and section-number signage.

While some of the Wi-Fi speedtests we took while roaming the concourse during the crowded pre-game were in the high 40 Mbps range, we also got a few tests much higher, with one at 67.94 Mbps/ 58.14 Mbps, and another at 63.76 / 55.96, the latter near a crowded concession area. And even with fans streaming in at a good clip, we even got one test at 69.62 / 70.54 near a doorway, showing that walk-around coverage appears to be solid throughout the building.

A VenueNext beacon mount in the upper deck. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

And even though the Sharks were eliminated in the first round of this year’s playoffs, fans used the SAP Center Wi-Fi at higher levels than normal during the postseason. According to Aiello, the stadium saw a peak of 5,013 concurrent users en route to a total of 1.3 terabytes of data used at the first home playoff game; the second home game saw 1.1 TB of data used, with 4,890 peak concurrent users.

New LED boards keep fans connected while out of seats

If the Wi-Fi APs will remain hidden to fans strolling the concourses, the new LED boards will have an opposite effect — instead of just a few TV screens here and there, the Sharks and Daktronics, along with AmpThink and Cisco have gone all-in with a strategy that has multiple-screen boards and long banks of LED strips that can all be controlled and programmed from a single location, thanks to the Cisco StadiumVision system.

Having networked and controllable screens is a huge plus for administration — according to Aiello the previous setup required manual walk-arounds to configure and check each display. AmpThink also helped reduce the wiring needed for all the new displays by connecting the LED boards to the IP cabling used for the Wi-Fi system.

This photo shows how close the ceiling is to the upper deck seats. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“The video, audio and Wi-Fi all used to be discrete systems,” said AmpThink’s Anderson. “Now they all roll up to one converged network.”

With StadiumVision, the Sharks will be able to program the displays on the fly, substituting advertising for live game action as quickly as hockey teams change players on the ice. Aiello noted that the combination of screens and a beacon system will allow the Sharks to sell more targeted advertising with real metrics showing the number of fans in the area of a display. Big displays mounted above doorways can also be changed to assist with foot traffic and transportation info for postgame exit flows.

App already providing more marketing leads

Wrapping it all together in the fans’ hands is the new app from VenueNext, a company Tortora said the Sharks had been in contact with since its inaugural launch of the Levi’s Stadium app for the San Francisco 49ers. While the VenueNext app will evolve over time to potentially add in a list of services, the ability to let fans move tickets around digitally has already helped the Sharks start down their desired path of having more personalized information to better reach current and prospective customers.

“During the preseason this year we had 2,500 tickets transferred per game, versus 800 during last year’s preseason games,” Tortora said. Because many of those transfers involved sending tickets to email addresses or phone numbers that weren’t current season ticketholders, Tortora said the Sharks were able to add approximately 7,500 new names to their ticket marketing database, which Tortora simply called “gold.”

Fans’ social media posts are featured on the scoreboard during pregame. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“To do digital tickets, fans have to download the app, so now we can market directly to that person,” Tortora said. That move will help the Sharks identify things like “who’s not coming to games and why,” which may help the team find out early if fans may not be wanting to renew season tickets, and market to them accordingly.

A Cisco-built fan portal is also part of the overall package, and eventually the team hopes to use that software to construct more-personal marketing messages that can be determined by factors including live presence and location within the building. As more data accumulates, Tortora said the Sharks plan to get even deeper into a strategy currently underway that revolves around dynamic ticket pricing.

“We can use data to find out where seats are in demand, and where some sections may not be selling well,” Tortora said, and shift prices accordingly. The team has already broken seating prices into 16 different categories for this season, with plans to expand that to 36 different categories for next season, Tortora said.

“Airlines do this, hotels do this,” Tortora said. “It’s all about being data-driven.”

The Sharks and Blackhawks get ready to rumble. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

LED screens above an entryway. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

More LED screens above the seating entry areas in the main concourse. Credit: San Jose Sharks

LED screens above entryway, where fans use the VenueNext ‘Kezar’ scanners to validate tickets. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Even more LED screens, on a different concourse. Credit: San Jose Sharks

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.

T-Mobile Arena lights up on Vegas Strip

Inside the main doors to T-Mobile Arena.

Inside the main doors to T-Mobile Arena.

Though we haven’t yet been to a live event at T-Mobile Arena, a summertime visit to the new venue revealed a sparkling 20,000-seat arena with a well-planned Wi-Fi network that seems ready to handle the expected crowds that will soon repeatedly fill the venue.

Thanks to a personal technology tour hosted by Cox Business, the entity behind the Wi-Fi network at T-Mobile Arena, we saw many of the 520-plus Cisco Wi-Fi APs, including many that were housed in custom enclosures that the Cox team designed specifically for T-Mobile Arena. Both aesthetics and functionality came into play for the innovative enclosure designs, some of which can be tilted for more exact event-by-event tuning. The arena, a $375 million joint project between AEG and MGM Resorts, opened on April 6, 2016.

Getting ready for the Golden Knights

Editor’s note: This profile is part of our latest STADIUM TECHNOLOGY REPORT, which includes more stadium profiles as well as looks at Wi-Fi at the Mall of America, and analytics software being used by the Cleveland Browns. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

With two 10-gbps pipes providing backhaul, the arena’s network should be able to easily handle the traffic generated by its upcoming list of events, which will be heavy on concerts until the NHL expansion franchise (recently announced as the Vegas Golden Knights) arrives. There is also a cellular DAS inside the venue, built with equipment from JMA Wireless.

Wi-Fi AP enclosures can be tilted to optimize coverage.

Wi-Fi AP enclosures can be tilted to optimize coverage.

Construction details that we saw that you may not have heard about include the fact that a large percentage of the bowl seats are on moveable tracks, allowing for maximum flexibility in configuration. To compensate for the lack of fixed infrastructure the Cox team used the hanging scoreboard as a prime placement area for Wi-Fi APs, helping solve the traditional bottom-of-the-bowl coverage issues.

Another place where T-Mobile Arena has turned stadium design on its head is with its two “sky lounges” and another exclusive-seating club area at the very top of the building, changing the old “nosebleed seats” section into ultra-lounge type areas that should prove popular for both sporting and entertainment events. The sky lounges in particular are striking, twin triangular decks that jut out over the lower-bowl seats.

From a technology perspective there is also a section of premium seats with tabletop-mounted small TV screens, as well as extra wireless coverage for the press box section. MSR is looking forward to attending a live event at T-Mobile Arena soon, to fully test the impressive looking network installed there. Enjoy the following photo essay: Credit all photos, Paul Kapustka, MSR.

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Panoramic view of the arena seating bowl.

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One of the distinctive “sky lounges” that juts out over the lower seats.

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Close-up of an AP enclosure with the “skyline” art in the background.

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A Wi-Fi antenna points down from the rafters.

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Wi-Fi APs (and speakers) visible on the bottom of the main center scoreboard.

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A Wi-Fi AP enclosure for outdoor lounge area.

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Inside that same AP enclosure.

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One of the under-seat AP enclosures.

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See you soon!

Bills, Sabres owners embrace fans through unified ‘One Buffalo’ app feature

Screenshot of the MyOneBuffalo app.

Screenshot of the MyOneBuffalo app.

If Pegula Sports and Entertainment, owners of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NHL’s Sabres franchises, had one message for fans, it might be “We’ve got you covered.”

With its recently launched MyOneBuffalo app, Pegula has integrated electronic tickets, venue information (parking, concessions, restrooms) and player data, as well as some video extras for the Bills’ version. But MyOneBuffalo also features a digital wallet along with a loyalty program access, where the points and features are automated – scanned or activated by proximity to in-venue iBeacons, rather than via input manually by fans. Inaudible tone technology in the app will be able to detect when fans are tuned in to a game on TV and credit them for watching (provided a fan has enabled location services for the app). MyOneBuffalo also has a “Find Friends” function that allows fans to connect with Facebook friends during games or other events.

Most of that is pretty standard fare for pro team apps. Where MyOneBuffalo distinguishes itself is on the backend. It’s integrated on Venuetize’s mobile platform, which hosts a variety of functionality from Authorize.net (PCI-compliant payment processing); Delaware North (hospitality, food service management); Experience (fan upgrade software); Micros (Oracle’s point-of-sale system); Radius Networks (iBeacons, geo-fences); Skidata (loyalty rewards portal); Ticketmaster and Tickets.com (ticketing systems); TruCa$h (physical gift cards); RetailPro (merchandise POS system); and YinzCam (mobile app development).

Higher expectations for fans

After traveling to lots of NFL and NHL games, owner Kim Pegula challenged her management staff to meet fans’ higher expectations of the venues, technology and their relationship to the team, according to John Durbin, director of marketing for Pegula Sports and Entertainment. “The impetus behind MyOneBuffalo was enhancing the fan experience,” he told Mobile Sports Report.

Bills and Sabres owner Kim Pegula. Credit: Bill Wippert

Bills and Sabres owner Kim Pegula. Credit: Bill Wippert

Venuetize is hosting three versions of MyOneBuffalo: One for the Bills, a second for the Sabres, and a standalone version, which can be used by either visitors to the HarborCenter entertainment district, fans at home, or supporters of the Buffalo Bandits, the city’s National Lacrosse League franchise (also owned by Pegula).

Like other owner-managers of professional sports teams, Pegula is looking to MyOneBuffalo to gain deeper insights about fans’ movement, behavior and spending.

“They [Pegula Sports and Entertainment] are trying to get the 360-degree view of the fan,” said Karri Zaremba, founder and chief operations officer of Venuetize. “They wanted a mobile app that would work seamlessly across all their properties and brands.”

Once fully deployed, MyOneBuffalo will provide more insights to attendance numbers, assess the impact of various campaigns and initiatives, and measure purchasing patterns, social activity and any correlations. This is fertile ground for the application of predictive analytics, a holy grail in business at the moment, not just in sports and entertainment, to allow organizations to anticipate better, save money and delight customers, or in this case, fans.

“When we started to align our business operations with the Bills, we had a lot of different data sources across our entities, so one challenge was that we had no way to connect dots between someone going to lots of Bills and Sabres games,” Durbin said. “So to have an analytics platform that collects all this data and know that it’s the same fan gives us data to make their experience more customized—and a better experience, quite honestly.”

Adding restaurants and retail to game-day experiences

Network upgrades have been recently completed at New Era Field (formerly Ralph Wilson Stadium) where the Bills play; KeyBank Center for the Sabres; and the adjacent HarborCenter, a hockey-themed, mixed-use development that includes a Marriott hotel, a two-story restaurant-bar with flatscreens everywhere, and lots of retail, that opened in 2014. “The trend that’s happening right now is these entertainment districts for teams with restaurants and retail,” Durbin explained. “We’re trying to create a seamless experience across these three venues. We wanted an app with similar features, regardless of which location you’re at.”

KeyBank Center, home of the Sabres. Credit: Bill Wippert

KeyBank Center, home of the Sabres. Credit: Bill Wippert

MyOneBuffalo taps six different location-based technologies: beacons; geo-fences; inaudible tones; Wi-Fi; image recognition; and wearables – MyOneBuffalo is integrated with FitBit.

Inaudible tones can be used in a couple different ways. They can be played through the public address system or the software developer’s kit can detect it so that it triggers something. Inaudible tones can be used for basic data collection or more interactive features, where a sponsor offers a premium. “We’re still working through ways to use the inaudible tone,” Durbin said. “We don’t have a clear timetable as to when that will be available.”

The Pegula organization is looking at other ways to tap MyOneBuffalo. At the top of that list is reducing wait times for gates or concessions and re-directing fans to ones that are less busy, Durbin said. They’re also looking at methods to pre-order concessions or merchandise so a fan doesn’t have to wait in line; they can walk up later, scan their receipt and walk away with their order. “We want to add features and create a robust experience for fans,” Durbin said.