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.

VenueNext app already paying off for Orlando Magic

Screenshot of new Orlando Magic stadium app built by VenueNext

Screenshot of new Orlando Magic stadium app built by VenueNext

The NBA’s Orlando Magic, the first customer for VenueNext outside of Levi’s Stadium, is already seeing a revenue-generating return on its choice, according to figures released by the team and VenueNext.

New this year for fans at the Magic’s stadium, the 20,000-seat, Wi-Fi equipped Amway Center, the VenueNext-designed app is already generating new direct revenue of $500,000 through in-app advertisement sales, while also being used by fans to order food and drinks that can either be picked up at an express window, or for certain sections of the stadium, delivered to the seat.

With the NBA season just past the halfway point, VenueNext and the Magic said that the number of fans attending games in Orlando using the app on a monthly average is showing an almost 96 percent increase from last year and the team’s previous app. So far this year 30 percent of attendees have used the app, a figure at the high end of team-app usage.

Perhaps most interesting from a marketing standpoint is the stat claiming that 80 percent of season-ticket holders have used the app to gain entry to the arena and to manage their tickets, activity that can be mined by the team for marketing info. According to the team and VenueNext, mobile entry to the stadium has reached 26 percent of all fans, an increase of 200 percent over figures from last season.

Fast deliveries, increased ticket sales

Though neither the team nor VenueNext would provide any stats for average food orders placed per game or how many have been placed so far this year, they did say that deliveries — available to just a part of the stadium right now — are taking an average of 5 minutes and 26 seconds to complete. The ability to use the app to order in-seat delivery of food, drink and merchandise is one of the hallmarks of the VenueNext app used at Levi’s Stadium for San Francisco 49ers home games. At the recent Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium, the app allowed fans to order only drinks for delivery and food for express pickup; fans at the Super Bowl placed 3,284 food and beverage orders through the app, a stadium record.

Another screen view of the new Orlando Magic stadium app

Another screen view of the new Orlando Magic stadium app

The team also said that fans have been using the app to purchase more of the “Fast Break Pass” products that provide discounts for multiple-game purchases that aren’t full season tickets. According to a blog post by Orlando Magic CEO on the VenueNext website, the app has allowed the team to greatly expand its flexible-pass offerings:

Fast Break Pass sales are up 233% from last season, in part, because the app has given the Magic the ability to expand to six different Fast Break Pass products that span the entire course of a season, providing a unique product for an untapped market. The app also includes added location identifiers so Fast Break Pass holders can receive their seat assignments now once they are within a mile of the arena (previously it wasn’t assigned until they entered the building).

On the sponsorship side, the Magic said it sold the approximately $500,000 of in-app advertising to fantasy gambling outlet FanDuel and to Sun Pass, which we think is a Florida electronic tollroad payment operation. At Levi’s Stadium, the 49ers sold a similar in-app advertising package to eSurance for the 2014 season, producing $750,000 in revenue. The Magic app has a direct link to a FanDuel game.

The Orlando figures are a good selling point for VenueNext, which is still somewhat of a newcomer in the team and stadium app business, trailing leaders like YinzCam, which recently struck a deal to re-do 22 of the NBA team apps. While its performance at Levi’s Stadium and now at Orlando are significant, VenueNext recently fell short of its own publicly announced goal to sign up 30 new customers before the end of 2015, something the company announced when it revealed its $9 million funding round last year.

While some of those new clients may be signed but not yet ready to announce, VenueNext has only announced two other new clients besides Orlando, the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. Given that one of the investors in VenueNext was concert promoter Live Nation, it’s a good bet that some of the new clients may be concert arenas, and not just more sports stadiums.

NBA’s Orlando Magic pick VenueNext for new stadium app

Screenshot of new Orlando Magic stadium app built by VenueNext

Screenshot of new Orlando Magic stadium app built by VenueNext

The Orlando Magic and VenueNext are working together to produce a new stadium app for the NBA team, one that will support limited in-seat delivery of food, beverage and merchandise, as well as expanded digital ticketing options and even an in-game virtual betting feature.

Confirming reports from earlier this year, the VenueNext-powered app will be soft-launched during the NBA preseason and ready to go when games count, according to press releases from the team and from VenueNext. The deal with the Magic is the first confirmed VenueNext customer other than the San Francisco 49ers, whose owners helped launch VenueNext in part to build the app for Levi’s Stadium.

Like the Levi’s Stadium app, the Orlando Magic’s new app for the 20,000-seat Amway Center will support multiple game-day fan service functions, including the ability to use a mobile device to store digital tickets, and to pay for other ticketing functions like seat upgrades and parking passes. But the ability to order food, beverage and merchandise to be delivered to the seat will initially be limited to just 1,500 Amway Center fans in select premium seating areas, according to VenueNext. At Levi’s Stadium, all fans in the 69,500-seat venue can order food, beverage and merchandise for delivery via the app.

The app will also support instant replay services, powered by the NBA’s content feed, according to VenueNext. Like last year at Levi’s Stadium, fans in Orlando can expect features to be rolled out as the season progresses. Screenshots of the app provided by VenueNext also show the ability to pre-order concessions to be picked up at express windows, but there was no information about how many fans would be able to use this service.

Another screen view of the proposed new Orlando Magic stadium app

Another screen view of the proposed new Orlando Magic stadium app

Perhaps the most intriguing new twist to the VenueNext platform for Orlando is something the team is calling a “gaming feature,” which is essentially the ability for fans to bet on the game to earn loyalty points, called “Magic Money.” Though it’s not cash, the Magic Money can be exchanged for things like seat upgrades or food and beverage, the team said.

This feature is supported by daily fantasy betting service FanDuel, which had previously been a partner of the Magic and is now apparently the title sponsor of the new app. No details of the gaming feature were announced other than a few lines in a blog post from Magic CEO Alex Martins that said:

Fans will be able to play along with the game based on the stats and plays that are happening in front of them and earn points into their Magic Money marketplace account. Anyone in the arena will be able to play.

Earlier this year VenueNext CEO John Paul said that the firm would announce 30 new customers before the end of the calendar year, a count that is now down to 29. It will be interesting to see if any teams that are currently using another app platform, like the content-focused YinzCam apps, add or change to the VenueNext platform, which is solidly focused on fan services. In his blog post, Magic CEO Martins said he was confident the VenueNext app would improve the already-leading Amway Center fan experience:

During the upcoming season, our fans will be able to interact in so many more ways than in the more static fashion they’ve experienced in the past. Overall, most sports team apps are focused on content, which is one dimensional. Now, through this brand new experience, NBA fans for the first time will have a more dynamic and comprehensive experience.

Stadium Tech Report: Is the NBA the stadium Wi-Fi winner?

STR coverWith fan-facing Wi-Fi available in 23 of its 29 team facilities, it appears on paper that the National Basketball Association — the NBA — is the U.S. leader among pro sports leagues when it comes to stadium Wi-Fi. But if only a few of those same stadiums are actively promoting Wi-Fi or delivering advanced wireless services, is that title valid? For the answer or at least some informed conjecture, we point you to our inaugural Stadium Tech Report long-form issue, our Q1 2014 report which focuses on, you guessed it, Wi-Fi and wireless deployments in NBA stadiums.

Available now for free download, the 35-page PDF report delivers a capsule profile of each and every NBA team and whether or not it has Wi-Fi and DAS services in its stadiums. To spoil the fun a little, I will let you know that we found Wi-Fi to be almost universal, with 79 percent — or 23 of 29 NBA facilities — all having fan-facing Wi-Fi. (To save you time I will list the non-Wi-Fi stadiums here: Miami, Denver, Utah, Atlanta, Minnesota and Milwaukee.) There is also a DAS (Distributed Antenna System) for enhanced cellular in almost every arena, and the ones that don’t have it are either installing it now or plan to soon. But as we noted in the lead, even with all this connectivity, there are just a handful of teams who are really utilizing their wireless services to improve the fan experience. That measured embrace of wireless services makes us wonder why many teams are reluctant to promote the assets already installed.

Profiling the leaders

I could tell you more but — why not download the report? We put a lot of effort into this report, which is designed as a “lean back” type of publication, the kind of thing you can refer to over and over again as a reference, or as a resource to study when you need a break from Twitter and email. In addition to the team-by-team capsules we also have included three in-depth profiles of wireless deployment leaders, including the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and Orlando’s Amway Center. There is also report-based analysis of the league’s wireless situation from yours truly, plus an industry thought-leader perspective from our friend Seth Buechley at SOLiD, on why facilities should use wireless technology to improve fan safety, a sometimes overlooked amenity that deserves more attention.

I’ll be talking here more about the report this week and next, but first and foremost I’d like to thank our sponsors, whose contributions make it possible for us to offer this time-consuming research and analysis for free to our readers. Along with SOLiD, who sponsored our State of the Stadium report last year, for our Stadium Tech Report Q1 issue we’d like to welcome Extreme Networks, Crown Castle and AmpThink, whose support of our efforts are deeply appreciated.

We also truly appreciate our readers, who have increased in considerable number the past few months. There’s no magic as to why we’re growing — starting last November, we started telling more of your stories, stories of stadium deployments with lessons learned, failures overcome and enthusiastic steps taken — in a series we started calling Stadium Tech Reports. Those stories have resonated, and we hope that this new long-form report series will too, as the format allows for a bit of leg-stretching and an easier way for our readers to share our stories — your stories — with your professional circles.

One favor to ask — please register!

With growth and change there is always a little bit of pain, and for our readers there is one task that we ask — that you register with us to download the new report, so we can better serve you going forward. (And instead of just forwarding the report, please ask your professional circle to go ahead and register too!)

We realize that many of you may have recently spent a little bit of time filling out a registration form to download our previous report, and we thank you for that effort. But with the new growth in readership we’ve had to step up our game as well and that meant biting the bullet to put in a new registration system that will allow us to provide a robust “gated” content system for our registered readers, meaning that for all the rest of the reports and other exclusive content we have planned for this year and beyond (it’s a growing list!) you won’t need to keep filling out forms.

Even though our report is bound up in a PDF, we realize that any such publication is always a “work in progress,” so please if you have any updates, corrections, suggestions or any other opinions, feel free to leave them here in the comments, or email me directly at kaps at mobilesportsreport.com. We have lots more in store for the stadium technology market this year, so register today so that you don’t miss a thing as the 2014 season rolls on.

Stadium Tech Report: Orlando Magic will use Wi-Fi to improve connections with fans

Amway Center prior to NBA opening night, 2013-14 season. Credit: Orlando Magic

Amway Center prior to NBA opening night, 2013-14 season. Credit: Orlando Magic

Here’s how fast things have moved in the world of sports fans using mobile devices: When the Orlando Magic’s Amway Center opened in 2010, it was considered a state of the art facility, with sustainable design and lots of creature comforts like bigger seats and 42-foot high main video screens on its center scoreboard. But for the new smartphones fans were starting to bring to games, there was no Wi-Fi network. So, like at many new arenas, the Amway Center tech team went back to the drawing board, to figure out how to best add the connectivity that is in demand at large public venues everywhere.

“When the Amway Center opened it was one of the most technically advanced buildings in the world,” said Jack Elkins, business innovations manager for the Orlando Magic, in a recent phone interview. Though the arena had Wi-Fi connectivity for luxury suites and for media, and a neutral-host DAS, there wasn’t a high-bandwith Wi-Fi network to service the balance of attendees at the 20,000-seat facility.

“At the time, public Wi-Fi for stadiums wasn’t [economically] viable,” Elkins said. But like smartphone design, Wi-Fi infrastructure equipment got cheaper, better and faster, and the arena team started making plans to deploy a network as quickly as possible, with an important caveat: They wanted to own the network themselves, to better take advantage of its ability to collect and share information with the fans who would be using it.

Amway Center outside shot. Credit: Amway Center

Amway Center outside shot. Credit: Amway Center

Owning your own Wi-Fi network

“We wanted to be one of the first teams [to put in Wi-Fi],” and by the 2012-13 season, the deployment was “financially palatable” to the building’s owner and operator, the central Florida city of Orlando. According to Elkins the Magic teamed with wireless infrastructure specialist AmpThink to help design and deploy the network, which the team wanted to own and operate instead of merely allowing a cellular carrier or another third party to run it.

“When we went to put in Wi-Fi we saw it as a capital investment — we wanted to own the network,” Elkins said. Jeff Lutes, vice president of technology for the Magic who also participated in the recent phone interview, said the team entered into a “unique relationship” with AmpThink, basically “giving them the arena as a testbed for new technology work.” What was the Magic’s overall goal? “Getting better analytics out of Wi-Fi,” Lutes said.

First came the difficult procedure of ripping into those brand new stadium walls to add technology, which included all the Wi-Fi access points and infrastructure.

“We had just opened this new and gorgeous building, and had to find ways to put up a Wi-Fi network incorporating antennas the size of 17-inch monitors in as an aesthetically pleasing way as possible,” said Elkins, expressing a frustration no doubt felt in many other existing facilities who are adding new stadium technology. “That was a very difficult thing for our venue.”

A strong partner means a deeper technical bench

On the technical side, the Magic’s tech team was able to rely on the bench strength of partners like AmpThink and Cisco, who made sure the deployment was forward-thinking enough to embrace the latest technologies, like the newer 5 GHz channels for Wi-Fi connectivity.

Orlando Magic in action at Amway Center. Credit: Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic in action at Amway Center. Credit: Orlando Magic

“The NBA is telling teams they’ll need to upgrade [networks] every 2 years but we won’t have to,” Elkins said. “Thanks to the foresight of Cisco and AmpThink, we have clients on both radios [2.4 GHz and 5 GHz] right now and as fans get newer devices they’ll be able to go to 5 GHz without us doing anything new.”

The fewer walls torn apart, the better.

“We had limited internal staff, many of whom needed to stay focused on day to day issues,” Elkins said. “AmpThink opened the door to keep us forward thinking.”

So far, Lutes said the Magic sees an average of about 2,700 fans using the Wi-Fi network during NBA games. Concerts usually see a higher use rate, something that also happens during “big” games — like when former Magic star Dwight Howard returned to Orlando a year ago while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. According to Lutes, the network saw 4,000 users on the night Howard returned.

App rollout and future connectivity goes both ways

Part of the future of the team’s extended connectivity with fans is just getting underway, with the rollout of an official in-stadium app. And when fans access the network for the first time, they are presented with a registration page that gives the team the ability to fine tune its marketing and outreach messaging, a key part of its overall strategy going forward.

“Fans have to opt in [to the marketing program] and it’s very valuable for us if they do,” Lutes said.

In addition to Magic games, the Amway Center also has concerts and minor league hockey games, averaging about 150 events during a calendar year. Since the city attracts tourists from all over the world for conventions and its theme parks, Lutes said the arena also attracts an interesting out-of-town crowd who may be taking in an NBA game during their visit to the city. So it’s important for the team and city ownership to know as much as possible about who is coming through the arena doors.

With the team’s analytics implementation, the Magic can tailor marketing messages for specific types of fans. Though people might worry about getting a bunch of spammy email if they opt in, Lutes said the team’s system works in the opposite manner.

“Our business analytics group can quickly tell if a marketing campaign is effective, and if it’s not we shut it down,” Lutes said. “We don’t blast a lot of messages. It’s less intrusive and more effective.”

And it’s all based on data accumulated via the network the Magic made sure it owned.

“We wouldn’t have access to this type of information if we didn’t own the Wi-Fi network,” Lutes said. “It sets the stage for more personalized messages down the road.”