Vikings testing in-seat beverage delivery via app at U.S. Bank Stadium

A runner delivers drinks to fans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Minnesota Vikings (click on any photo for a larger image)

The Minnesota Vikings are currently offering in-seat delivery of beverages ordered through the stadium mobile app, a beta test of sorts that may lead to expanded app-delivery options at U.S. Bank Stadium in the near future.

While it’s just a small pilot operation now, available to approximately 8,000 seats in the venue’s east end zone area, any such service takes on greater importance due to the fact that U.S. Bank Stadium is set to host Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4, 2018. And whether or not the delivery service is available during the Super Bowl, Vikings representatives see it as an important opportunity to see if such services are helpful, profitable and scalable for different areas of the 66,200-seat facility.

“We want to ensure that the user experience [with the deliveries] is good,” said Scott Kegley, the Vikings’ executive director of digital media and innovation, about the go-slow approach. “We want to know all the data pieces, to see if the [current] test can be replicated.”

The Vikings’ small sample size is almost completely opposite of the path taken by the San Francisco 49ers when they opened Levi’s Stadium in 2014. The Niners and their app partner, VenueNext, offered full food and beverage delivery to any seat in the stadium, a service that was recently discontinued. Kegley, who had worked with the Niners during the Levi’s opening, said the Vikings (who also use VenueNext for the stadium app) learned a lot from the Niners’ delivery experiences, such as why just beverages may be a better delivery option than a full menu.

A runner gets ready to deliver drinks. Credit: Minnesota Vikings

Just drinks a lot easier to deliver

Rich Wang, director of analytics and fan engagement for the Vikings, said the Niners’ data showed that approximately 70 percent of all their delivery orders were beverage-only. With space at a premium inside U.S. Bank Stadium, the ability to have runner areas or delivery operations inside the current concession stands was not an option, Wang said. However, by moving some beverage coolers behind a temporary screen, the Vikings were able to create a mini-beverage delivery operations area that could serve a targeted seating area — in this case the 100- and 200-level seats surrounding the east end zone.

After some spot tests of the system last season, this year the Vikings rolled out the east end zone service as an ongoing feature, with delivery of a limited menu of beer, soda and water options. The promotion of the service has been purposely low-key, since as Wang said, the Vikings really don’t want everyone else in the stadium to know the service is available but not to them. Mainly, fans find out about the service through hard-copy promotional material placed in the cupholders, as well as via the app, which makes the delivery service available when fans log in with seat numbers in the service area.

An overhead look at the coolers and runner pickup area in U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Mobile Sports Report was able to view the delivery operation live at the Nov. 19 home game against the Los Angeles Rams, and early in the first quarter it was a busy place, with runners filling orders every time they came back to the small space (a cordoned-off area next to a concession stand and a building entrance). Runners each had insulated bags to carry drinks, and each drink came with a Vikings “Skol” koozie to help keep beverages cold.

According to Wang, the Vikings saw 185 deliveries through the service on Sunday, with half of those orders being for Coors Light, another 25 percent for other alcoholic beverages (Blue Moon and Redd’s ales) and the rest for sodas and water. Unlike Levi’s Stadium, which charged a flat $5 fee for all deliveries, the Vikings instead just add a 15 percent surcharge per product over what fans would pay at a concession stand.

Express pickup and more spaces for delivery

The Vikings also have two concession-stand areas for express pickup orders, one on the main concourse and one on the upper deck. Like the in-seat delivery service, the express pickup areas are another test, to gain data on how fans use the service before attempting expanded offerings. The Niners, which had offered full-stadium express pickup when Levi’s Stadium opened, no longer support the service.

A look at part of the promotional material placed in cupholders in the service area

Should the east end zone test show promise, Kegley and Wang have their eyes on the opposite end zone, where a small unused space exists directly under the lower-level west stands. Backing up to a large concession stand, it looks like a prime area to set up another delivery operation, with the added bonus of having runners walking up to fans instead of from behind, which Wang said would make for easier identification by fans of incoming deliveries. Wang said one of the stats the Vikings are paying attention to is delivery time and steps taken by runners, using a step-tracking app “to make sure the runners aren’t doing half-marathons” during a game, Wang said.

Right now, nobody at the Vikings is saying anything about Super Bowl operations, which are primarily decided upon by the NFL itself. For Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium, the NFL nixed full-menu deliveries, only allowing beverages to be delivered inside the stadium. Fans did respond positively, however, with a record number of deliveries, so the NFL may look on such a service at U.S. Bank with favorable eyes.

On the Vikings’ end, the service is already producing interesting data, including the fact that 60 percent of people using the service had never before used the team app; and the other 40 percent are now using the app more, according to Wang.

“We’re driving people to download the app, or use it more,” said Wang of the delivery service. Whether or not it will catch on depends on whether or not fans see it as a worthy alternative to just going to a concession stand. But, as Wang said, “nobody wants to wait in lines!”

A runner delivers drinks to fans in the east end zone. Credit: Minnesota Vikings

A look at the lower-level concourse express pickup area. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

NFS wins $8 M judgement against SignalShare, and $5.7 M judgement against former SignalShare exec

Screen shot of nGage Fan Feed. Credit: SignalShare

UPDATE: Information added to original draft, since MSR now has copies of the actual court documents.

The drama surrounding the fraud charges leveled early last year against former Wi-Fi provider firm SignalShare seems to be reaching a conclusion, with court documents showing that NFS Leasing has been awarded $8 million in damages from SignalShare, and $5.7 million in damages from an ex-SignalShare exec.

To quickly recall the case, SignalShare, a company involved in bringing Wi-Fi networks and associated fan-experience apps to stadiums, was sued by NFS, an equipment leasing company, over a dispute involving allegedly fraudulent leases by SignalShare, and SignalShare’s default on an agreement to pay back money obtained through those leases. Originally NFS sought $7.8 million in damages.

According court documents that are also quoted in a Law 360 report, a judge in Massachussetts federal court granted summary judgement in NFS’ favor Wednesday, with an $8 million judgement against Signal Point Holdings Corp., a SignalShare subsidiary, and a $5.7 million judgement against former SignalShare exec Christopher Barnes. According to court documents, the judge also voided an attempt by SignalShare to move assets between other companies owned by the same owners as SignalShare.

To recap the original story — SignalShare had originally partnered with Wi-Fi gear vendor Extreme Networks on deployments for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the University of Maryland and the Detroit Red Wings, all apparently legitimate deals. SignalShare later touted its Live-Fi nGage suite, a system that was meant to combine content, analytics and advertising links to give venue owners and operators a turnkey method to improve fan engagement and perhaps increase revenue opportunities for large-venue Wi-Fi networks.

According to a previous Law360 story, the lawsuit from NFS Leasing claimed that SignalShare “began requesting financing from NFS for purchasing equipment for fictitious contracts,” using forged, altered and falsified documents for deals that didn’t exist. From that Law360 report, which quotes from the legal complaint:

“[SignalShare] would represent to NFS that it had entered into an agreement with a sports arena or team and would induce NFS to provide funding for the acquisition of the allegedly-needed equipment,” the complaint said.

SignalShare would provide fake or forged invoices for the equipment it allegedly ordered, or provide fictitious serial numbers for items allegedly purchased and installed in the fraudulent contracts, the complaint said.

Between May 20, 2014 and May 21, 2015, SignalShare conned NFS into advancing funds on 10 fraudulent lease transactions to the tune of $4.9 million, the complaint said.

Costanzo charged, then cleared

The case had several twists and turns along the way, including the charging and then exoneration of former SignalShare chief technical officer Joe Costanzo, who was one of the SignalShare execs personally named in the first lawsuit. Costanzo, who ran the technical operations of SignalShare, claimed he was misled by his own company and had filed counter-claims against NFS.

This past August court documents said that NFS Leasing had dismissed all of its claims against Costanzo “without costs to either party.” Costanzo, who had filed a counter-claim against NFS, also dismissed his action.

In the summer of 2016, NFS had announced an auction of SignalShare assets, including such entities as the network lease for providing Wi-Fi to the Golden State Warriors. However, that planned auction was cancelled when SignalShare filed for bankruptcy. Along the way, executives from Extreme Networks have continually refused to comment on any details of their partnership with SignalShare.

Wi-Fi, new app features a welcome addition at historic Saratoga Race Course

Horses round the turn at Saratoga Race Course. Credit all photos: Saratoga Race Course.

Just because a sporting venue is old and historic doesn’t mean it has to stay behind the times. The welcome arrival this year at the famed Saratoga Race Course of a high-density Wi-Fi network and a new mobile app with services including live video, express food ordering and mobile betting was a winner for all fans, according to racetrack executives.

“I’m pretty proud of Saratoga — we’ve got history, tradition, and now the 21st Century,” said Bob Hughes, vice president and chief information officer for the New York Racing Association, which runs thoroughbred racing at the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based Saratoga as well as at Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park. The new Wi-Fi network, which was fully installed for Saratoga’s 2017 season, “was a wild success for us,” Hughes said. “The fans were engaged, and the media noticed.”

Saratoga’s summer schedule — a tradition in upstate New York since racing first happened there in 1863 — is one of the more revered happenings on the horse-racing schedule, and the Race Course grounds are widely admired as one of the best experiences in sports. But up until a few years ago, that experience didn’t have much in the way of wireless connectivity, an issue Hughes said the NYRA started working on to correct after the 2015 season.

More mobility for race fans

With an executive direction to bring more mobility, access and convenience to fans, Saratoga started down the path that ended with a network using 220 Ruckus access points, Kezar scanners and a new app designed by VenueNext, and 1,000 bluetooth beacons from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, to support wayfinding and other services. With more than 48,000 client user sessions on one of the summer’s busiest days — the Aug. 26 Travers Day — and an average of more than 1 terabyte of traffic each day, the new network at Saratoga was an instant hit, and something likely to keep the old venue even more relevant to a new generation of racing fans.

“The New York Racing Association was pleased this year to introduce cutting edge technology to Saratoga Race Course, the oldest active sporting venue in America,” said NYRA CEO and president Chris Kay in a prepared statement. “Given our ever growing reliance on mobile devices, these improvements are critical to the long-term success and sustainability of Saratoga.”

The unique schedule of Saratoga — 40 days of racing in the summer — also means some long days of races, with fans at the track from before noon until 7 p.m. some days, Hughes said. With the new network and app in place, those fans can not only stay connected to their outside lives, but they can also watch live and archived racing videos, pre-order concessions for express pickup, and even place bets from their mobile device.

“With 25 or 30 minutes between races, you now see a lot of people watching replays of former races” to gain betting insights, Hughes said. And that connectivity even extends from the racetrack seating areas out to the track’s famed picnic grounds, where Hughes said Saratoga deployed “mushroom” looking AP enclosures that put antennas at waist level, to bring connectivity close to the seating areas.

From the more than 1 million fans who attended races this season, Hughes said the Wi-Fi network saw pretty consistent take rates of 25 percent of fans present on the network at any given time. Having that wireless connectivity to outside lives as well as to tap into venue amenities, Hughes said, “takes any stress away.”

Verizon says it is ‘improving the data crediting process’ to address NFL Mobile data-charge snafus

Verizon said it is “improving the data crediting process” for its popular NFL Mobile app, which has apparently caused many headaches this season with users who claimed the cell provider wasn’t following through with its promise to make watching live NFL action free from any data charges.

If comments on Mobile Sports Report blog posts are any indication of wider unrest, there are many NFL Mobile users who have been erreneously charged for wireless data used while watching the live NFL games provided by the NFL Mobile app. In our blog post announcing Verizon’s claim that all NFL Mobile live action this season would be free of data charges, we guessed that Verizon’s unclear answers about so-called “unlimited” versus metered plans meant that the provider hadn’t fully figured out how to correctly bill users of the app. Seems like we were more right than we wanted to be.

A quick scroll through any of the 20-plus comments our blog post received from frustrated users seems to show that on many levels, Verizon’s billing and customer service reps were on different pages when it came to NFL Mobile data use. After more than a month of inquiries to Verizon about the claims by our commenters, this week we finally received an official reply from a Verizon spokesperson. Here it is:

Verizon is committed to providing live games on NFL Mobile data free to our customers and resolving any related billing disputes. We have made recent adjustments improving the data crediting process to reduce usage alerts and to ensure our customers receive consistent answers when they contact our support organization.

Without actually admitting to any problems, Verizon’s statement about “improving the data crediting process” and other issues seems to be a tacit admission that not all was well, an issue that seems to affect NFL Mobile just about every year.

Football fans, however, may have another choice next season when it comes to watching live games on phones, with recent reports claiming that Verizon’s 4-year, $1 billion deal for exclusive rights won’t be renewed.

Commentary: Time to rethink in-seat delivery?

A beer vendor at Wrigley Field this summer. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka,, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

I have a major scoop: Even though Wrigley Field doesn’t have its new Wi-Fi network installed yet, I can confirm that the Friendly Confines has food and drink delivery to fans in all seats.

And you don’t need an app to order a frosty malt beverage. You simply say, “Hey! Beer man! One over here!” And he walks over and pours you a cold one. Apparently this is not new, but has worked for many, many years.

Though I do jest a bit I hope my point is clear: Sometimes there is a bit too much fascination with technology, especially on the stadium app front, which has not yet been warranted. The main question of this essay is whether or not it’s time to rethink the in-seat ordering and delivery phenomenon, to find what really matters to fans and where technology can deliver better options.

Who really wants in-seat delivery?

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, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

I will be the first to admit to being guilty as charged in being over-excited about stadium apps and the idea of things like instant replays on your phone and being able to have food and drink delivered to any seat in the stadium. When the San Francisco 49ers opened Levi’s Stadium four years ago, those two services were fairly unique in the sporting world, and it was cool to see how both worked.

The Niners did a lot of human-engineering study on the food delivery problem, knowing that it was more an issue of getting enough runners to deliver the goods than it was to get the app working right. Even a big glitch at the first-year outdoor ice hockey game at Levi’s Stadium was sort of a confirmation of the idea: That so many people tried to order food deliveries it screwed up the system wasn’t good, but it did mean that it was something people wanted, right?

Turns out, no so much. Recently the Niners officially announced that they are taking a step back on in-seat concessions ordering and deliveries at Levi’s Stadium, limiting it to club areas only. Whatever reasons the Niners give for scaling down the idea, my guess is that it mainly had to do with the fact that it turns out that the majority of people at a football game (or basketball too) may not want to just sit in their seats the whole game, but in fact get up and move around a bit.

The end zone view from the beer garden at Colorado State Stadium.

That may be why most of the new stadiums that have opened in the past couple years have purposely built more “porch” areas or other public sections where fans can just hang out, usually with somewhat of a view of the field. The Sacramento Kings’ nice beer garden on the top level of Golden 1 Center and the Atlanta Falcons’ AT&T Perch come to mind here. For the one or two times these fans need to get something to eat, they are OK with getting up and getting it themselves.

Plus, there’s the fact that at the three or four or more hours you’re going to be at a football game, if you’re drinking beer you’re going to eventually need to get up anyway due to human plumbing. We’ve been fairly out front in saying stadiums should spend more time bringing concession-stand technology into the 21st century, instead of worrying too much about in-seat delivery. It’s good to see there are some strides in this direction, with better customer-facing interfaces for payment systems and things like vending machines and express-ordering lines for simple orders.

While there may be disagreement about whether or not in-seat delivery is a good idea, there is certainly universal disgust for concession lines that are long for no good reason. It’s beyond time for stadiums to mimic systems already in place at fast-food restaurants or coffee shops and bring some of that technology spending to bear in the place that everyone agrees still needs work. Even at the uber-techno Levi’s, regular concession stand lines have been abysmal in their slowness. Maybe the Niners and others guilty of the same crimes will pay more attention to less flashy fixes in this department.

Is drink-only delivery the right move?

The Niners’ revolutionary attempt to bring mobile ordering and in-seat delivery to all fans in a big stadium was part of the app suite from VenueNext, the company the Niners helped start as part of their Levi’s Stadium plans. While VenueNext is regularly adding new pro teams to its stable of customers (in September at Mobile World Congress Americas, the Utah Jazz announced they would switch to VenueNext for the upcoming season), not a single one has tried to copy the Niners’ ambitious deliver-anywhere feature.

The end-zone AT&T Perch at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

And for Super Bowl 50, the signature event that Levi’s Stadium was in part built for, remember it was the NFL shutting down the idea of in-seat delivery of food and drink, limiting the service instead to just beverage ordering and delivery. It probably makes sense for Mobile Sports Report to put together a list sometime soon about the various attempts at in-seat ordering and delivery around the pro leagues, to see what’s working and what hasn’t. To be clear we are talking here about widespread delivery to all seating areas, and not the wait-staff type delivery systems that have been widely deployed in premium seating areas for years.

Our guess, just from tracking this phenomenon the past several years, is that while such services make sense in premium and club areas, simple logistics and stadium real estate (like narrow aisles or packed, sellout crowds) make in-seat ordering and delivery a human-factor nightmare in most venues.

One experiment worth watching is the system being deployed by the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as part of the team/stadium app developed by IBM. Instead of working online, the app will let fans pick food items and enter payment information, and then take their phone to the appropriate stand to scan and fulfill the order. Nobody knows yet if this will speed up lines or make the concession process faster, but it is at the very least an attempt to try something new, using technology doing what it does best to eliminate a pain point of going to a game — waiting in line.

And while I will be excited to see the new networks being planned for Wrigley (Wi-Fi and a new DAS are supposed to be online for next season), I’m just as sure that whenever I visit there again, I won’t need an app to have a beer and hot dog brought to my seat. Maybe having more choice in items or having that instant gratification of delivery when you want it is where the world is going today, but on a brilliant summer afternoon at Wrigley Field somebody walking down the aisle every now and then works just fine. With the Cubs winning, the organ playing and the manual scoreboard doing its magic in center field, it’s a welcome reminder that sometimes, technology isn’t always the best or neccessary answer.

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 Enterprise, a division of Charter 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.

Spectrum 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.