Technology central to Target Center renovations

The new scoreboard is one of the highlights of the Target Center renovation. Credit: Target Center (click on any photo for a larger image)

For Minneapolis residents who passed by every day, the renovation of the Target Center might have seemed like a mining project, chipping away at a somewhat blank slate until a sparkling gem was revealed.

Now complete, the 2-year, $145 million project to update the 28-year-old downtown venue has brought the 19,356-seat arena to the forefront of advanced fan experiences, with its main tenants, the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Lynx, now able to offer fans amenities like open club spaces, high-density Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity, and a new mobile app as well as a huge new center-hung video scoreboard.

All those features are located inside the arena’s shiny new exterior, which includes a multi-level atrium with glass windows facing the streets, replacing the old concrete walls. According to Ted Johnson, chief strategy officer for the Timberwolves, the renovation “touched every surface,” with new seats, bathrooms and other hard-to-notice items like a real loading dock to make it easier to move equipment (like concert staging) in and out of the arena.

Technology to the forefront

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT issue for Spring 2018, which includes a look at Wi-Fi performance during the Final Four, a recap of wireless performance at Super Bowl 52, a profile of new venue construction in Los Angeles and more! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY right now from our site!

Target Center’s new entryways use lots of glass. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

On top of the physical changes came the technology layer, with obvious improvements including the center scoreboard, which Johnson said is “the largest in the Midwest,” and four new large video boards in each of the stadium’s upper corners. New LED ribbon boards circle the stadium bowl as well, with one lower one and another series of ribbons above higher entryways that create what Johnson calls an “optical illusion” of a second continuous ribbon.

A new fiber-based network backbone was also installed, to support a cellular DAS deployment as well as a new Wi-Fi network designed and deployed by AmpThink, a company extending its mark in Minneapolis after previous Wi-Fi deployments at U.S. Bank Stadium and the Mall of America.

According to AmpThink, the Wi-Fi network inside the Target Center has approximately 400 access points, but since many of those are the newer Cisco 3800 versions with two radios in each AP, there are actually about 550 radios serving the stadium.

During a visit to the arena during a game in November, Mobile Sports Report found solid Wi-Fi speed results in all parts of the venue, including the upper seating areas and the concourses. Walking around the upper concourse by section 240 we got a Wi-Fi speed test of 34.42 Mbps on the download side and 45.20 on the upload; in the same location, a test of the DAS network for a Verizon Wireless client saw speeds of 22.88 Mbps / 22.66 Mbps.

Moving into the upper stands, at the top rows of section 239 we still got Wi-Fi speeds of 33.73 Mbps / 61.56 Mbps; looking up, we could see multiple Gillaroo antennas mounted up in the catwalks, along with the glowing blue lights of the APs.

Lots of light is a hallmark of the new Target Center. Credit: Target Center

Down in the open gathering area near the brewpub (located in the stands behind one of the baskets) we got Wi-Fi marks of 21.26 Mbps / 67.07 Mbps. Then in one of the stadium’s club suites we got a test of 42.27 Mbps / 68.83 Mbps, with all tests taken during game-action times. We did not get any lower-bowl seating area tests, where AmpThink said it has deployed APs under seats.

Linking digital displays and Wi-Fi

In addition to its Wi-Fi design and deployment, AmpThink is also assisting the Timberwolves in using the digital displays to drive fan engagement with the app and the Wi-Fi network. The AmpThink tests, Johnson said, along with the decision to switch to VenueNext for a new app (which supports more fan services than the previous, content-focused team app), are part of a deliberate strategy to build a next-generation “seamless fan experience” that starts long before fans get to the arena.

“We’ve used Flash Seats for some time now — we were one of the first [teams] to disable paper printing [for tickets],” Johnson said. “We had already educated fans to use a mobile device, so we decided to use that advantage as much as we could.”

A big part of the physical renovation, Johnson said, included improvements to the intersections between the arena and downtown Minneapolis’ famed Skyway, the connected maze of in-building public walkways and skybridges that links much of downtown together.

“Right now 12,000 to 15,000 people a day come through our building via the Skyways, and about 66 percent of our fans come into the building through there [the Skyway],” Johnson said. As part of the renovation the Target Center added digital displays to its Skyway territory, and the team is part of a city-wide plan to bring beacon technology to the Skyway system so that a wayfinding app could be used to help visitors, residents and anyone else better find their way around.

New video boards on the concourses relay messages to fans walking by

Final Four sees 9.97 TB of data used on Alamodome Wi-Fi

Fans at the Alamodome using mobile devices before the big game. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The final stats are in, and this year’s men’s NCAA basketball tournament Final Four weekend in San Antonio saw a total of 9.97 terabytes of data used on the Wi-Fi network inside the Alamodome, according to official NCAA network reports.

With 4.9 TB of traffic used during the Saturday semifinal games and 5.07 TB used during the Monday night final the Alamodome Wi-Fi mark fell a bit below the 11.2 TB of data use seen during the 2017 Final Four weekend at the University of Pacific Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. With about 10,000 more fans per game (attendance at last year’s two sessions was 77,612 for Saturday’s semifinals and 76,168 for Monday’s championship, which were both second-highest ever numbers) and a more mature network it’s not surprising that there was a dip in Wi-Fi usage; the somewhat smaller Alamodome had 67,831 in attendance for the Monday night championship game.

So far only AT&T has reported DAS stats from this year’s Final Four, with 2 TB used on Saturday and 1.1 TB used Monday. Last year in Glendale AT&T said it saw 6.4 TB of DAS use. We have asked Verizon and Sprint for numbers but so far have not yet gotten any replies. As a stated policy T-Mobile does not report data traffic numbers from big events.

In a slight change from the preliminary reports we got, the official numbers show that the Alamodome Wi-Fi network saw 19,557 unique devices connect to the network on Saturday, with a peak concurrent total that day of 12,387 devices. On Monday night those numbers were 17,963 unique connections and 12,848 peak concurrent connections. Peak throughput for the Wi-Fi network on Saturday was 2.1 Gbps, while on Monday the mark was 1.6 Gbps.

New Report: Wi-Fi scores at Final Four, Vegas Knights get more Wi-Fi, and more!

A live in-person report of the Wi-Fi network performance at this year’s Final Four is just the beginning of our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Mobile Sports Report traveled this spring to San Antonio, Texas, to get a firsthand look at the new networks installed at the venerable Alamodome, including one new permanent Wi-Fi deployment and another specifically tailored for the temporary courtside seats the NCAA brings in for its crown jewel event of the men’s basketball season.

Download our free report to get the details on how this network was able to deliver a superb wireless experience to the almost 70,000 fans in attendance.

The report from San Antonio, however, is just the beginning of our content-rich Spring 2018 issue, which also contains another in-person review, this one of the updated Wi-Fi network at T-Mobile Arena, the home-ice castle for the NHL’s newest sensation, the Vegas Golden Knights. Prompted by the team’s somewhat unexpected on-ice success, the quick network upgrade is a great lesson on how to respond to fan-experience demands. And it’s all explained in the STADIUM TECH REPORT.

More Wi-Fi for Vegas Knights, new construction in LA

There’s also a profile of the new network that was part of the refurbishment of Minneapolis’ Target Center, home of the NBA’s Timberwolves, as well as a look at some innovative marketing programs combining digital signage and Wi-Fi for greater fan engagement. Our Terry Sweeney also provides a look at new venue construction and old venue remodels in Los Angeles, and we also have a full recap of the record-breaking Wi-Fi and DAS traffic at this year’s Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis — all available for free download from our site!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, Cox Business, Boingo, Oberon 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.

Wi-Fi scores like Villanova during Final Four at Alamodome

Confetti rains down from the scoreboard after Villanova beat Michigan in this year’s Final Four championship game at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (Click on any photo for a larger image)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The new and temporary Wi-Fi networks inside the Alamodome were as hot as national champion Villanova Monday night, with many speedtest marks in the 50-60 Mbps range for both download and upload throughout many points in the stadium.

We’ll have more details and perhaps some final tonnage numbers coming soon, but before we crash late night here in the Alamo city, where Mobile Sports Report was live in attendance at Monday night’s championship game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, we wanted to share some impressive stats we saw while logging numerous steps up and down the sections of the venerable Alamodome before and during Villanova’s 79-62 victory over Michigan.

It was a pretty packed house with 67,831 in attendance Monday night, and for Wi-Fi it really was a tale of two networks: One, for the fixed or permanent seating in the football-sized facility, and another for the temproary network that serviced the wide expanse of floor seating brought in by the NCAA for its crown jewel event of men’s hoops. With about 200-plus Wi-Fi APs serving the closest seating sections, we still saw some super-healthy speedtest readings, like one of 55.9 Mbps download and 58.7 Mbps upload in the north stands in row DD, just past the band section and media sections behind the north hoop.

A good look at the court from the north end on the 300 level concourse

At center court on the side where the network broadcast teams sit, we got a speedtest of 34.3 Mbps down and 34.3 Mbps up in row JJ of section 112. Since we thought we heard Jim Nantz calling our name during pregame activities we scrambled down to row J, but Jim was called away before we could confirm his question. Instead we took a speed test there in the celeb seats and got an official mark of 1.65 Mbps / 7.61 Mbps, but did see a 10 Mbps download mark appear on a second test before the speedtest app encountered an error.

As far as we could tell, whatever designer and deployer AmpThink did for the on-floor seats it seemed to work pretty well. But as we are writing this that network is being dismantled, perhaps not to be used again until next year’s men’s Final Four, scheduled to take place at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Handrail enclosures and Gillaroos

Up in the permanent seats, the network AmpThink installed during a permanent renovation of the Alamodome earlier also performed well, even in some of the hardest places to reach. At the top of the lower-bowl seating section, where MSR took a peanut break in the first half (since our media seat was, ironicially, the only place in the stadium where we couldn’t get any kind of a Wi-Fi connection) we got a mark of 65.6 Mbps / 62.5 Mbps.

A handrail Wi-Fi AP enclosure in one of the higher seating sections.

But even when we climbed into serious nosebleed country — and we do mean climb since the Alamodome has no escalators anywhere for fans — we still got good Wi-Fi connectivity, thanks in part to some handrail AP enclosures we saw above the VOMs leading to the top-section seats, and some Gillaroo antennas on the upper back walls pointing down. Above the VOM leading to section 343 in the stadium’s northwest corner we got a mark of 30.5 Mbps / 20.8 Mbps, and up near the roof in row 22 of section 342 we still got a mark of 17.5 Mbps / 9.84.

Other places where coverage really shined was in the stairwells and on the concourses; along the top-level 300 section concourse we got a pregame mark of 57.1 Mbps / 58.2 Mbps even as crowds chanting “Go Blue!” and “Nova Nation!” made traffic an elbow-to-elbow affair. In another stairwell, we stopped to catch our breath and got a speed test of 64.9 Mbps / 68.2 Mbps.

Overall, the permanent and temporary networks seemed to have performed well under the pressure of a bucket-list event, the kind where fans roam the concourses during pregame with phones overhead, taking videos to be shared later. According to Nicholas Langella, general manager for the Alamodome, preliminary reports said there were 12,500 unique connections to the Wi-Fi during Saturday’s semifinal games and another 12,300 connections during Monday’s championship game. On the DAS side of things, AT&T reported 2 terabytes of data used on their network during Saturday’s semifinals, and another 1.1 TB used during Monday’s game. We are still waiting for other carriers to report DAS numbers, as well as for final total Wi-FI usage numbers. For now enjoy some more photos from our visit.


Approaching the Alamodome from the freeway

A good look at how the NCAA floor seats extend out in the end zone area

Another look at the floor seating sections, this time along courtside

Courtside is selfie city

Gillaroos on overhangs in the permanent seating section

Zoomed in for a good look at the court

The human eye view from the same spot

Picture taking is the primary activity pregame

In case you forgot which event you came to see

Average per-fan Wi-Fi use total jumps again at Super Bowl 52

Seen in the main concourse at U.S. Bank Stadium: Two IPTV screens, one Wi-Fi AP and a DAS antenna. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

After a year where the actual amount of average Wi-Fi data used per connected fan at the Super Bowl dropped, the trend of more data used per fan reversed itself again to a new peak at Super Bowl 52, with an average total of 407.4 megabytes per user.

Even though the number of unique connections to the Wi-Fi network at U.S. Bank Stadium for Super Bowl 52 also increased to a record 40,033 users (according to the official statistics compiled by Extreme Networks), the jump from 11.8 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used at Super Bowl 51 to 16.31 TB used at Super Bowl 52 pushed the average per-user number to the top, surpassing the 333 MB per user number from Super Bowl 51, as well as the 370 MB per user mark seen at Super Bowl 50.

While this statistic has not ever been called out by the Extreme Networks Super Bowl compilations, we here at MSR think it is a vital mark since it shows that even with more users on the network those connected users are still using more data. That means that IT departments at venues everywhere should probably still plan for no letup in the overall continued growth in demand for bandwidth at large-venue events, especially at “bucket list” events like the Super Bowl.

Last year we guessed the drop in per-user totals from Super Bowl 50 to Super Bowl 51 might have been due to a larger number of autoconnected users, but we never got an answer from the Extreme Networks team when we asked that question. At U.S. Bank Stadium there was also an autoconnect feature to the Wi-Fi for Verizon Wireless customers, but it didn’t seem to affect the per-user total mark.

Connectivity at the core of Little Caesars Arena, District Detroit

Little Caesars Arena, the new home for the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Pistons. Credit: Olympia Entertainment (click on any photo for a larger image)

Bringing great wireless connectivity to a new stadium is almost table stakes these days. But building up a nearby commercial district — and keeping connectivity high outside the venue’s walls — is a bet of another level, especially in Detroit where networks extend outside the new Little Caesars Arena into the 50-block District Detroit.

Following the arena’s opening in September of 2017, the prognosis so far is so far, so good, with solid reports of high network performance on both Wi-Fi and cellular networks in and around the new home of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. But for John King, vice president of IT and innovation for venue owners Olympia Entertainment, the responsibilities for him and his network team extend far beyond the new stadium’s walls.

“We’re focused on the [wireless] signal not just in the bowl, but also in the surrounding elements — the streets, the outdoor arenas, and the Little Caesars Arena garage,” said King in an interview shortly after the arena opened. “The vision is, to be connected wherever you are. And to share that experience.”

An ambitious revival in downtown Detroit

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT for Winter 2018, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site. This issue has an in-depth look at the wireless networks at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, as well as profiles of network deployments at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Orlando City Stadium! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

The inside concourse at Little Caesars Arena. Credit: Olympia Entertainment

Built nearby the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field and the Tigers’ Comerica Park, the new hoops/hockey stadium seats 19,515 for hockey and 20,491 for basketball. Unlike many stadiums of the past which rise up from the ground, Little Caesars Arena is built into the ground, 40 feet below street level. The innovations in construction and accessibility, including an outdoor arena adjacent to the indoor one, may require another full profile and an in-person visit. For now, we’ll concentrate on the wireless deployment in and around Little Caesars Arena, which was funded in part by a sponsorship from Comcast Business, which provides backbone bandwidth to the arena and the district in the form of two 100 Gbps connections. The Wi-Fi network design and deployment, done by AmpThink, uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear; Cisco’s Vision for Sports and Entertainment (formerly known as StadiumVision) is used to synchronize video output to the 1,500 TV screens located in and around the venue.

On the cellular side, Verizon Wireless built a neutral-host DAS, which was getting ready to welcome AT&T as the second carrier on board shortly after the opening. According to King, the Wi-Fi network has approximately 1,100 total APs both inside and outside the arena, many of those from Cisco’s 3802 series, which each have two radios per AP. For many of the 300 APs located in the main seating bowl, Little Caesars Arena went with an under-seat deployment, with some others placed in handrail enclosures, especially for the basketball floor-seating areas.

“AmpThink did a really nice job with the deployment,” said King, who said the arena’s open-air suite spaces helped provide “lots of flow” to wireless gear, without the historical overhangs around to block signals on different levels. One early visitor to the arena saw many Wi-Fi speed tests in the 50-60 Mbps range for both download and upload, as well as several in the 80-to-100 Mbps range, signs that a strong signal was available right at the start.

“We’ve still got a lot of tuning, but early on we’re getting great results,” said King of the Wi-Fi performance. “Our goal is to make it the best it can be.”

Staying connected outside the walls

Like The Battery area surrounding the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, the District Detroit is meant to be a stay-and-play kind of space, with restaurants, clubs, office spaces and residences seeking to lure visitors and residents to do more than just see a game. For King and his team, one of their tasks is to ensure that visitors can stay connected no matter where they are inside the district, including inside restaurants, offices and other indoor spaces.

Connectivity blends well with the architecture inside Little Caesars Arena. Credit: Tod Caflisch, special to MSR

“We want the [network] signal to be robust, to carry into outdoor spaces, restaurants and many other areas” inside the District Detroit, King said. “We want to push the envelope a little bit and create a useful opportunity.”

Back inside Little Caesars Arena, the team and stadium apps are built by Venuetize, which built a similar integrated app for the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres, one that also extends outside arenas to support connectivity in city areas. King said that Little Caesars Arena will be testing pre-order and express pickup concession ordering through the app, with a focus on seating areas that don’t have ready access to some of the club facilities.

Like any other new facility, Little Caesars Arena will no doubt go through some growing pains in its debut season, but for King and others who spent time getting the venue ready it’s fun to have the doors open.

“It’s really great seeing it all come to life,” King said.