Venue Display Report: Sharks bring ‘excitement’ to SAP Center concourses with new digital display technology from Daktronics and Cisco

A long LED board lights up the main concourse at the San Jose Sharks’ home, SAP Center. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

If you’re an ice hockey fan, you are no doubt somewhat addicted to the excitement of seeing games live, in person. Yet one historical drawback to going to games has always been fearing those moments when you need or want to leave your seat, when missing out on the unpredictable action makes waiting in lines excruciating.

While many teams in all kinds of sports have been busy installing television screens in concourses and concession areas to help keep fans connected to the live action, at SAP Center in San Jose the NHL’s Sharks have taken concourse display technology to a new level: With cutting-edge LED displays from Daktronics and the Cisco Vision IPTV display management system from Cisco, the Sharks have turned what used to be basically a dark concrete tunnel into a well-lit, display-laden walkway that can bring live game action and exciting, engaging marketing messages to fans while they are outside the bowl, keeping the excitement level high no matter where in the building a fan might be.

The most visible part of the new display deployment, one installed in phases over the last two seasons, are the concourse LED boards from Daktronics, displays that were custom designed for the stadium’s walkways. Robin Hall, a regional manager for the Brookings, S.D.-based Daktronics, said there were a total of 17 displays added to the main concourse at SAP Center, all 3 1/2-feet tall but in many different widths, with one measuring almost 66 feet wide.

Narrow Pixel Pitch LEDs make a difference

Editor’s note: This profile is from our new VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series, a vertical-specific offering of MSR’s existing STADIUM TECH REPORT series. The VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series will focus on telling the stories of successful venue display technology deployments and the business opportunities these deployments enable. No registration or email address required — just click on this link and start reading!

John Castro, vice president of corporate partnerships for the Sharks, said the concourse displays are just the latest step in an ongoing process to “keep the venue updated and modernized.” Now celebrating its 25th year in existence, SAP Center recently hosted the NHL’s All-Star Game and is a regular stop for such big-ticket events as NCAA basketball regionals and U.S. Figure Skating championships.

In 2010, Castro said the arena added a new Daktronics center-hung video board, which has distinctive circular ribbon boards above and below that synchronize with the ribbon board that circles the arena in the middle of the seating areas. A few years ago, the arena put out an RFP to bring Wi-Fi to the stadium, and when it picked Cisco for the gear supplier, it also decided to use Cisco Vision to synchronize a new display strategy for the building’s main concourse.

“The idea was, let’s emulate what people see in the seats and bring it to the concourse,” Castro said.

A new LED screen above an entryway

What was eventually installed over the past two seasons were the new wall-mounted displays, which joined the 240 TV screens and the 16 hanging pendant displays (with six screens each) that were already in the concourses. According to Castro the Sharks took down eight static signs to make room for the new, interactive displays.

All the new displays make use of Daktronic’s new Narrow Pixel Pitch (NPP) technology, which feature 2.5-millimeter line spacing. The close alignment of the LED lights in the displays makes them sharp even from close distances, with a look and feel more like a traditional TV screen than an LED ribbon board.

By using LED technology, not only are the boards more flexible in what kind of content they can carry, but they are also cheaper and more resilient than TV screens, something Hall said matters a lot to venues like SAP Center that may see up to 300 live events a year.

“If you have TVs, you have to replace them often, and over a lot of hours [the expense] is hard to justify,” said Hall. With its LED technology, Daktronics was able to create custom size boards to fit different areas in the concourse (like above the entry and exit doorways, or above the main entry openings to the seating bowl), giving the Sharks lots of flexibility to build their new concourse viewing experience.

Bringing Cisco Vision to control displays

To make fans take notice of the new displays, the Sharks turned to Cisco and its Cisco Vision IPTV display management system, which allows teams and venues to program and run multiple displays from a single management system. Cisco also brings to the table years of experience in designing, deploying and selling display systems and system content, which can help teams like the Sharks not only keep fans more engaged but also help the team improve its digital ad sales.

Cisco, which supplied the Wi-Fi gear when SAP Center got its new wireless networks a couple years ago, teamed up with network deployment partner AmpThink to deploy a new display system at the same time, often doubling up on infrastructure. At many points inside the arena, a display screen is mounted in the same space as a Wi-Fi access point, an efficient design that combines aesthetics (the APs are hidden behind the screens) with cost savings.

Menu screens and live action are side-by-side to keep fans engaged

According to Ken Martin, executive director of digital transformation for the consumer industries in the Americas and for the sports and entertainment industry globally at Cisco, the Sharks’ previous display system was limited in its capabilities, especially in the ability to change things like menu boards easily between events. Martin also said the Sharks had four different signage solutions for the various boards and displays throughout the stadium, making it hard to coordinate programming across screens.

Now with Cisco Vision in place, the Sharks can build “shows” of content and advertising that flow from screen to screen, or arrive simultaneously on multiple screens to increase the visual effect. Inside the SAP Center concourses, the new Daktronics panels combine with an previously existing infrastructure of screen displays hanging over the walkways to create a visual “wall” that draws the eye.

“The way [the screens] are positioned, you cannot stand in the SAP Center concourses without being hit by something,” Cisco’s Martin said.

The Sharks’ Castro said there “was a lot of discussion and research” about the placement of the signs.

“Whether you turn left or right, you’re always going to see an LED,” Castro said.

How to use digital displays to entertain and inform

Through its professional services that are part of the Cisco Vision deal, Cisco also helps the Sharks brainstorm with potential sponsors to create digital display advertising ideas, and then also helps create, produce and run the “show” of ads that streams across all the stadium’s displays. A current campaign with BMW is an example of using all concourse screens simultaneously to create an immersive feel to the advertising.

A look at the hanging pendant screens in sync with the LED wall boards

“Part of what we do is show customers the art of the possible,” said Martin, who said many demonstrations of digital-display potential can happen in his team’s extensive demo room at Cisco, where they have 27 different types of screens to model just about any possible stadium deployment. Though much of the digital advertising industry in venues is still in an adolescent stage, Martin said that sponsors are “way more educated than they have ever been,” and know now that they can ask for particulars like having ads shown at certain times, or to have advertising content “wrapped” around live action on partial screen real estate, like an “L-wrap.”

With Cisco Vision, the Sharks are able to not just coordinate a “show” of ads and other content during the game, but they can also break in and trigger special screen content when something happens live, like a goal being scored. Such “takeover” moments are just another new asset that can be added to the ROI for a smart digital display solution, something not possible with static display systems. Such timely messages can really catch the fans’ eye, especially so at hockey games where people pay attention when they aren’t in their seats.

“If you’re a true hockey fan, you have your concourse timing down to a science,” said Daktronic’s Hall. “You never want to go to the game and feel like you’re missing something.”

To help those fans, one of the live action content pieces run across most of the concourse boards at SAP Center is a live clock that counts down the time until live action starts again.

“It can really be a showstopper, to use the screens and video walls, especially when they are all synchronized to the same message,” Cisco’s Martin said. “You’re going to get people to stop and pay attention.”

For the Sharks, the new system is already returning dividends; according to Castro, some 80 percent of all new digital display sponsorship business includes Cisco Vision integration as part of the opportunity.

“It helps [ads] rise above the clutter,” Castro said of the new display system. “You can see the impact on the brands as well as on the fans.”

“It’s like putting on a show in the concourse,” Daktronic’s Hall said of the new system. “It really extends the in-bowl experience through the whole venue.”

Editor’s note: This profile is from our new VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series, a vertical-specific offering of MSR’s existing STADIUM TECH REPORT series. The VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series will focus on telling the stories of successful venue display technology deployments and the business opportunities these deployments enable. No registration or email address required — just click on this link and start reading!

Super Bowl recap: 24 TB for Wi-Fi, 12 TB for DAS

Pats fans celebrate with a selfie at the end of Super Bowl 53. Credit all photos: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (click on any picture for a larger image)

Super Bowl 53 at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium rewrote the record book when it comes to single-day stadium Wi-Fi, with 24.05 terabytes of traffic seen on the stadium’s network. That is a huge leap from the official 16.31 TB seen at last year’s Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium.

According to official statistics provided by Extreme Networks, new high-water marks were set last Sunday in every category of network measurement, including an amazing 48,845 unique users on the network, a take rate of 69 percent out of the 70,081 who were in attendance to watch the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3. The average Wi-Fi data use per connected fan also set a new record, with the per-fan mark of 492.3 megabytes per user eclipsing last year’s mark of 407.4.

While fans might have preferred some more scoring excitement during the game, the lack of any tense moments in network operations was a perfect outcome for Danny Branch, chief information officer for AMB Sports & Entertainment.

“I was ecstatic on how [the network] executed, but honestly it was sort of uneventful, since everything went so well,” said Branch in a phone interview the week after the game. Though network performance and fan usage during some of the big events leading up to the Super Bowl had Branch thinking the Wi-Fi total number might creep near the 20-terabyte range, the early network use on game day gave Branch a clue that the final number might be even higher.

“When I saw the initial numbers that said we did 10 [terabytes] before kickoff we didn’t know where it would end,” Branch said. “When we were watching the numbers near the end of the game, we were just laughing.”

Aruba APs and AmpThink design shine

Editor’s note: This report is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the new Wi-Fi and DAS networks being planned for the University of Colorado, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

Digital device use once again set records at the NFL’s championship game.

With some 1,800 APs installed inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium — with most of the bowl seating APs located underneath the seats — the Wi-Fi gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, in a design from AmpThink, also saw a peak throughput rate of 13.06 Gbps, seen at halftime. The peak number of concurrent network users, 30,605, also took place during the halftime show, which featured the band Maroon 5 (whose show played to mixed reviews).

Extreme Networks, which provides Wi-Fi analysis in a sponsorship deal with the NFL, had a great list of specific details from the event. Here are some of the top-line stats:

Need proof that people still watch the game? Out of the 24.05 TB total, Extreme said 9.99 TB of the traffic took place before the kickoff, followed by 11.11 TB during the game and halftime, and another 2.95 TB after the game concluded.

On the most-used apps side, Extreme said the most-used social apps were, in order of usage, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Bitmoji; on the streaming side, the most-used apps were iTunes, YouTube, Airplay, Spotify and Netflix. The most-used sporting apps by fans at the game were, in order, ESPN, NFL, the Super Bowl LIII Fan Mobile Pass (the official app for the game), CBS Sports (which broadcast the game live) and Bleacher Report.

Did Verizon’s offload spike the total?

While Super Bowl Wi-Fi traffic has grown significantly each year since we started reporting the statistics, one reason for the bigger leap this year may have been due to the fact that Verizon Wireless used its sponsorship relationship with the NFL to acquire its own SSID on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium Wi-Fi network.

Hard copy signage in the stadium helped direct fans to the Wi-Fi.

According to Andrea Caldini, Verizon vice president for networking engineering in the Eastern U.S., Verizon had “autoconnect in play,” which meant that any Verizon customer with Wi-Fi active on their devices would be switched over to Wi-Fi when inside the stadium.

“It’s going to be a good offload for us,” said Caldini in a phone interview ahead of the Super Bowl. While Verizon claimed week to have seen “record cellular traffic” as well during Super Bowl Sunday, a spokesperson said Verizon will no longer release such statistics from the game.

According to Branch, the NFL helped fans find the Wi-Fi network with additional physical signage that was put up just for the Super Bowl, in addition to rotating messages on the digital display screens around the stadium.

“The venue was well signed, we really liked what they [the NFL] did,” Branch said. Branch said the league also promoted the Wi-Fi link throughout the week, with a common ID at all the related Super Bowl activity venues, something that may have helped fans get connected on game day.

No issues with the DAS

One of the parts of the wireless mix at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the cellular distributed antenna system, was under scrutiny after a lawsuit emerged last fall under which technology supplier IBM sued Corning over what IBM said was faulty installation. While Corning has disputed the claims, over the past year IBM, the Falcons and the NFL all said they got the DAS in working order, and according to Branch “all the carriers were pleased” with its operation during the Super Bowl.

There was only one, but it helped increase the wireless traffic.

According to Branch, the Falcons saw 12.1 TB of traffic on the in-stadium DAS on Super Bowl Sunday, including some traffic that went through the Matsing Ball antennas. Branch said the two Matsing Balls, which hang from the rafters around the Halo Board video screen, were turned back on to assist with wireless traffic on the field during the postgame awards ceremony.

Overall, the record day of Wi-Fi traffic left Branch and his team confident their infrastructure is ready to support the wireless demands of more big events into the future, including next year’s NCAA men’s Final Four.

“Until you’ve taken the car around the track that fast, you don’t really know how it will perform,” Branch said. “But so much work was done beforehand, it’s great to see that it all paid off.”

New Report: Record Wi-Fi at Super Bowl 53, and Wi-Fi and DAS for Colorado’s Folsom Field

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Spring 2019 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 string of historical in-depth profiles of successful stadium technology deployments continues with reports from the record-setting Wi-Fi day at Super Bowl 53, a look at the network performance at Little Caesars Arena, plans for Wi-Fi and DAS at the University of Colorado and more! Download your FREE copy today!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Boingo, MatSing, and Cox Business/Hospitality Network. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

Introducing: The VENUE DISPLAY REPORT!

Mobile Sports Report is pleased to announce our latest editorial endeavor, the VENUE DISPLAY REPORT!

A new vertical-specific offering of MSR’s existing STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series will focus on telling the stories of successful venue display technology deployments and the business opportunities these deployments enable. No registration or email address required — just click on the image below and start reading!

Like its sibling Stadium Tech Report series, the Venue Display Report series will offer valuable information about cutting-edge deployments that venue owners and operators can use to inform their own plans for advanced digital-display strategies.

Our reporting and analysis will be similar to that found in our popular STR series, with stadium and venue visits to see the display technology in action, and interviews and analysis with thought leaders to help readers better inform their upcoming technology purchasing decisions. And in case you are new to the MSR world, rest assured that all our VDR reports will be editorially objective, done in the old-school way of real reporting. We do not accept paid content and do not pick profiles based on any sponsorship or advertising arrangements.

Our inaugural issue contains profiles of a new concourse display strategy at the San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center, powered by new LED screens from Daktronics and the Cisco Vision IPTV digital display management system; a look at the Utah Jazz’s decision to use Samsung’s system-on-a-chip displays at Vivint Smart Home Arena; and the San Francisco 49ers’ decision to use Cisco Vision to control displays at Levi’s Stadium.

Start reading the first issue now! No download or registration necessary.

As venues seek to improve fan engagement and increase sponsor activation, display technology offers powerful new ways to improve the in-stadium fan experience. While these topics are of prime interest to many of our long-term audience of stadium tech professionals, we suggest that you share the link with colleagues on the marketing and advertising sales side of the house, as they will likely find great interest in the ROI enabled by strategic display system deployments.

Sponsorship spots are currently available for future VDR series reports; please contact Paul at kaps at mobilesportsreport.com for media kit information.

Super Bowl 53 smashes Wi-Fi record with 24 TB of traffic at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Super Bowl 53 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Credit: Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Super Bowl 53 at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium rewrote the record book when it comes to single-day stadium Wi-Fi, with 24.05 terabytes of traffic seen on the stadium’s network. That is a huge leap from the official 16.31 TB seen at last year’s Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium.

According to official statistics provided by Extreme Networks, new high-water marks were set last Sunday in every category of network measurement, including an amazing 48,845 unique users on the network, a take rate of 69 percent out of the 70,081 who were in attendance to watch the New England Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3. The average Wi-Fi data use per connected fan also set a new record, with the per-fan mark of 492.3 megabytes per user eclipsing last year’s mark of 407.4.

With some 1,800 APs installed inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium — with most of the bowl seating APs located underneath the seats — the Wi-Fi gear from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, in a design from AmpThink, also saw a peak throughput rate of 13.06 Gbps, seen at halftime. The peak number of concurrent network users, 30,605, also took place during the halftime show, which featured the band Maroon 5 (whose show played to mixed reviews). While Mobile Sports Report deemed the network ready to rock in a December visit, the record-breaking statistics are sure to give pause to any venue in line to host the Super Bowl in the next few years. No pressure, Miami!

An under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Extreme Networks, which provides Wi-Fi analysis in a sponsorship deal with the NFL, had a great list of specific details from the event, which you can also peruse in the fine infographic that the company produces after each Super Bowl. Here are some of the top-line stats:

Need proof that people still watch the game? Out of the 24.05 TB total, Extreme said 9.99 TB of the traffic took place before the kickoff, followed by 11.11 TB during the game and halftime, and another 2.95 TB after the game concluded.

On the most-used apps side, Extreme said the most-used social apps were, in order of usage, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Bitmoji; on the streaming side, the most-used apps were iTunes, YouTube, Airplay, Spotify and Netflix. The most-used sporting apps by fans at the game were, in order, ESPN, NFL, the Super Bowl LIII Fan Mobile Pass (the official app for the game), CBS Sports (which broadcast the game live) and Bleacher Report.

While Super Bowl Wi-Fi traffic has grown significantly each year since we started reporting the statistics, one reason for the bigger leap this year may have been due to the fact that Verizon Wireless used its sponsorship relationship with the NFL to acquire its own SSID on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium Wi-Fi network.

A mini-IDF ‘closet’ above a Wi-Fi AP at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

According to Andrea Caldini, Verizon vice president for networking engineering in the Eastern U.S., Verizon had “autoconnect in play,” which meant that any Verizon customer with Wi-Fi active on their devices would be switched over to Wi-Fi when inside the stadium.

“It’s going to be a good offload for us,” said Caldini in a phone interview ahead of the Super Bowl. While Verizon claimed this week to see record cellular traffic as well during Super Bowl Sunday, a spokesperson said Verizon will no longer release such statistics from the game.

As an interesting business note when it comes to sponsorships, the regular Mercedes-Benz Stadium free Wi-Fi SSID, normally ATTWiFi thanks to AT&T’s sponsorship of the network backbone, was switched to #SBWiFi for the big game. Verizon customers were able to connect via a Verizon-specific SSID.

New records list below! Anyone with a missing game that makes the list, send your info in!

THE MSR TOP 18 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 53, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Feb. 3, 2019: Wi-Fi: 24.05 TB
2. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
3. 2018 College Football Playoff Championship, Alabama vs. Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 8, 2018: Wi-Fi: 12.0 TB*
4. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
5. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 6, 2018: Wi-Fi: 10.86 TB
6. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
7. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 27, 2018: Wi-Fi: 9.76 TB
8. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
9. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.53 TB
10. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
11. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
12. SEC Championship Game, Alabama vs. Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Dec. 1, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.06 TB*
13. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
14. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 29, 2018: 7.19 TB
15. (tie) Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 2, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.0 TB
16. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
17. Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
18. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB

* = pending official exact data

Impressive renovation makes Atlanta Hawks’ State Farm Arena feel ‘new’ again

Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena, feels like a new NBA arena thanks to an extensive remodel. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to tell what has changed besides the name on the building that is the Atlanta Hawks’ home.

But once inside the doors, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena has pretty much disappeared, with full-scale knockdown remodels, finishing touches and high-definition Wi-Fi making the newly named State Farm Arena feel like something just-built from the ground up.

“If you’re just driving by, you don’t see any changes,” said Marcus Wasdin, chief information officer for the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena. Even the subway signage and a map in the attached CNN Center still call the basketball arena by its old name, not adequately preparing visitors (especially media in town for this Sunday’s Super Bowl) for the $200 million makeover that’s now finished inside.

While those who’d been there previously might have a hard time believing their eyes, even first-time visitors to the hoops venue in downtown Atlanta can be suitably impressed, as the fan-facing structural improvements — including a number of different premium seating and club spaces, as well as open-air concourses surrounding main seating areas — put the newly named arena on a service par with any brand-new facilities that have opened recently.

Throw in a high-definition Wi-Fi network added by Comcast Business’ emerging sports-arena division, using Cisco gear and design and deployment by AmpThink, as well as a solid DAS operated by Boingo, and you have a complete modern fan-experience setting for Hawks followers to enjoy as they await to see if new stars like rookie Trae Young can lift the Hawks into NBA title contention.

Ripping out the concrete

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the new game-day digital fan engagement strategy at Texas A&M, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at Merceds-Benz Stadium, home of this week’s Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

New trusses were needed to support the new Samsung center-hung video board.

“We call it a new arena under the old roof,” said Wasdin, our host for a stadium tour as well as full-area access to a packed-arena game against the defending world champion Golden State Warriors on Dec. 3. Since Mobile Sports Report had never been to a live event in the venue when it was known as Philips Arena (State Farm agreed to take over as sponsor this summer, with the name change in time for the new season and the stadium re-opening), we didn’t have any old memories to compare it to. But photos from the past show a much different arena, with one side an entire flat wall of suites, a construction strategy popular back in 1999, when the arena opened.

Fast forward to 2018, and visitors to the 17,600-seat arena will find all the cool new things that are popular with today’s fans, like expanded club areas and open spaces where fans can mingle with a view of the court. The renovation also added a wide mixture of premium seating and club spaces above and beyond the old staple of the corporate suite.

Following preliminary activities to get set for the renovation the previous two years, the arena fully closed this past April, with heavy construction machinery in as soon as the fans left. According to Wasdin, some 300 tons of concrete were taken out of the building, opening up spaces for the new, creative architectural ideas.

Why didn’t the Hawks just knock the building down and start anew, like their NFL neighbors next door did? According to Wasdin, the estimated cost at knocking down and building a new structure was in the neighborhood of $550 million — but by keeping the foundations and outside structure and only renovating the insides (including adding a new support truss overhead for the distinctive center-hung video board from Samsung’s Prismview), the Hawks got the equivalent of a new venue for less than half the cost, in the neighborhood of $200 million.

“We call it a new arena under the same roof,” Wasdin said.

Fast wireless and multiple hospitality options

We started our pregame tour at one of the stadium’s innovative club spaces, a stand-up Altanta Hawks logo bar at court level, just behind one of the backboards. Fans who have courtside seats as well as some of the lower-bowl seats can wander there during the game, as well as to a hospitality area just under the stands where amenities like a pizza oven are part of the all-inclusive charge.

A lower-bowl Wi-Fi enclosure

During pregame shootarounds we sat in the lower-bowl seating area, which is covered by Wi-Fi APs in an under-seat deployment. According to AmpThink, there are approximately 480 total APs in the new Wi-Fi network. As the seats were filling up to watch Golden State’s Stephen Curry in his mesmerizing pregame shooting routine, we got a Wi-Fi speedtest of 31.3 Mbps on the download and 41.6 Mbps on the upload. A cellular speedtest on the Verizon network in the same place checked in at 33.7 Mbps / 6.43 Mbps; the DAS antennas for the lower bowl seats are inside railing enclosures. In the upper seating sections, both Wi-Fi and DAS use overhead mounts for antennas.

Other premium-seat options include access to clubs under the stands on both long sides of the court. On one side, a sports-bar theme has touches like tables made from the hardwood used for last year’s court; that club also includes a seating area that opens to the hallway used by players getting from the locker room to the court, an amenity that lets fans high-five the players as they pass by (Sacramento and Milwaukee have similar premium club spaces with the same interactive idea).

As you might guess, the premium club areas are well-covered by wireless. In the sports-bar “Players Club” we got a Wi-Fi test of 59.6 Mbps / 69.1 Mbps and a cellular test of 67.1 Mbps / 32.9 Mbps at just about 45 minutes before tipoff, as fans watched other basketball action on a humongous two-panel flat-screen display behind the bar, more screens from PrismView installed by display integrator Vitec.

Up in the main level concourse, which Wasdin said used to feel more like a concrete tunnel, the open-air concessions area (with stands along the wall as well as in the middle of the space) saw a Wi-Fi test of 20.4 Mbps / 61.4 Mbps, even as thick crowds of fans streamed by. On an escalator up to the second level and the “Atlanta Social Club” premium area, we got a Wi-Fi mark of 30.8 Mbps / 46.9 Mbps.

A very Atlanta feel to premium spaces and suites

We spent part of the game watching from some comfy-chair seats that are one of the options in the “Social Club” premium area, which is backstopped by a large all-inclusive food and drink area with several dining and bar options. Other premium seating choices include “cabana” suites, where couches and tables in the back of an open-air area lead through a passage to courtside seating. Just below that level are four-top tables with high bar-chair seating, an arrangement popular at new venues like Atlanta’s SunTrust Park. A bit lower down are the comfy-chair seats, a range of choices that gives the Hawks the ability to reach a wider audience of smaller groups who are still looking for an above-average experience.

A DAS railing enclosure

And yes, the wireless in this area is solid as well, with a Wi-Fi test of 46.4 Mbps / 60.2 Mbps, back in the bar area just before tipoff. On the other side of the court are the more traditional suites, with the lower-level “veranda” suites offering a back room as well as a courtside seating area that is unique in that it’s open on top. Above that level is the loft-suite row, smaller spaces with a shared all-inclusive food and beverage area in the back.

In and around the suite level there are other premium finish touches, like acoustic wood paneling to help make State Farm Arena a more friendly venue for music acts. AmpThink’s commitment to aesthetics was visible (or invisible, unless you were looking for it) in places like the veranda suites, where a custom enclosure that fit flush to the outside wall allowed a two-radio Cisco AP to broadcast one way out to the seats, and on the other side, back into the enclosed area.

“Food and connectivity were two of the things we really wanted to fix,” said Wasdin about the renovation. On the food side, local dining choices are available throughout the arena, with artisan pizza, barbecue and even a bar/grill area run by local recording star Zac Brown.

On the connectivity side, Wasdin said the Hawks were impressed by the integration work previously done by the fairly new sports-arena division inside Comcast Business, especially at nearby SunTrust Park and at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, experience that led the Hawks to pick Comcast as their lead technology integrator.

“Comcast brought in AmpThink and there could not be better partnering,” Wasdin said. As always in construction projects, the tech deployment had to work around the unforeseen but inevitable hurdles and delays, but the networks were ready to go when the building re-opened in late October. (The networks will likely get a good stress test this week as State Farm Arena serves as the media headquarters for Super Bowl LIII, taking place on Feb. 3 next door at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.)

“We’re pretty pleased with how well the networks are working,” said Wasdin. Both Comcast and AmpThink, he said, “lived up to their track records.”

A look from above at the new courtside club space

And here’s what the court looks like from that same club space

Stephen Curry doesn’t miss many shots. This was a swish

Samsung video walls in one club space

Fried chicken and a Wi-Fi enclosure

Wi-Fi antennas covering the upper seating deck