Paying for beer with a fingerprint gets thumbs-up at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field

A fan at a Seattle Seahawks game pays for concessions using his fingerprint, via the Clear system. Credit all photos: David Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Seattle football and soccer fans are giving a big thumbs-up to a new concessions system at CenturyLink Field that lets them buy a beer or other items simply by tapping their fingerprint at payment time.

Clear, the same firm that gives travelers a way to pay for access to faster security lines at airports, is now moving into sports venues with a free version of its plan to let fans enter stadiums via special “Clear” lines. In Seattle, Clear and the Seahawks and Sounders are also testing a point-of-sale system where registered Clear users can pay for concessions and be age-verified by simply tapping their finger on a special concession-stand device. Currently, the system is only in use at four concession stands at CenturyLink but Seattle network executives said there are plans to expand the offering as the seasons progress. The system was also used earlier this season at the Seattle Mariners’ home, Safeco Field.

With more than 1,500 football and soccer fans having signed up for Clear at the stadium through the first week of October, Clear and CenturyLink are now seeing an average of around 1,000 fans using Clear to enter the stadium per football game and 200-plus similar verifications at Seattle Sounders games, according to statistics provided to MSR by Chip Suttles, vice president of technology for the Seahawks. The stadium started offering the service this preseason for both the NFL and MLS events. Fans who had previously signed up for Clear either at airports or online can use that same membership to enter the stadium.

The workings of the concession system are pretty simple: Once a user signs up for Clear — which requires personal data including age and a valid credit card — the user orders food and drink at the concession stand window, then completes the transaction with a fingertip tap in a special counter device. The biometrics confirm both that a user is old enough to purchase alcohol, and has a valid credit card to bill, eliminating the need for personal eyewitness verification of I.D. and the time needed to transact via credit card or cash.

At the Seahawks’ Oct. 7 home game against the Los Angeles Rams, another 199 fans enrolled for the Clear system on-site, and 911 fans used Clear to get into the venue, according to Suttles. The Clear system was used for 239 concession transactions at the game.

Speeding up the concessions lines

Fans could sign up for Clear inside and outside CenturyLink Field.


While the numbers may seem small right now, the promise of using technology to produce much faster concessions transactions are a welcome beginning to an area of stadium operations that in many places seems stuck in the far past, with cash transactions and counter staffers who take orders, fulfill them and then take payments.

“We are always looking for new, innovative ways to enhance the fan experience,” said Suttles, who said feedback so far from Seahawks and Sounders fans has been overwhelmingly positive. David Kapustka, Seattle Bureau Chief for Mobile Sports Report, attended the Seahawks’ Sept. 23 home game against the Dallas Cowboys and did an on-site test of the Clear system, and not just for the free beer Clear was offering as a sign-up promotion.

Once signed up for the system, Kapustka reported that the concession-stand finger-scan interaction “took less than a minute,” though there was some waiting beforehand to order since the Clear payment lanes share space with regular ordering and payment lanes at the two stands where the Clear service was offered that day.

The only drawbacks Kapustka saw for the Clear operation had mainly to do with its popularity, as a long line of fans queued up before the game to sign up at a Clear kiosk, ironically causing some delay for fans getting into the stadium. Once inside, one request Kapustka heard from fans was to have more Clear-enabled lines, feedback that Clear and the network folks are probably glad to hear. (More photos from our visit below)

Like many venues, CenturyLink Field has long lines for entry security measures

The Clear sign-up kiosk outside the stadium

A long line before the game started to sign up for Clear

One of the Clear-enabled concession stands at CenturyLink Field. Note the non-existent line at the Clear lane

Another fan taps a fingertip to pay

Good promotion

There’s good Wi-Fi at CenturyLink too

New Report: DAS deployments rule, with new networks at Wrigley Field, AT&T Park and Amalie Arena

Call it the ‘Connect the DAS’ issue — our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT is heavy on DAS news, with new deployments at Wrigley Field, AT&T Park, and Amalie Arena — all of them breaking news, as in you heard it here first!

At AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants, there is a brand new upgrade to the stadium’s DAS network, an AT&T-only deployment of DAS antennas inside the same under-seat enclosures used for stadium Wi-Fi. An experiment at first, just a few months into the season it has surprised both the team and the carrier with how well it’s doing. Get the details by DOWNLOADING OUR FREE REPORT right now!

Second at bat in the news-scoop arena is another DAS deployment, this one just getting underway at Amalie Arena in Tampa, home of the NHL’s Lightning. The twist on this new network — also being installed by AT&T — is that it will exclusively use MatSing ball antennas, those quirky-looking “big ball” antennas that you may have seen used in a temporary fashion at outdoor events. What’s bringing them inside? DOWNLOAD THE REPORT and read our exclusive story!

And at venerable Wrigley Field — the friendly confines of the Chicago Cubs — a long-planned upgrade to the venue’s cellular systems is finally in place, using JMA Wireless equipment deployed by DAS Group Professionals. Our in-person visit took a look at how DGP and the Cubs merged new technology with one of baseball’s most historic structures. Who says DAS is dead?

In addition to those stories we also have a complete, in-person visit and profile of the new networks at the newest stadium in MLS, the Los Angeles Football Club’s Banc of California Stadium. We also have a Q&A with Sprint CTO Dr. John Saw, all packed into one issue ready for FREE DOWNLOAD right now!

We’d like to thank our sponsors for this issue, which includes Mobilitie, Corning, Huber+Suhner, JMA Wireless, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Oberon, Boingo, MatSing, ExteNet and DAS Group Professionals — without their support, we wouldn’t be able to make all this great content available to you for no cost. Thanks for your interest and we hope you enjoy the latest issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series!

Successful opener for LAFC at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles

Banc of California Stadium looks over downtown Los Angeles on its opening game day. Credit all photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

First you heard the booming bass of drums, then came the chanting of thousands (“FC!…LA!…FC!”). You may not see the Banc of California Stadium at first, but this aural GPS guides fans toward Major League Soccer’s newest venue, which opened April 29 with expansion team Los Angeles Football Club. With a final price tag of $350 million (~$100 million over its original budget), the stadium is the most expensive for a soccer-specific venue.

First things first: The Ruckus-based Wi-Fi and its 500 access points functioned beautifully, as did the DAS network that Mobilitie helped engineer – more on that in our upcoming summer STADIUM TECH REPORT issue next month.

The freshly minted wireless infrastructure ensured attendees on opening day could Instagram the U.S. Navy paratroopers landing center field, trailing colored smoke out of their heels (black and yellow/gold, LAFC’s colors, of course). Or the surprise appearance of comedian Will Ferrell (who also owns part of LAFC), balancing a hooded bird of prey on his wrist. Olly, LAFC’s mascot, then hopped to the arm of its usual handler who released the falcon, thrilling the crowd with its gliding and swooping, completely unfazed by 22,000 fans and their cheers.

But for sheer endurance, raucous fans in the north stands put on the biggest show, beating drums, waving flags (Brazil, Argentina, Portugal, to name a few), and singing fight songs. The drummers kept things lively throughout the game, even if they were occasionally obscured by the yellow/gold smoke bombs set off at strategic moments.

A blazing open to the LAFC’s new home.

At regular intervals throughout the inaugural game against the Seattle Sounders, the feeling was less southern California and more like one of South America’s soccer stadiums.

The stadium is well named, if only because it has the sound and spirit of a giant cash register. Multiple establishments – Founders Club, Sunset Deck, Field Level Club, Figueroa Club, Directors Lounge – ensure no one goes hungry or thirsty. Luxury suites fill in the gaps. Down on the main level, LA’s tastiest eateries (tacos, barbecue, Korean, shawarma, coffee, craft beers) have outlets and the lines were long on opening day. There are also the obligatory team merchandise and souvenir stands and season ticket vendors.

Making money is one goal for LAFC, but so is winning games. LAFC triumphed in its debut home game 1-0, thanks to a free kick by team captain Laurent Ciman. That’s an auspicious start for MLS’s newest franchise and its shiny newest stadium.

Video boards are big at Banc of California Stadium

Steep seating pitches and sun screens make this stadium fan-friendly

The entry to the newest stadium in the MLS

Orlando City Stadium adds high-density Wi-Fi for soccer fans

Orlando City Stadium, home of the MLS’s Orlando City SC. Credit all photos: Jenna Cornell (click on any picture for a larger image)

Resilient. Connected. Reliable. Even before its new stadium opened in March of this year, Orlando City SC, the Major League Soccer franchise in central Florida, knew exactly what it wanted from fan-facing Wi-Fi.

Leading that list was networking infrastructure to support the stadium’s 25,500 capacity. The team needed to be able to deliver live streaming video to fans through the team’s LionNation app. And they wanted a way to begin collecting user info and building relationships with fans, according to Renato Reis, CIO for the club.

And with so many professional sports teams having already installed wireless infrastructure, Reis knew there was no reason to reinvent the Wi-Fi wheel. “I had the privilege to travel and interview other organizations,” he said, including the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami where the NFL’s Dolphins and the University of Miami both play football, as well as MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., shared by the NFL’s Jets and Giants. Reis said Orlando City SC’s technology drew heavily on the experience and deployment of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. “I used what I learned,” he laughed.

Paying their own way

Orlando City is barely 3 years old and played its first two seasons in the nearby Citrus Bowl, now called Camping World Stadium.

Under-seat Wi-Fi deployment at Orlando City Stadium.

After some confusion with the City of Orlando, Orange County and the state of Florida over money and budget for a new stadium, Orlando City SC’s ownership abandoned a public-private partnership to go its own way. Orlando City Stadium was built with private funds and opened in time for this year’s opener. Orlando City SC shares the venue with the Orlando Pride, the women’s professional soccer team.

“We had a brand-new stadium and no installed Wi-Fi, two factors that really benefited us,” Reis told Mobile Sports Report. “We planned the position of our antennas and leveraged lessons from other organizations to design something from scratch and build for the future.”

Orlando City SC had some help there. The MLS franchise partnered with managed service provider Spectrum Enterprise, a division of Charter Communications; Spectrum in turn has a longstanding partnership with Orlando City’s equipment vendor, Cisco. Together, they installed networking gear, lots of new fiber-optic cable, and the wireless infrastructure that rides atop the stadium’s 10-Gbps backbone network.

The fan-facing Wi-Fi consists of more than 550 wireless access points around the stadium, or about one AP for every 45 users. The APs are installed under seats, in handrails and on posts. “It was more of a challenge to find the right places, design-wise, for APs to keep them out of people’s line of vision,” Reis said.

Orlando City CIO Renato Reis, posing in front of some cool graffiti and below a Cisco AP.

Supporting streaming video

AP density and processing power were important considerations for Orlando City SC. With such dense coverage, each AP delivers 50-80 Mbps per user, Reis said. That ensures that users of the team’s LionNation app enjoy high performance when using its streaming video capability; users posting to social media or checking email also get faster throughput, he added.

That sort of performance is essential, especially for users of the premium version ($8.99) of the LionNation app. In addition to live-streaming video, premium members get access to behind-the-scenes content, as well as 10 percent discounts off food, drink and merchandise purchases (and points for every dollar spent). They also get priority access to post-season tickets and single-game tickets.

Spectrum helped with the stadium’s engineering and remains active in day-to-day management, said Reis. Spectrum performed three rounds of Wi-Fi tuning and collecting data to see where usage was greatest. No surprise: Entry gates and concession areas, according to Reis. They then made adjustments, repointing APs where needed, thus ensuring bandwidth is available where it’s needed most.

Orlando City SC has also been testing wireless food ordering in one stadium section with 1,500 users since the beginning of the year. “The challenge there isn’t technology but rather logistics,” Reis explained.

Screenshot of the Orlando City app

The team is planning to extend the capability more broadly, but needs more experience to help decide how to proceed. “We’ll probably run the test for the rest of the season and make changes next year,” he said.

Reis’s biggest challenge for the moment is encouraging Wi-Fi usage – and also persuading users to register if they’re not on the app. Even with Orlando City Stadium’s Wi-Fi coverage, most users will stick to cellular (the stadium’s DAS network is serviced by AT&T, Verizon T-Mobile and Sprint), he said.

“The problem I’m trying to solve is who is at the stadium,” Reis explained, adding that the only information he has is that a fan bought four tickets, for example, and when they get scanned at the gates. So how to learn more? “Most landing pages are boring,” he laughed; still, he’s considering offering different incentives for Wi-Fi users to check in.

“Can I loyal-ize you so I can learn what you like, what offers are more appealing, what you enjoy and don’t?” Reis asked. That’s a primary challenge for most sports teams, entertainment companies and ecommerce entities. Luckily for Reis and the Orlando City SC, he’s got the bandwidth, backbone and people resources to learn more about fans and build those relationships going forward.

First Look: Inside the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Big Bird greets all visitors to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

We’ll have much more to report on what we saw at the press day at the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but we thought it was important to share these views as soon as we could — so here is an extended photo essay from the newest NFL venue (which will also be used for soccer). Unfortunately the Wi-Fi and DAS networks were live but not yet optimized, so we weren’t able to do any comprehensive speed testing (but hey, that’s what a regular season game is for!).

Overalll first impressions, technology wise — this is another well thought out venue specifically from a technology standpoint but also mainly just from a visual feel. The halo board is as impressive as advertised, though we would want to see it in action during a game (while sitting in a seat) to fully judge whether or not it fits in with the flow of an event. For advertisers it’s a wonder, as watching all the video screens in the house go to a synchronized ad video was a big wow factor.

Since much of the stadium interior is unfinished concrete, there wasn’t much of an effort to hide networking components — but given all the other piping and cabling, the equipment does kind of fade out of sight in plain view.

MSR welcomes you to the big house

It’s our educated guess that the AT&T Porch — a wide open gathering area in the end zone opposite the windows toward downtown — is going to be a popular hangout, since you can see the field and have multiple big screen TV options behind you. We also liked the “technology loge suites,” smaller four-person private areas just off the main concourse with their own small TV screens and wireless device charging.

On the app side of things, it’s fair to say that features will iterate over time — both the wayfinding and the food-ordering options are not wirelessly connected yet, but according to IBM beacons are a possible future addition to the mix. And while Mercedes-Benz Stadium is going to all-digital ticketing, season ticket holders will most likely use RFID cards on lanyards instead of mobile phone tickets simply because the RFID is a quicker option. The ticket scanners are by SkiData, fiber backbone by Corning, Wi-Fi APs by Aruba, and DAS by Corning and a mix of antenna providers.

Like we said, more soon! But enjoy these photos today, ahead of the first event on Aug. 26.

The view inside the main entry, with halo board visible above

The view from the other side of the field, from the AT&T Porch

Just hard to fit all this in, but you can see here from field to roof

I spy Wi-Fi, APs point down from seat bottoms to main entry concourse

One of the many under-seat APs

A good look at the roof: Eight “petals” that all pull straight out when open, which is supposed to take 7 minutes according to design

Good place for maximum coverage

View from the field

One of “hundreds” of mini-IDFs, termination points that bring fiber almost right to edge devices

The mega-vertical TV screen, just inside the main entry. 101 feet tall!

Something Falcons fans may like the most: Look at the prices!

MORE SOON!

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium nears the finish line

Sorry, this venue is not open yet! Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

If there’s a huge tease to the audience at this year’s SEAT Conference in Atlanta it’s that there is no official visit planned to the nearby stadium that is on everyone’s mind, the Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Built right next door to the Georgia Dome, the new venue looks all finished from the outside, but there are still construction chain-link fences around it keeping anyone from getting too close to the building. A quick visit by yours truly Sunday afternoon got the pictures seen here, including the angular, glassy construction, the big metal falcon (caged for now) but no live look at the halo video board (though we thought we could see the curves inside).

Jared Miller, chief technology officer for AMB Sports & Entertainment, told us on the phone last week that Mercedes-Benz Stadium “is definitely in the final throes” of development, which is scheduled to end on Aug. 26 when the Falcons host their first NFL preseason game. There also may be an earlier public-unveiling event but the NFL date is the first scheduled full-scale opening of the Falcons’ new roost.

Miller spelled out a few previously unconfirmed facets of the technology deployment going on inside the stadium — the Wi-Fi gear is from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company; and lead contractor IBM will also be supplying the stadium’s mobile apps, with separate versions for the Falcons, the Atlanta United FC of the MLS, and one for the stadium itself (to be used for concerts, college football games and other non-NFL or non-MLS events).

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in all its glory

Mercedes-Benz Stadium will also have a neutral host DAS run by the Falcons using Corning ONE gear.

No in-seat delivery for concessions

Another interesting twist is that Miller said the while the Falcons’ apps will have the ability to allow fans to order food and drink, it will be for pickup at express windows only, and NOT for delivery to seats, a service seen at other venues like the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium. Miller said the AMB team has taken a different approach and expects fans to roam about more inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which has many different “experiential” zones where fans can watch the action from someplace other than their seat.

But even with all the different technology and lower food prices, Miller is betting that the one thing that visitors will keep talking about is the halo video board, the main “big screen” that wraps around the inside of the roof in a full circle.

“When fans enter they’re going to look up and go, ‘Wow!’ and do it the first time, and the 10th time they visit,” Miller said. Miller said he was walking back to the stadium recently and saw the halo board in action, and stopped in awe. “I look up and am just blown away by it,” he said. Falcons fans and other interested visitors are looking forward to feeling that feeling soon. More photos below!

Anyone see a halo board in there?

Yes, it’s very close to the Georgia Dome.

Mr. Blank, uncage this bird!

Seen on the MARTA train in from the airport: Still time to get a gig at the stadium!

A better look at the big bird