New Report: Texas A&M scores with new digital fan-engagement strategy

In the short history of in-stadium mobile fan engagement, a team or stadium app has been the go-to strategy for many venue owners and operators. But what if that strategy is wrong?

That question gets an interesting answer with the lead profile in our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Winter 2018-19 issue! These quarterly long-form reports are designed to give stadium and large public venue owners and operators, and digital sports business executives a way to dig deep into the topic of stadium technology, via exclusive research and profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, as well as news and analysis of topics important to this growing market.

Leading off for this issue is an in-depth report on a new browser-based digital game day program effort launched this football season at Texas A&M, where some longtime assumptions about mobile apps and fan engagement were blown apart by the performance of the Aggies’ new project. A must read for all venue operations professionals! We also have in-person visits to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the renovated State Farm Arena, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena. A Q&A with NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle and a report on a CBRS network test by the PGA round out this informative issue! DOWNLOAD YOUR REPORT today!

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

As always, we are here to hear what you have to say: Send me an email to kaps@mobilesportsreport.com and let us know what you think of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series.

NBA stadium tech reports — NBA East, Southeast Division

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NBA stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE HOOPS AND HOCKEY ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

Reporting by Chris Gallo

NBA EAST: Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks
Philips Arena
Seating capacity: 18,118
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS: Yes

Philips Arena features a different kind of video board this season. The court. That’s right, the Hawks are using a 3D projection system to display video on the hardwood and create an experience fans can’t find anywhere else. Atlanta can even use the projection system to bring tweets and Instagram posts from fans on the floor. Imagine seeing your selfie on the court, how cool is that?

The experience is even better after Boingo Wireless outfitted the 16-year-old facility with Wi-Fi and a robust neutral DAS system. The upgrades couldn’t have come at a better time given how the Hawks are performing on the court this season.

Charlotte Hornets
Time Warner Cable Arena
Seating capacity: 19,077
Wi-Fi: Yes (120+ antennas)
DAS: Yes (524 antennas)

With a not-so new name, the Charlotte Hornets continue to benefit from having a cable giant’s name on the front of their arena. The franchise plans to make Time Warner Cable Arena a bigger attraction in the future, and it should have no trouble as the city of Charlotte approved an estimated $33 million renovation project over the next decade. The buzz is indeed back.

Miami Heat
American Airlines Arena
Seating capacity: 19,600
Wi-Fi: No
DAS: Yes

The Miami Heat depend on a powerful Distributed Antenna System (DAS) to keep fans connected during home games at American Airlines Arena. There’s no fan-facing Wi-Fi in the arena yet, but it’s something the franchise is considering for the future, possibly first in a new bar/gathering area attached to the arena. Despite losing LeBron James to free agency, fans are still finding their ways to games, as the Heat rank in the top 10 in the league in attendance this season.

Orlando Magic
Amway Center
Seating capacity: 18,846
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS: Yes

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

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

Only in its fifth year, the Amway Center is still one of the newest arenas in the NBA. Orlando partnered with AmpThink last year to give its Wi-Fi and DAS coverage a boost. This season, the Magic have joined forces with Chase and E15 Group to be one of the first NBA teams to incorporate Apple Pay into their home arena. Fans were able to make concessions and retail purchases from their phones throughout the arena.

Washington Wizards
Verizon Center
Seating capacity: 20,356
Wi-Fi: Yes
DAS: Yes

Mobilitie brought upgrades to the Verizon Center’s Wi-Fi and DAS systems over the past year, and it’s helping the Wizards connect with fans. Already with free iPhone and Android mobile apps, the Wizards released a native iPad app to help encourage fans to use the franchise’s digital ticketing system. And as a unique thank you to fans, the Wizards placed over 3,000 names of season ticket holders in the baseline logo of the Verizon Center’s court. Nice touch, Wizards.

Stadium Tech Report: Atlanta Hawks’ Philips Arena signs Boingo for DAS, Wi-Fi

Philips Arena. Credit: Atlanta Hawks.

Philips Arena. Credit: Atlanta Hawks.

As the central event stadium of its kind in the region, Atlanta’s Philips Arena is well known for the entertainment options it offers, from professional sports to concerts, ice-show extravaganzas and even the circus. What it didn’t want to continue to be known for was its inability to provide service when fans at the stadium tried to connect to the Internet.

“We wanted to avoid the spinning [timeout] wheel of death,” said Andrew Steinberg, senior vice president and chief revenue officer for the Atlanta Hawks and for Philips Arena, in a recent phone interview. Home to the NBA’s Hawks, Philips stood out as one of just six NBA arenas without fan-facing Wi-Fi services, and with no cellular DAS.

That will change soon, thanks to a deal Philips signed with Boingo Wireless to provide free fan Wi-Fi and a neutral host DAS for the facility by the start of the next NBA season.

Andrew Steinberg

Andrew Steinberg

According to Steinberg, the area’s well-connected citizens, who probably trail only California’s Silicon Valley in devices per person, weren’t happy when they tried to access their social networks at Philips.

“We know people are coming to arena have been very challenged, just to tweet or post a picture to Instagram,” Steinberg said. “We needed to correct that.”

The process to do so actually started a couple years ago, when the Philips IT team put out a request for proposals that was very detailed in nature. “We wanted a robust backbone and infrastructure, and we were very thorough,” said Steinberg about the review process. “We wanted to find the best solution. And Boingo [Wireless] had the best fit for our plans.”

Neutral DAS a necessity

Philips Arena

Philips Arena

One of the requirements for Philips was that its DAS host needed to be a neutral third party, and not a single carrier. “I much prefer a neutral host DAS,” said Steinberg. “I’ve seen it done different ways. What I prefer is a best in class solution from a partner who can further engage the carriers.”

Boingo, Steinberg said, “delivered on that promise” and will have all the major carriers online when the DAS deployment is ready to go for the next NBA season.

Doug Lodder, vice president of business development at Boingo Wireless, said Steinberg and the Hawks were “very thorough” with their request for technology. “They took the time and did due diligence – they were way out in front of most venues [in their proposals],” Lodder said.

According to Steinberg, the infrastructure at Philips – which opened in 1999 – presented no special challenges to deployment. There was even plenty of space on site for the DAS head end, which is sometimes a challenge for stadium retrofits.

If there is a challenge, it could come from Boingo’s crews having to work around the extensive activity schedule at Philips, which includes concerts, games, and even the occasional “mudder” race with mud pits and obstacles. According to Steinberg, the arena averages about 130 events a year. But Lodder said Boingo is used to such deployment scheduling. “We can do three shifts in a row if needs be,” Lodder said.

Build it, then you can use it

Even though Philips hasn’t had high-end connectivity, that doesn’t mean Steinberg and his team haven’t been looking at what a good network will allow them to do.

“One of the foremost challenges is to increase revenue while improving the fan experience,” said Steinberg, “while also keeping the fans engaged with the game or event.”

From activities like seat upgrades to future apps, Steinberg said the Philips team knew they needed a good network, as soon as possible.

“The fan engagement potential and opportunities are large, but they require the necessity of connectivity,” said Steinberg. “We have a robust tech roadmap, and having connectivity like this was something we felt was paramount.”

Especially so in an area like Atlanta, which has more than its share of people whose lives already revolve around connectivity. Steinberg said that expectation shouldn’t end just because those people wanted to attend an event at Philips.

“We want people to experience a seamless transition from their office to our venue, and not have a disconnect,” Steinberg said.

Atlanta Hawks, Philips Arena sign with Boingo for DAS and stadium Wi-Fi

Philips ArenaBoingo Wireless continued its deal-winning streak by signing up another NBA stadium for Wi-Fi and DAS services, this time the Atlanta Hawks and Philips Arena. One of just six NBA facilities that didn’t yet have Wi-Fi, the 18,118-seat Philips will now have fan-facing Wi-Fi by the start of the next NBA season, according to a press release from Boingo.

We’ll follow up with the Boingo and Philips folks to get some more in-depth information (and maybe to find out why Philips hadn’t had Wi-Fi before now) but the deal is another in a recent string of contract wins for Boingo, the provider formerly known mainly for its Wi-Fi services in airports. A DAS deployment at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City, a Wi-Fi and DAS deal for the Air Force Academy, and a Wi-Fi and DAS deal for the University of Houston are all recent Boingo wins, showing that the company is serious about becoming a player in stadium wireless services.

The Atlanta Hawks Social Hub- Where Fans Gather

With the NBA playoffs just around the corner here is wishing that your team is angling for a better seeding for the games rather than for the lottery. While looking around the league I was struck by how easy it was to use the Hawks Social Hub, a nice mixture of new and older technologies.

Right next to the banner headline of ‘Hawks Social Hub’ are six icons for popular news and social media feeds such as YouTube and Twitter, but really that is just a tease. Directly below are two large boxes, one with the latest Facebook posting and a link to Facebook, as well as a invite to join a contest to win 4 free tickets.

Across is a box with the Twitter feed, and you can follow the team at @atlanta_hawks and the site touts that you can follow all of the Hawks social media at one place, here at the Hub. Beneath this box are three slightly smaller boxes.

The first is a link that takes you to the teams YouTube channel for videos. The second is the teams official blog, with one of the current conversations discussing its playoff picture while the third box covers its Google + feed.

Below all of this are two buttons, one for users that wish to see additional video and the other is for those who like to comment on message boards. This is just the front page of the Hub. It has pages for fans looking to buy team merchandise, get stats, buy tickets, look at cheerleaders and more.

The sponsors for the page are quite clear as well, showing that the team understands how to partner with advertisers. The Georgia Lottery is the page’s sponsor and others can be found on the page, but not really to a point where they are obtrusive.

This is a great example of how a good page, incorporating all of the different forms of social media can really make it easier for fans to follow their teams. For any traveler that has been in a city far from home waiting patiently while the local sports channel or ESPN to finish scrolling through all of the games that you are not interested in to get to the one that you do care about, now there is a much more efficient method of catching up.

Team pages vary a great deal, which in one way is good, it enables them to highlight what they believe their fans are most interested in. On the other hand it can make finding the information of connection you want difficult to find. Just head over to a different teams page and try finding Google + or YouTube videos. On some they are not present and others very difficult to find.