IBM formally launches sports consulting practice to bring tech to stadiums

Texas A&M student at recent Aggies football game. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Texas A&M student at recent Aggies football game. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

IBM formally cemented its entrance to the sports-stadium tech deployment market with the announcement of a sports and fan experience consulting practice, and a “global consortium” of tech and service suppliers who may help IBM in its future stadium and entertainment venue deployments.

For industry watchers, the Nov. 19 debut of the IBM “Sports, Entertainment and Fan Experience” consulting practice was not a surprise, since its leader, Jim Rushton, had already appeared at tech conferences this past summer, talking about IBM’s plans to deploy a fiber-based Wi-Fi and DAS network at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium being built for the Atlanta Falcons. IBM was also publicly behind a similar network build over the last two years at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field. For both networks, IBM is using Corning optical gear.

Still, the formal creation of the IBM practice (you can read all about it at the new IBM sports website) means that the 800-pound gorilla is now firmly inside the competitive ring of the stadium-tech marketplace, a landscape that currently has multiple players, many of which have multiple stadium deployments under their belts. However, IBM’s vast experience in big-time sports technology deployments — Big Blue is behind such endeavors as the truly wonderful online experience of The Masters, as well as technical underpinnings of three of tennis’ Grand Slam events (Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open) — as well as its considerable tech and monetary resources probably makes it a No. 1 contender for all of the biggest projects as well as possibly smaller ones as well.

Artist's rendering of planned overhead view of new Atlanta NFL stadium

Artist’s rendering of planned overhead view of new Atlanta NFL stadium

Rushton, who spoke with Mobile Sports Report earlier this year in one of his first public appearances as an IBMer, said in a phone interview this week that IBM’s fiber-to-the-fan network model isn’t just for large-scale deployments like the one at 105,000-seat Kyle Field or the Falcons’ new $1.4 billion nest, which will seat 71,000 for football and up to 83,000 for other events after it opens in 2017.

“That type of system [the optical network] is scalable,” Rushton said, and even in smaller venues he said it could potentially save customers 30 percent or more compared to the cost of a traditional copper-based cabled network. The flip side to that equation is that purchasers have fewer gear suppliers to choose from on the fiber-based side of things, and according to several industry sources it’s still sometimes a problem to find enough technical staffers with optical-equipment expertise.

How much of the market is left?

The other question facing IBM’s new consulting practice is the size of the market left for stadium tech deployments, an answer we try to parse each year in our State of the Stadium survey. While this year’s survey and our subsequent quarterly reports found a high number of U.S. professional stadiums with Wi-Fi and DAS networks already deployed, there are still large numbers of college venues as well as international stadiums and other large public venues like concert halls, race tracks and other areas that are still without basic connectivity.

Full house at Kyle Field. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Full house at Kyle Field. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

With its new “global consortium” of companies that supply different parts and services of the connected-stadium experience, IBM could be an attractive choice to a customer that doesn’t have its own technical expertise, providing a soup-to-nuts package that could conceivably handle tasks like in-stadium IPTV, DAS and Wi-Fi, construction and stadium design, and backbone bandwidth solutions.

However, IBM will be going up against vendors who have led deployments on their own, and league-led “consortium” type arrangements like MLBAM’s project that brought Wi-Fi to almost all the Major League Baseball stadiums, and the NFL’s list of preferred suppliers like Extreme Networks for Wi-Fi and YinzCam for apps. Also in the mix are third-party integrators like CDW, Mobilitie, 5 Bars, Boingo Wireless and others who are already active in the stadium-technology deployment space. And don’t forget HP, which bought Wi-Fi gear supplier Aruba Networks earlier this year.

Certainly, we expect to hear more from IBM soon, and perhaps right now it’s best to close by repeating what we heard from Jared Miller, chief technology officer for Falcons owner Arthur Blank’s namesake AMB Sports and Entertainment (AMBSE) group, when we asked earlier this year why the Falcons picked IBM to build the technology in the new Atlanta stadium:

Remote optical cabinet and Wi-Fi AP at Kyle Field. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Remote optical cabinet and Wi-Fi AP at Kyle Field. Photo: Paul Kapustka, MSR

“IBM is unique with its span of technology footprint,” Miller said. He also cited IBM’s ability to not just deploy technology but to also help determine what the technology could be used for, with analytics and application design.

“They’ve looked at the [stadium] opportunity in a different manner, thinking about what we could do with the network once it’s built,” Miller said.

From the IBM press release, here is the IBM list of companies in its new “global consortium,” which IBM said is not binding, meaning that none of the companies listed is guaranteed any business yet, and others not on the list may end up in IBM deployments, like Kyle Field, which uses Aruba gear for the Wi-Fi:

Founding members of the consortium, include:

· Construction and Design: AECOM, HOK, Whiting Turner

· Infrastructure Technology/Carriers: Alcatel/Lucent, Anixter, Commscope, Corning, Juniper Networks, Ruckus Wireless, Schneider Electric, Smarter Risk, Tellabs, Ucopia, Zebra Technologies, YinzCam (IPTV), Zayo, Zhone

· Communications Solutions Providers: Level 3, Verizon Enterprise Solutions, AT&T

· Fan Experience Consulting & Data Management Integration: IBM

How to get customized ESPN radio feeds on your smart phone, iPad


Until now, mobile sports fans who wanted to listen to such popular ESPN programming as “Mike and Mike in the Morning,” The Herd with Colin Cowherd” and “The Scott Van Pelt Show” couldn’t cache the programs on smartphone memory cards. Listening to ESPN radio required a network connection and drew down battery life. A solution to that problem has arrived, for a fee.

This week, ESPN went into partnership with San Diego-based Slacker Inc. to provide ESPN on Slacker Radio, including premium services priced at $3.99 and $9.99 per month which allow people to store radio programming locally.

If you don’t want to pay to listen to what you want, when you want, Slacker is also delivering a near-instantenous free feed of content from The Death Star (ESPN) 

Slacker is the first digital radio distribution service to feature ESPN Radio, and the agreement turns up the heat on such competitors as and Pandora to angle for similar deals with ESPN. The deal signals that ESPN is unafraid to be aggressive in flowing digital rights to its content for mobile distribution, which is considered key to the growth of the mobile sports viewing experience. According to Juniper Research, mobile sports content and services like the Slacker/ESPN offering could reach $3.8 billion in 2011.

Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA and AT&T subscribers can bill premium services directly to their accounts via Android and Blackberry smartphone applications, which are already available. A similar iOS application for iPhone and iPad is pending Apple’s approval.

How to Watch 2011 Wimbledon on Mobile Devices

Venus Williams wore this gold-zippered romper on day No. 1 of 2011 Wimbledon

U.S. mobile sports consumers looking for ways to follow the 2011 Wimbledon Championships quarterfinal, semifinal and Ladies’ and Gentlemans’ Finals between June 28-July 3 have plenty of options.

And sports fans have already used mobile devices to create buzz. When Venus Williams wore an out-of-regulation, gold-zippered romper, pictures of the tennis star were among the most circulated images for the day under the Twitter hashmark #Wimbledon.

WatchESPN gets you to Wimbledon on smartphones, iPad, iPhone

So what are the best ways to watch all the upcoming tennis coverage on smartphones and iPads? If you are a subscriber to Verizon FiOS, Brighthouse Networks or Time Warner Cable, WatchESPN for iPad, iPhone and Android will get you live streaming of the event beginning at 7:00 AM Eastern Standard Time.

For tennis fans in need of technical support, Apple, Windows and Web news service Hi-Tech Analogy posted June 23 tutorials and technical resources aimed at Wimbledon viewers.

Desktop, Wi-Fi access to Wimbledon live streaming

The technology news service GigaOM provided an excellent description about how to get access to Wimbledon on desktop computers or the Wi-Fi capabilities of your smart phone or iPad, as well as a handful of great links. GigaOM said “ESPN3 will be live streaming the event online as well as to Xbox Live users” so long as the consumer’s Internet service provider has an agreement with ESPN to provide ESPN3 to its subscribers.  

In fact, ESPN publishes a list of Internet Service Providers that provide its subscribers with ESPN3 access, and if yours doesn’t Mobile Sports Report recommends you consider a switch.

If you don’t have a mobile sports app or online access to ESPN3, NBC Sports will offer replays, highlights and interviews on its website. The official Wimbledon Twitter feed is scheduled June 27 to resume regular posts, which will continue through the finals. Another must-see venue for mobile sports viewers interested in Wimbledon is IBM’s tennis-related programming tied to the event.