San Jose Sharks add more features to SAP Center stadium app

The San Jose Sharks announced today a raft of upgrades to their stadium app, including a feature that will allow fans to toggle through four separate modes of functionality, for Sharks games, SAP Center events, minor-league hockey info and information about the Sharks-associated public skating rinks in the area.

Now called the San Jose Sharks + SAP Center app, the mobile-device program developed by VenueNext and Adept Mobile will bring to life some previously mentioned services for Sharks fans, including the ability to order Sharks merchandise and in-stadium “experiences” — like purchasing a message on the big video board — directly from the app.

Screen shot of new ‘marketplace’ options in Sharks app

Other new features include live audio broadcasts of Sharks games and games for the AHL’s Barracuda; augmented reality experiences; and a message preference and inbox feature that will allow fans to self-regulate the frequency of in-app communications with the team.

The ability to toggle between different versions of the app — say, for Sharks hockey games or for a concert at SAP Center — is a feature finding its way into most stadium apps these days, including VenueNext’s app for the San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium. The Sacramento Kings have a similar two-apps-in-one strategy for the team and for Golden 1 Center, in an app developed by Built.io.

For fans, it’s a way to have all the arena-going information in one place, while for the teams and venues it’s a way to keep current customers informed of all the associated businesses. (On its face the feature sounds like a smart idea, but so far we haven’t seen any metrics from any teams showing proof that it is really working for either fans or teams/venues.)

Putting the ability to order experiences like big-screen messages (just $75!) or visits from the Shark’s toothy mascot into the app seems like a good idea, since those actions can now be acted on in the moment instead of having to plan far ahead. And for fans who like to hear play by play either at the rink or at home, having team audio is a great feature and alternative to radio.

‘Fan Mobile Pass’ will serve as NFL’s Super Bowl 52 app, from pregame activities to game day functions

For the second year in a row, the NFL is building its own mobile app for the Super Bowl, this time with a single-application strategy meant to cover both fan activities the week before Super Bowl LII, as well as game-day functionality at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

In a phone interview Thursday with Aaron Amendolia, vice president of IT services for the NFL’s office of the CIO, Amendolia said the new strategy of having a single app for pre-game and game-day activity was meant to drive adoption and eliminate confusion over which app fans might need for various Super Bowl interactions. Last year, the NFL tried to harmonize its Super Bowl app strategy but still required fans to use a separate app — the NFL Mobile app — to see game highlights and other content.

The Super Bowl LII app is now available for download, and fans can sign up on the Super Bowl app website for a chance to win tickets to the big game, while also providing personal information that Amendolia said will assist with the league’s quest to bring more “personalization” to the experience.

“There’s more gamification to the app, with the opportunity for fans to win achievements” through the week, Amendolia said. According to the sign-up web page, there will be a heavy focus on social media engagement, with promises of availability of free autographs from current and past NFL stars; the ability to take a picture of the Super Bowl trophy; and to see images of all 51 Super Bowl rings. There will also be sponsor-activation activities throughout Minneapolis, most likely at the NFL Super Bowl Live fan site on Nicollet Mall and other Super Bowl events, where presumably fans can “check in” with the app’s QR code to earn rewards.

Wayfinding maps, but no blue dots

For both the week before and game day, Amendolia said the app will have wayfinding maps, but they won’t be active “blue dot” wayfinding, even though that feature is supported in the Vikings’ own stadium app, which was developed for the Vikings by app developer VenueNext.

“We did discuss [beacon-enabled] options, but there are some challenges to that that are unique to the Super Bowl,” said Amendolia, noting things like temporary structures and closed roads for Super Bowl activities that could be harder to integrate into maps. For wayfinding beyond maps, Amendolia said there would be a heavy reliance on digital signage information in and around the stadium to help fans find their way.

Like last year, the NFL Super Bowl app will not have any functionality allowing fans to order food or drinks for delivery or express pickup, with the latter being a service that was tested at Vikings home games this season. The app will allow fans to pre-order merchandise and pick it up at locations around town during the week before the game, Amendolia said, and will also allow suite ticketholders to order merchandise for pickup during the game.

One interesting question is whether or not the Vikings will be allowed to make their own app active for the game if they make the Super Bowl by beating the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship this weekend. If so, it would represent the first time an NFL team played in the Super Bowl at its home stadium, an issue never faced in the era of team apps. Vikings officials did not respond yet to questions about the possible availability of the team app for the Super Bowl, but we will update this post if and when they do.

Commentary: More tech needed for signs

Security sign at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

At the Minneapolis airport, I had just checked my bag and was looking for the departure gates, wondering which way to go since I remembered from a previous trip there was a choice of security lines. Turning to my left, my question was answered without having to dig out my phone to look at an app: Instead there was a huge neon green sign that said “Less than 10 minutes… all passengers, all gates.” I smiled and kept walking toward the sign and then took a picture, to remember the power of a highly visible and intuitive message board — something stadiums and other large venues could use a lot more of.

Though we make it a point here at MSR to report as much as we can on app-based developments for stadiums, increasingly these days when at a game I find that many times it is simply not convenient to pull up information on my phone, especially so with wayfinding. Let’s leave aside wayfinding apps and beacons for a minute and ask — why, in this age when we can deliver personalized information to a phone, isn’t there more being done with large, video-based signage?

Give me direction, not just live action

Editor’s note: This column is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT for Winter 2017-18, which is available for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site. This issue has an in-depth look at the wireless networks at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home of the upcoming Super Bowl 52, as well as profiles of network deployments at the brand-new Little Caesars Arena and Orlando City Stadium! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

For sponsors and advertising, the revolution over the past few years of LED boards replacing static signage is like moving from telegraph to radio. Stadiums everywhere are pushing each other to see who can add more in the way of ribbon boards, big LED screens on concourses, on walls and of course, to see who can come up with the latest in big main video boards.

But even as it’s great that video screens are proliferating inside venues — you may never miss a live play anywhere inside a stadium again, including inside elevators — I would argue that in many stadiums, the strategy behind mounting signs and putting relevant content on them is still in its infancy, especially when it comes to things like updated wayfinding.

And while I doubt any of us really wants a future like the one depicted in Minority Report, where signs detect you and show you personalized marketing as you walk by, wouldn’t it be nice if the screens did more instead of just showing live action and synchronized ads? How about some proactive wayfinding, with time-sensitive messages, to help fans find what they need inside the stadium walls? With quick, easy to digest information that doesn’t require three clicks to find?

My beef with wait time apps and wayfinding

If there’s one loudly touted stadium app feature I’ve never fully bought into, it’s the whole “you can see how long the bathroom line is” app. Though it seems simple and good (and many reporters write about it without questioning it), I see a bunch of holes poking through that are never described in the press releases. First and most telling is that even with multiple versions of this service launched, nobody has yet provided us with any stats on usage, even though we’ve asked politely.

Picture of a monitor at American Airlines Arena, showing wait time information (not during a game). Credit: Miami Heat

(Consider this a mass appeal for more information from any app providers or teams with apps reading this: If there is a part of your app that shows wait times for bathrooms or other lines, how many fans have used it? Has use of the feature grown? What have you changed recently to improve it? We’ll hang up and wait for your answer.)

One reason I don’t think wait time apps are a powerful idea for crowded stadiums is the simple fact that sometimes it’s not safe to be looking at your device. At a recent Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium I got a refresher — if you are walking on a concourse during a sellout game, the last thing you want to do is pull out your phone and be a gaper snce you might get gored by some guy with three-foot horns on his head who plows into you when you stop suddenly. Blue-dot directions are great in theory but like texting while driving, in some situations trying to stare at your phone may be hazardous to your health.

How about using the app while sitting in your seat, before you leave for the restroom? My question to the app provider is — what guarantee do you provide that if I start toward the bathroom with the shortest line, that it will still be short when I get there? And paradoxically, if more fans start using the app the way I am, won’t that make the short lines instantly long if we all head there at the same time?

More questions: Do any of these things tell you how long it will take you to walk to and from the bathroom with the shortest line? Or is it smarter to wait instead of walking (especially with a full bladder)? Are wait time apps smart enough to figure all this out? I doubt it.

Can you find your way to the Uber pickup at MSP? Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

But here is where smarter signs with more limited options come into play. Like the huge neon words in the Minneapolis airport, more interactive displays could go a long way in wayfinding, especially if they are only trying to do a small number of simple things, like, “SHORTER BATHROOM LINE 100 FEET THIS WAY,” or, “HOT DOG AND A BEER FOR $10, AT NEXT TWO STANDS.” I see a big difference in how such signs could differ from an app, by providing just the last piece of information in a process already begun — without any need for click-throughs.

The Miami Heat are starting down this path, with video screens that face the fans when they come up from the stands at American Airlines Arena, with restroom and concession information (with simple arrows) provided by partner WaitTime. While we haven’t yet interviewed the folks at WaitTime to find out exactly how their sensors and algorithms stand up to our previous list of questions, our guess is that many more fans will find the information via the concourse displays than through any team app, simply because A) many team apps still aren’t well known or well used, and B) everyone pretty much knows how to read a sign.

This is what I mean when I say we need more tech for signs — the updated information is great stuff, but it doesn’t even have to be that digital. At Golden 1 Center in Sacramento there was an incredibly smart decision made to turn some concession signs on the concourse a simple 90 degrees — so you can read the sign while you are walking, without having to turn your head. It’s one of those things that when you see it for the first time, you wonder why we ever did it the other way.

Maybe what is needed are some new form factors, other than the standard horizontal TV screen. The Mall of America (story coming soon!) has some new interactive directories that are more like a big iPad than the old movie-poster models, and they are already reporting millions of user sessions and great feedback from guests. Why not install a bunch of smaller screens in stadiums and other large venues, which could be programmed for specific time-sensitive information?

Instead of one large screen with impossible to read small type about baggage-carousel information about your arriving flight, why not a monitor with BIG type that circles through the most recent flights, mounted above wherever you enter the baggage area? How about big arrows in stadiums as a game finishes, directing fans to less-crowded exits?

Where are we with this issue now? After Levi’s Stadium opened a few years ago, they had stadium employees with handheld signs after games, trying to direct fans to the light rail. In the Minneapolis airport, trying to find the Uber pickup area requires a treasure hunt of sorts, as you have to find and consult multiple portable printed signs to finally find the curbside spot. And at the Denver airport they use similar portable printed signs to direct passengers to quicker security lines. C’mon man. Time to tech up.

Maybe, yes, an app with blue-dot wayfinding could help here but in many real-life big-venue situations — a sellout crowd concourse, or hauling your carryon suitcase to the gate — taking your phone out is sometimes the least attractive option. Instead, let’s see some more tech directed to signs and the strategy behind their placement and content. Let’s call them signs of the times, shall we?

Stadium- and team-app builder Hopscotch adds $5 M in Series B funding

Screen shot of new Notre Dame app built by Hopscotch.

Hopscotch, one of the newer entrants in the team- and stadium-app development space, announced a $5 million Series B round of funding earlier this month, which the company said would be used to help support the rapid growth Hopscotch has seen over the past year.

Founded in 2014 after a project with Madison Square Garden led CEO Laurence Sotsky to build a business around team and stadium apps, Hopscotch had previously raised $12.5 million in Series A funding, according to the company. According to Sotsky, a beta customer relationship with the University of Mississippi in 2016 gave Hopscotch an entree to the large-college market, and since then the company has signed app deals with a who’s-who list of top universities with prominent athletic programs, including Notre Dame, Oregon, Ohio State, Auburn, UCLA, Washington, Baylor, Penn State, Michigan State and Arizona, among others. Hopscotch also signed a deal with T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

While the list of customers is impressive, there is a bit of a caveat to Hopscotch’s sudden rise. According to Sotsky, Hopscotch gained many of its new customers this summer by taking over app development deals previously held by CBS Interactive and IMG College. As the rights holder for many universities, CBS Interactive’s apps have historically been centered around media, including streaming video and other team content. According to Sotsky, Hopscotch is replacing code in those previous apps from the inside out, bringing the company’s “Fan Engagement Platform” to add services like ticket purchasing and advertising services. However, in many cases the apps are still identified by previous developers in places like the Apple App Store, a tactic Sotsky said was done deliberately so that previous users of the apps could just update to get the new app instead of having to install a new app.

Hopscotch CEO and founder Laurence Sotsky

Duplicate deals at schools?

But what Hopscotch doesn’t tell you is that some of these deals may not be exclusive, as in the case of Baylor University, which is listed under “customers” on both the Hopscotch website as well as the YinzCam website. YinzCam, which developed a game-day app for Baylor when the school built its new football stadium in 2014, remains the “official” app, according to Becky King, associate vice president for information technology services and interim CIO at the Waco, Texas, school.

However complete or incomplete they may be, Hopscotch’s college deals will at least give the company another fighting place to take on other providers in the team/stadium app marketplace like YinzCam, VenueNext, Venuetize and Built.io. With $17.5 million in total funding now, the El Segundo, Calif.-based Hopscotch may add to its current total of 40 employees, while building out its product roadmap to include more services for game days, like wait-time apps or traffic and parking services.

In a phone interview Sotsky said Hopscotch is already trying beta tests of interactive advertisements, like one last basketball season at Auburn where fans using the app would get a message good for a free breakfast sandwich at a nearby Hardee’s if the opposing team missed two consecutive free throws late in a game. Though most stadium and team apps have been challenged so far just to get fans to download and use the apps — never mind generating revenue — Sotsky is betting that Hopscotch will find a way to help venues, teams and advertisers work together to build something that benefits fans while also delivering some ROI.

“If you deliver the right kind of ads you can get great revenue traction,” said Sotsky.

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.