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.

DAS, Wi-Fi get a workout at NCAA men’s hoops venues

AT&T cell tower on wheels (COW) with an ‘eyeball’ antenna

Stadium DAS and Wi-Fi networks at venues hosting NCAA men’s basketball tournament action saw plenty of usage the past two weeks, confirming that in-stadium wireless device use continues to grow.

According to AT&T, fans on its networks across all NCAA men’s venues used a total of 11.6 terabytes of data, with Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis seeing the most of any single venue, with 1.8 TB of data used in games there from March 17-19. The Amway Center in Orlando was close behind, with 1.075 TB used on the AT&T DAS networks for games on March 16 and 18.

On the Wi-Fi side, San Jose’s SAP Center saw almost 1.7 TB of data used this past weekend for regional finals games. Allison Aiello, director of IT for Sharks Sports & Entertainment, said the venue saw 1.1 TB of data used for Thursday’s two games, with a peak concurrent user number of 3,041 and a peak bandwidth utilization of 1.1 Gbps. On Saturday Aiello said the SAP Center’s new Wi-Fi network saw 592 GB of data used, with a peak concurrent user total of 2,802 and peak bandwidth utilization of 451 Mbps. (Any other venues or carriers with stats, send them in and we will update this post.)

AT&T also said that it has — once againupdated its coverage in and around the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, home of this year’s men’s Final Four. With a 60 percent increase in capacity for the stadium’s DAS and additional equipment for other Phoenix venues and outside areas, AT&T continues to invest in infrastructure for what it sees as a still-climbing demand for bandwidth at sporting events. According to AT&T:

Over the last five NCAA Men’s Final Four tournaments (2012-2016), total data usage on AT&T’s venue-specific mobile network alone has increased more than 900 percent, setting records on our network year after year. Next weekend’s tournament will surely be no different.

Will stadiums soon be able to rent their Wi-Fi networks from equipment vendors?

Nationwide Arena. Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

Nationwide Arena. Credit: Columbus Blue Jackets

If it costs too much to buy a Wi-Fi network for your stadium, why not rent one instead?

A fairly common option in the world of enterprise networking, the ability to rent, or lease a fully operational Wi-Fi network may soon be coming to the world of sports stadiums and other large public venues, if it isn’t here already. Three of the largest Wi-Fi gear suppliers, Cisco, Aruba and Ruckus, already have public offers of network leasing arrangements, where venue owners could pay some kind of monthly or recurring fee for network setup and operation, instead of buying equipment outright. And Cisco, another leader in the marketplace, is rumored to be offering full-control lease-type arrangements for stadium Wi-Fi networks, possibly beginning with the new Wi-Fi network being built at the SAP Center in San Jose.

Though no large sports stadium has yet publicly announced a deal to lease, or in networking lingo, to buy a “Network as a service,” or NaaS, the idea is potentially attractive to stadium owners and operators, many of whom have struggled with the return-on-investment question ever since the idea of putting wireless networks in stadiums has emerged. While cellular carriers have so far borne the lion’s share of the costs of deploying enhanced cellular systems like DAS (distributed antenna system) in stadiums, the question of “who will pay for the Wi-Fi” is still a big one for many venues, especially those that are only filled several times a year.

The benefits of moving to opex vs. capex

Bart Giordano, vice president of business development for the Ruckus business unit at Brocade, said the idea of leasing a stadium network could be attractive especially to venue owners who don’t have the upfront capital necessary to pay for Wi-Fi, a cost that could run into the tens of millions of dollars.

Under new parent Brocade, Ruckus Wi-Fi gear can be obtained via something called the Brocade Network Subscription, a NaaS program that Giordano said “converts it all to opex — you subscribe to the network and pay a monthly service fee.” Under the subscription program, Giordano said Brocade/Ruckus will actually own the equipment, allowing the venue owner the flexibility of being able to return it or upgrade it as needed.

With many stadiums that deployed Wi-Fi several years ago already going through significant upgrades, the idea of a leased network that could be more easily refreshed with new technology might soon gain favor. Though no Ruckus stadium subscribers have yet been announced, Giordano said “some are coming.”

Aruba, now a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, has a similar subscription model plan for enterprise wireless deployments, one which company representatives said could be used by stadiums as well. Both companies said such deals could possibly come via consulting partnerships, where the consultant firm manages the relationship and deployment/operation details.

Cisco also has a leasing option available for wireless networks, but so far has not made any public announcements of such deals in the sports stadium marketplace. However, there are reports of Cisco taking a more active role in the ownership, deployment and operation of stadium networks, like the Cisco-powered Wi-Fi currently being installed at the SAP Center in San Jose, home of the NHL’s Sharks. So far, neither Cisco nor the Sharks will comment on any business specifics of the new Wi-Fi network other than its use of Cisco gear.

Can leasing work for stadiums?

While the leasing idea for stadiums isn’t new, the business model has met some challenges along the way of the short history of wireless networks in large venues. So far, third-party integrators like Mobilitie, ExteNet Systems and Boingo have crafted lease-like deals in which the venue does not pay the full cost of the network but instead allows the operators to run networks (typically both DAS and Wi-Fi), earning money by leasing space on those networks to wireless carriers or by selling advertising or sponsorships.

Another leasing model, one that crashed and burned, was the one employed by SignalShare, a company now in bankruptcy proceedings with legal claims of fraudulent business practices against it. SignalShare, which also offered venues networks for a monthly cost, may have been hampered by a lack of financial resources, something that shouldn’t be an issue for companies the size of Cisco, HP and Brocade, who will mainly be offering leases on equipment they manufacture themselves. The larger equipment vendors may also not be under as much pressure as SignalShare was to earn revenues on the network operations, which may make them better able to succeed in the NaaS space.

And while the idea sounds good in theory, there are still unanswered questions about how the leases would work, and whether they will make good business sense for both sides. Unlike enterprise operations in traditional offices, stadium networks are far more complex to install and operate, especially those being retrofitted in stadiums built decades ago. Stadium networks also have a much different operational profile, with traffic coming in large spikes rather than daily workday routines.

But stadium networks can also act as public advertisements of sorts, gaining more attention for vendors in PR than perhaps in direct profits. As the market matures and vendors seek out potential customers who have shied away from Wi-Fi in the past due to upfront costs, leasing may be a way forward for both sides — as long as both can find a benefit to the deal.

Cisco deploys Wi-Fi network at San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

The San Jose Sharks have announced a new Wi-Fi network for their home arena, SAP Center — one that will use Cisco Wi-Fi gear as well as Cisco’s StadiumVision system for digital-display content management.

San Jose Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora said that the new Wi-Fi network — believed to be the first full public Wi-Fi deployment in the building — joins a new team app developed by VenueNext as part of a big revamp for the technology-related fan experience at the so-called “Shark Tank.”

According to the Sharks, the Wi-Fi network will have 500 access points, with 50 of those mounted in handrail enclosures in the lower seating bowl; another 17 APs will be located under seats in the retractable seating sections of the arena. Wi-Fi design and deployment firm AmpThink helped install the new network, which is slated to go live by Dec. 1, the Sharks said.

“To complement our new Sharks app and the use of it at SAP Center, we are in the process of deploying Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi, a best-in-class Wi-Fi platform used in sports venues around the world,” Tortora said in an email communication. “We want our patrons to be able to easily and reliably connect while at SAP Center to allow for the best fan experience when attending Sharks games and other events.”

Sharks fans at Wednesday night’s home opener may have noticed some of the other technical enhancements to the arena, which include 13 new LED panels and 625 new digital displays. The Cisco StadiumVision system allows for remote control and synchronization of digital display content, including the ability to split screens to show things like live video alongside static advertising.

Until the Wi-Fi network goes live, SAP Center attendees should still be able to connect via an in-stadium distributed antenna system (DAS) run by AT&T, which also carries Verizon Wireless signals.

VenueNext lands $15 million Series B funding, adds San Jose Sharks as 1st NHL client

Screenshot from new San Jose Sharks app developed by VenueNext. Credit: VenueNext

Screenshot from new San Jose Sharks app developed by VenueNext. Credit: VenueNext

Stadium and venue app developer VenueNext has secured a $15 million Series B round of financing, as well as its first National Hockey League client, the San Jose Sharks.

Both announcements were made by VenueNext Tuesday, just ahead of Wednesday’s season opener for the Sharks at SAP Center in San Jose. The new app is ready for fans to download in time for the Sharks’ game against the Los Angeles Kings. Later this season fans will also be able to connect via the arena’s new Wi-Fi network, which will use Wi-Fi gear from Cisco.

The new round of funding brings VenueNext’s total of announced venture capital to $24 million, following a $9 million round raised last summer. Causeway Media Partners, which led the initial round, is also leading the new round; according to VenueNext some of its first-round investors are also participating in the B round, but the company did not yet name any of them other than Causeway. Twitter, Live Nation and Aruba were among the Series A investors in VenueNext.

Adding hospitality and healthcare to market targets

In the increasingly competitive market for stadium and team application development, VenueNext has had a solid year in breaking away from just being the app provider to the San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, its initial offering. So far this year, new VenueNext apps have appeared at Super Bowl 50, Yankee Stadium, Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, and at the Minnesota Vikings’ new home, U.S. Bank Stadium. VenueNext also announced a new app being developed for the Saratoga and Belmont horse-racing tracks, which will be launched next year.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

While VenueNext still hasn’t come close to publicly announcing the 30 clients CEO John Paul said the company would have by the end of 2015, the list of announced clients now includes the 49ers and Super Bowl 50, the Dallas Cowboys, the Orlando Magic, and now the San Jose Sharks. According to VenueNext, it does have clients signed already in the healthcare and hospitality markets, but cannot name them due to confidentiality agreements. VenueNext said it will announce more customers in the next few months.

Sharks fans get beverage, not food, delivery to seats — for now

One of the signature VenueNext services at Levi’s Stadium, the ability for all fans to use the app to order concessions delivered to their seats, will initially only support in-seat beverage ordering and delivery for Sharks fans, according to VenueNext. That service is similar to how the VenueNext app was used at Super Bowl 50. Other new services now available at SAP Center via the app include digital ticketing, with the ability to view, upgrade or transfer tickets; the ability to view and manage parking passes; mobile ticket access via the VenueNext ticket kiosks; and team content.

According to Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora, the team was first introduced to VenueNext during the NHL Stadium Series game at Levi’s Stadium in February of 2015.

“We were impressed with their execution at that event and have witnessed the business success they have generated at sports venues throughout the country,” said Tortora of VenueNext in an email communiction. “We look to bring that standard to SAP Center.” According to Tortora, wayfinding and virtual reality experiences are among features that will be added to the app in the future.

The Sharks app page also says that during the season the app will add a large list of Sharks-related content, including team and league stats, and it will also add in-game trivia contests. So far in most of its deployments, VenueNext has added and improved features in its apps over time.

On the Wi-Fi side, the venue is now getting its first full-scale Wi-Fi network for fans, a deployment that will include the use of Cisco StadiumVision for digital-display controls. According to the Sharks, the Wi-Fi network is expected to be operational by Dec. 1.

“To complement our new Sharks app and the use of it at SAP Center, we are in the process of deploying Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi, a best-in-class Wi-Fi platform used in sports venues around the world,” Tortora said. “We want our patrons to be able to easily and reliably connect while at SAP Center to allow for the best fan experience when attending Sharks games and other events.”

VenueNext said it now has 90 employees, with offices in Santa Clara, Calif., San Francisco, New York and London. The new funds, the company said, will be used to “continue to innovate on our platform,” and also to help launch the new vertical markets as well as expansion to international clients.

NHL’s Bettman: Better tech coming to all NHL stadiums

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, at Levi's Stadium press conference. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image).

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, at Levi’s Stadium press conference. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image).

He wasn’t really there to talk about stadium Wi-Fi, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was kind enough to spend a couple minutes geeking out about wireless connectivity with Mobile Sports Report following a press conference at Levi’s Stadium to announce a new NHL online stats operation powered by software giant SAP.

If you are a hockey fan (and there are lots of them in town this weekend for the Coors Light Stadium Series game Saturday at Levi’s) you are going to like the new NHL stats platform, which has an incredible amount of information available today basically at fans’ fingertips, since it works well online and on mobile devices as well. Full player breakdowns, advanced stats you didn’t know you needed and the (coming soon) ability to compare current players to players from the past should provide a lot more depth to the general knowledge of the sport.

But for the MSR audience we asked Bettman specifically if the NHL was doing anything on a league-wide basis to ensure that fans at NHL venues had enough wireless connectivity to, say, view the new SAP stats package during games.

New SAP-powered NHL stats on a mobile device

New SAP-powered NHL stats on a mobile device

“All our arenas are being upgraded [from a technology standpoint],” said Bettman in a quick Q&A with MSR following the formal press conference. “From bigger video boards to Wi-Fi we know our fans want what they want, when they want it.”

Since not every NHL arena has fan-facing Wi-Fi — watch for a list in an upcoming MSR report — we asked Bettman if the league was prepared to offer any financial help to get all venues wired. The problem, he said, is that in many stadiums the NHL team is a tenant and not an owner, so teams aren’t able to step in and deploy wireless networks. Plus, many of the NHL stadiums are older buildings, which are generally harder to retrofit with wireless networks.

“It’s easier to do when you’re in a greenfield situation, building a new stadium like this,” Bettman said, gesturing to the new walls surrounding him in the tony Levi’s Stadium United Club.

With the league-sanctioned stats platform, the NHL seems to be taking a step in the path blazed by Major League Baseball, where a unified digital strategy brings live action and other league information to fans in a single package. We asked Bettman if the NHL had any plans to add features like video replays to its stats offering, maybe moving more in the direction of MLB or even the NFL’s NFL Now offering.

New NHL stats page showing player info

New NHL stats page showing player info

“We’re looking at it,” Bettman said of offering video. On the new stats package idea overall, Bettman said “if there was one word to describe it, it’s ‘more.’ More data, more speed. We’ve gone from nothing to a rocket ship. Wait until you see what’s next.”

As far as the stats operation goes, what we saw Friday was pretty good, and holds the promise of getting even better. For starters the operation (which, according to SAP runs on its SAP HANA enterprise cloud service) will incorporate new, cleaner design than previous NHL stats offerings, as well as visualization tools to better show stats in graphical format. Coming in the near future is a feature that is really cool: The ability to compare current players’ stats to those of players from the past, thanks to an ambitious effort to find things like old scoresheets from as far back as the 1920s, and having that information scanned into the new digital system. SAP did a similar thing with Duke basketball, helping build a historic-comparison site for Duke fans.

Bettman and the NHL folks will be around Saturday to see if the ice stays frozen for the Stadium Series game between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings. Ice rink in the sun picture below.

Levi's Stadium with ice rink in place

Levi’s Stadium with ice rink in place