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 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.

ISP powerhouse and Cisco partner Spectrum Communications 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.

Bird of a different feather: Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium takes tech in a new direction

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

As you walk up to it, the striking angular architecture of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a way of telling you, before you even set foot inside, that this building is different from any other stadium you may know. When you get inside, see the eight-petal roof and the circular video “halo board” right below it, those feelings are confirmed.

Deeper inside the venue’s construction, the theme is continued with the building’s network technology, which is similarly different if less easily seen. With more fiber optical cabling than perhaps any comparable stadium, the new home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons is built more with an eye toward what comes next, while also debuting with systems built with the peak of current knowledge and deployment designs.

Unlike the owners and operators of some other new arenas, the Falcons’ aren’t wasting much bandwidth trying to paint Mercedes-Benz Stadium as the best-ever when it comes to stadium technology. (In fact the stadium network crew is being very closed-mouth about everything, not providing any game-day statistics even though informed rumors tell us that the Wi-Fi network is doing very well.) But come back in 5 years, or even 10 years from now, and see if the decisions made here were able to consistently keep the Falcons’ new roost at the top of the stadium-technology game.

Table stakes, plus a halo board

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Fall 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at Notre Dame Stadium, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Los Angeles Coliseum. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

Inside the Falcons’ new roost, with the halo board and roof visible

What’s working now, as the venue enters the Falcons’ 2017 NFL season, includes a Wi-Fi network built with nearly 1,800 Aruba access points. Of the 1,000 of those installed in the main seating bowl, most are mounted underneath the seats, a trend that gained steam a couple years ago and now has numerous proof points behind the higher capacity and faster performance of so-called “proximate” networks. There’s also a neutral-host distributed antenna system, or DAS, for enhanced cellular coverage, built and owned by the arena with space rented out to all four of the major U.S. cellular carriers.

And then there’s the halo board, the circular or oval-shaped video screen that circumnavigates the roof right at the base of the also-innovative eight-petal roof, which is designed to open or close in seven minutes or less. If big video screens are a never-ending trend the Falcons are right out in front with their offerings at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, starting with the halo board and the “mega-column,” a hundred-foot high vertical screen just inside the main entryway. The 2,000-plus other regular-sized screens scattered around the venue should ensure there’s always a display visible, no matter where guests are looking.

And while the team has future plans for video, the one piece of network technology that may matter most is the optical fiber, which can support wider bandwidth and faster speeds than traditional copper cabling. The statistic thrown around often in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium press materials — nearly 4,000 miles of fiber used — is meaningless to most who repeat it, other than it seems like a lot of glass wiring.

What’s more interesting from a stadium-design perspective is not exactly the total but instead the reach of the fiber, as the network designers pushed fiber out to the edges much further than before, betting that by putting more capacity farther into the reaches of the stadium, there will be less needs for big-time network upgrades in the future, when the inevitable need for more bandwidth arrives.

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP

“We like to say we’re future flexible, not future proof,” said Jared Miller, chief digital officer for the Falcons. “Future proof does not exist in technology.”

Informed by Texas A&M

In picking IBM as its lead networking technology partner, the Falcons most certainly gleaned a lot of their stadium network design lessons from the 2015 deployment of a new Wi-Fi network at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, a project also led by IBM. Making deep use of Corning fiber networking technology, A&M’s Wi-Fi network hit the ground running hard, as a big number of under-seat APs supported several big days of data use by the 100,000-plus Aggie fans who filled the building on home-game weekends.

The basic idea behind using fiber is that optical cabling can carry far more bandwidth at faster speeds than a comparable copper wire. By putting more fiber farther out into all reaches of a stadium, a network can be “future proofed” by being able to support many more new devices on the end of each fiber strand. By not having to string new cabling everywhere to support greater demand, a stadium will theoretically spend far less money in the long haul.

Wi-Fi and DAS will have the bathroom lines covered

From a network backbone perspective, the Falcons took what Texas A&M did and pushed even farther with fiber, taking the glass circuits as close to the edge devices (mainly Wi-Fi APs) as possible. In our mid-August press tour at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, we saw many of the so-called “mini-IDFs,” small closets with three or four pieces of gear in them, mounted on walls throughout the stadium.

“We kept the use of copper as short as possible,” said Miller. “With bandwidth demands continuing to grow at an exponential rate, we need to make sure we keep pace with rapidly evolving technology.”

If there is one big drawback to using fiber, it has to do with the intricacies of dealing with the construction end of building fiber networks, since the cables need to be precisely cut and joined, often with highly specialized equipment. There are also far more network technicians who are trained in copper wiring deployments than in fiber, so personnel issues can also increase costs and complexity.

On the eve of the Falcons’ first regular-season home game, a mid-September playoff rematch with the Green Bay Packers, Miller and his crew had not yet provided any traffic or network throughput statistics from the preseason games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. However, some inside sources told MSR that the Wi-Fi traffic during the preseason and the early September college game was at the top range of what has been historically seen for NFL game days, so it appears that the system is ready to go.

Holding off on more bells and whistles

Though it may be hard for any other stadium to top the halo board for a while, on some other technology-related items the Falcons and Mercedes-Benz Stadium are taking a step back and not pushing digital solutions to where they might not be needed.

One of the many ‘mini-ISFs,’ this one in the press box

On the stadium app side, for instance, the IBM-developed application does not support some services seen at other NFL or pro-league stadiums, like “blue dot” wayfinding or in-seat food delivery or even express pickup for concessions. Instead, the app uses wayfinding based on static maps, where you need to put in both a location and a desired destination; and on the food-ordering side, fans can enter in an order and their credit card information, but must then take it to a stand to be scanned and fulfilled.

And while the Falcons’ new app does have a fun FAQ chatbot called “Ask Arthur” (for the team’s owner, Arthur Blank), there won’t be any live instant replay features in the app. With all the video screens in the stadium, the Falcons think they have the replay angle thing covered. The Falcons will use the app, however, for expanded digital-ticketing features as well as to help fans find and pay for parking. On the concessions side, the Falcons’ well-reported “fan friendly” pricing with low costs for most stadium food staples might prove more interesting to fans than being able to have food delivered.

Miller was also adamant that fans won’t see any portal or other marketing messages between finding and connecting to the Wi-Fi network.

“You just join ‘AT&Twifi’ and you’re on,” Miller said. “You’re a guest in our house. The last thing we want to do is slow you down from getting on the network.”

The big metal falcon in front of the stadium looks out over downtown Atlanta

More Wi-Fi APs visible under the overhang

A view from the AT&T Porch out through the windows

Niners: No more in-seat merchandise sales or express pickup at Levi’s Stadium

We finally have an official statement from the San Francisco 49ers talking about the team’s decision this season to eliminate in-seat food delivery for the entire stadium and instead offer the service only to those holding club-level seats, news reported first by Mobile Sports Report.

A statement provided to us from Al Guido, president of the Niners, says:

Levi’s Stadium was the first stadium of its size to offer in-seat food and beverage delivery throughout the building, a service no other venue has attempted to date. After conducting a comprehensive offseason review, including analysis of the sections where people took the greatest advantage of the offering and surveys on what matters most to fans sitting in different areas of the venue, we are focusing our in-seat food and beverage ordering service exclusively to non-inclusive Club seating sections for the current season. This change is being done to improve the overall concession service in the venue while allowing us to continue to enhance how this feature can best benefit our fans.

According to the Niners, “non-inclusive” means all club seats where fans don’t have access to the everything-paid-for clubs like the BNY Mellon Clubs on either side of the lower 50-yard-line seats. So to have access to the app-based ordering and delivery, you need to be in a club seat somewhere in the 100 or 200 levels of the stadiums, without a paid-for food and drink plan. The Niners did not provide any numbers about how many or what percentage of Levi’s Stadium fans would continue to have the ability to order concession deliveries.

Also discontinued is the Levi’s Stadium express pickup option, a service the team said was actually stopped last season. The express pickup option allowed fans to order and pay for food and drink ahead of time, and then pick it up at a nearby stand. The Niners also said they are discontinuing the ability for fans to order merchandise and have it delivered to their seats, an option that debuted back in 2014.

Little Caesars Arena picks Venuetize for stadium, district app

The new Little Caesars Arena app from Venuetize will also support the District Detroit area surrounding the new stadium.

The newly opened Little Caesars Arena in Detroit picked Venuetize to develop its stadium app, which also includes functionality to support activities in the surrounding “District Detroit” area, according to the arena.

Mobile technology provider Venuetize, which also built an integrated app for the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, has included a long list of features in the app for Little Caesars Arena, the new home for the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. The District Detroit is a 50-block revitalization project surrounding the new arena, with shopping, restaurants and entertainment designed to keep fans in the area for more than just sporting events.

Digital ticketing support is at the top of the new app’s features, along with express ordering, which allows fans to order and purchase concessions via the app for fast pickup.

According to the arena and Venuetize, fans will also be able to use the app to find the best directions to the arena or to other places in the district, as well as inside the arena for in-building wayfinding. Future features planned for the app include a virtual assistant that will answer live questions. The app is available now, for iPhone and Android devices.

Delivery of food and beverage to all seats off the menu at Levi’s Stadium

Screen shot from Levi’s Stadium app from 2015 showing active in-seat delivery option.

The ability for every fan in the house to order food delivery to their seat — one of the signature services of Levi’s Stadium since its opening — is now off the menu.

At Thursday night’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams, in-seat delivery of mobile-app orders of food and drink was only available to club seat sections at the Niners’ home stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., according to several sources close to the team and the stadium.

Though there is no official statement yet from the team, it’s believed that the in-seat ordering and delivery service — which worked well except for one major early glitch — was mostly popular in premium seating areas at Levi’s, but not widely used otherwise.

While the Niners provided delivery-order statistics for the first year of operation of Levi’s Stadium, since then they’ve only reported orders in vague terms, last claiming average order totals of between 2,000 and 2,500 per game during the 2015 season. It’s also not clear if those numbers included both delivery orders as well as mobile-device orders for express pickup, where fans use the app to place and pay for an order, and then go pick it up at an express window.

The most likely reason for cutting off the service to the full stadium is that fans simply didn’t use it, and at some point it made no sense to keep staffing a service that wasn’t producing any income. What’s still unclear is whether the move is permanent, or whether it could be replaced in time, given that since Levi’s Stadium has opened, the Niners have routinely made changes to how the stadium app works and what services it offers. What was also unclear was how many club seats are still able to order deliveries, and whether or not the express pickup option is also still available.

For Super Bowl 50, the NFL nixed the food part of the delivery service at Levi’s, limiting it to just drinks. However, Super Bowl fans did give the drink delivery and the ability to order food and beverages for express pickup a good workout, with 3,284 total orders, 67 percent higher than the top order mark for a Niners’ regular-season game.

An ambitious experiment

Early on, there was much enthusiasm from the Niners for the in-seat delivery service, and their ambitious goal to make it work for every potential fan in the 68,500-seat venue. While almost every major professional and large collegiate sports venue has some kind of delivery service for premium seats or expanded sections, there is no other football-size venue that has attempted what the Niners have offered at Levi’s Stadium the past three seasons.

Why the full-stadium delivery option never caught on at Levi’s Stadium is most likely due to many reasons, beginning with the fact that it’s still not something most fans expect, unless they are in premium seating areas. There is also the question of how many fans actually download and use the stadium app while at the game, another statistic not regularly reported by teams.

While the service has always been available at Niners’ home games, other events at Levi’s Stadium, like Wrestlemania 31, have declined to have the service available while others, like the Grateful Dead, chose to keep the service in place. According to the Niners, the choice of having delivery available was always made by the event and not by the team.

It’s interesting to note that VenueNext, the app development company started in part by the 49ers, does not have another customer among its growing list of pro team clients that offers full-stadium delivery of app-ordered concessions. Mobile Sports Report has learned that one VenueNext team may start offering drink delivery to fans, but it’s not clear if that will be a full-stadium option.

Another stadium app startup with food-delivery services, TapIn2, has systems to deliver concessions ordered via app to the lower bowl at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Quicken Loans Arena, and for club-seat sections at the Cincinnati Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium.

Utah Jazz pick VenueNext for new stadium app

There’s no official announcement yet but the Utah Jazz today confirmed the scoop that was announced by CIO BJ Vander Linden last week at the Mobile World Congress Americas show, that the Jazz will use VenueNext for a new stadium app for the upcoming season.

More details will likely become available as we get closer to the tipoff of the 2017-18 NBA season, but in the meantime it’s interesting to ponder what has become of the equity deal struck between app provider YinzCam and the NBA 2 years ago.

Under the terms of that deal, YinzCam was supposed to “re-do” the stadium apps for 22 of the NBA’s teams, with things like food delivery and ticket services included. With two of those teams (the other is the Minnesota Timberwolves) now having announced plans to use VenueNext, there is a valid question about what is happening with YinzCam and some of its former clients.

Mobile Sports Report has reached out repeatedly to YinzCam CEO Priya Narasimhan over the past couple months, but we have not yet received a reply.