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 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.

Stadium Tech Report: THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL ISSUE looks at university Wi-Fi deployments

collegethumbIf there was a college football playoff for stadium wireless network deployments, which four teams would be in? Electing myself to the committee, I think my top picks would be the same venues we’re profiling in our latest Stadium Tech Report – Baylor, Nebraska, Stanford and Texas A&M. All four are pursuing high-end networks to support a better fan experience, leading the way for what may turn out to be the largest “vertical” market in the stadium networking field – sporting venues at institutions of higher learning.

To be sure, network deployments at major universities in the U.S. are still at the earliest stages — in our reporting for our latest long-form report, we found that at two of the top conferences, the SEC and the Pac-12, only four schools total (two in each conference) had fan-facing Wi-Fi, with only one more planned to come online next year. Why is the collegiate market so far behind the pro market when it comes to network deployment? There are several main reasons, but mostly it comes down to money and mindset, with a lack of either keeping schools on the sidelines.

Leaders look for NFL-type experiences

But at our “playoff” schools, it’s clear that with some ready budget and a clear perspective, college stadiums don’t need to take a back seat to anyone, pro stadiums included. The networks, apps and infrastructure deployed for this season at Baylor’s McLane Stadium and Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium are among the tops anywhere in sports, and the all-fiber infrastructure being put in place at Texas A&M should make that school’s Kyle Field among the most-connected if all work gets completed on time for next football season. Read in-depth profiles on these schools’ deployments, along with team-by-team capsule technology descriptions and an exclusive interview with Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin in our latest report, available for free download from our site.

We’d like to take a second here to thank our sponsors, without whom we wouldn’t be able to offer these comprehensive reports to you free of charge. For our fourth-quarter report our sponsors include Crown Castle, SOLiD, Extreme Networks, Aruba Networks, TE Connectivity, and Corning.

Extreme announces strategic partnership with IMG’s college division

In a move that could net Extreme Networks some more college stadium Wi-Fi deals, Extreme announced it had entered into a strategic partnership with marketing giant IMG, as the “Official Wi-Fi Provider of IMG College.”

Though the partnership doesn’t guarantee that Extreme will sell Wi-Fi gear, being the “preferred supplier” to IMG College’s stable of 90 collegiate “institutions” — a list that includes schools, conferences and venues — gives Extreme a leg up as those entities decide on providers for wireless network deployments. While IMG College might not be the final decision-maker when it comes to network deployments, its wide-ranging representation of media rights, licensing deals and other tasks for its clients certainly won’t hurt Extreme’s chances when it comes to picking a Wi-Fi gear supplier.

For what it’s worth, Extreme signed a similar non-binding deal with the NFL in January of this year, which did not require teams to purchase Extreme equipment. However, prior to this season four new teams — the Seattle Seahawks, the Tennessee Titans, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Jacksonville Jaguars all signed deals to use Extreme gear in their Wi-Fi deployments. We haven’t spoken to Extreme or IMG yet so we don’t know if the college partnership will offer IMG clients discounts on Wi-Fi gear, like Extreme does for NFL teams. Extreme recently also won the Wi-Fi gear bid for the new McLane Stadium at Baylor University, which is an IMG client.

YinzCam gains huge access to college market with Learfield partnership deal

Sports stadium app developer YinzCam, the Pittsburgh-based concern that has numerous app development wins across the NFL, NBA and NHL, scored a big entree to the collegiate market with a deal that makes YinzCam the “preferred supplier” of mobile apps for Learfield Sports, the giant marketing firm that sets up media, sponsorship and promotional deals for many of the nation’s top universities.

In a press release announcing the deal, Learfield said YinzCam would become a preferred solutions provider for the nearly 100 colleges and conferences Learfield represents — a list that stretchs alphabetically from the Alabama Crimson Tide to the Xavier Musketeers — as well as for the 750 college programs that use Learfield subsidiary Sidearm Sports‘ digital production services for websites and other sports-related content.

While YinzCam has already scored several college-app development deals thanks to its NFL experience (like the recent Baylor University app and a forthcoming app for Texas A&M University), YinzCam founder and CEO Priya Narasimhan said the Learfield deal could provide a far more rapid expansion path into the university mobile-app market.

While we are working on a much deeper in-depth profile of YinzCam — coincidentally, we just finished a long (and long in planning) interview earlier this week with the always-busy Narasimhan, who provided some background information on how YinzCam has basically come from nowhere to leading the stadium mobile-app development field in its 5 years of existence. One thing we’ve always wondered about is how a 30-person company in Pittsburgh is able to develop apps for 20 NBA teams and 25 NFL teams, among its 91 customers. The secret? Automation.

According to Narasimhan, YinzCam is able to scale well because it automates most of its core app functionality — for instance, when it comes to making replays available to the mobile device, Narasimhan said a YinzCam algorithm breaks down the video feed, instead of having someone doing the task by hand. Narasimhan also said that the company uses all its clients as a kind of crowdsourcing idea pool, and quickly shares any new innovations with all existing clients. Narasimhan also said that YinzCam’s core app has “well documented third-party guidelines” for integrating outside feature-apps like ticketing and seat upgrade programs, which can then be melded into an overall YinzCam-produced team app.

One final YinzCam nugget for now:

— Where did the name come from? Narasimhan says YinzCam is a mashup of the Pittsburgh term “You ones” (a linguistic equivalent of the Southern “y’all”), which when pronounced quickly in a Pittsburgh accent sounds like “Yinz” and “camera” for the personal video the app supplies.

Stay tuned for more on YinzCam and the Learfield deal…

AT&T: Getting busy with multiple college football DAS deployments

In an interview with AT&T’s John Donovan earlier this year the company’s senior executive vice president told us that AT&T would continue to be aggressive in its deployment of stadium DAS systems. True to his word, here are announcements from no fewer than eight new top U.S. universities (and one that was announced earlier in the year) that got an AT&T DAS in time for this fall’s football season.

Included in the list of DAS deployments that AT&T either is leading or has joined another operator’s infrastructure are Baylor University, which has a whole new stadium and a new stadium Wi-Fi network as well; Big Ten schools Indiana University, Ohio State University, Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin (where AT&T also installed a new Wi-Fi network and some IPTV systems); the University of Missouri from the SEC; and Pac-12 schools the University of Washington as well as the University of California, an installation plan that we covered last year. AT&T also participated alongside Verizon in a unique joint DAS deployment at the University of Oregon, also announced earlier this year.

Why so much DAS? As we are finding out in the process of doing a lot of reporting for our upcoming Q4 Stadium Tech Report on college football stadium technology deployments, Wi-Fi deployments are still somewhat of a rarity, even at some of the biggest schools. As we’ve said before, bringing in a DAS deployment makes a lot of sense for schools since A) you can usually get the carrier to pay for most if not all of the cost of building the DAS; and B) a good DAS goes a long way toward eliminating the feared “no signal” problem that can still be found on many major college campus facilities.

How much have fans already been using the new networks? According to AT&T the new Mizzou DAS has done the biggest amount of traffic so far, with 290 gigabytes of traffic crossing the DAS system with its 150+ antennas at one game this season. Cal was close behind with an average of 253 GB per game so far in 2014, while up in Seattle at UDub the fans are generating an average of 190 GB per game. Remember, these stats represent ONLY AT&T traffic on the AT&T part of the DAS; since we still can’t convince Verizon to provide similar statistics we’ll just have to guess what the total-totals are.

Stay tuned for more information about college stadium deployments… look for our Q4 STR report in early December!

Stadium Tech Report: With advanced wireless network and app, Baylor brings ‘NFL Experience’ to McLane Stadium

McLane Stadium, Baylor University. Credit all photos: Baylor University

McLane Stadium, Baylor University. (click on any photo for larger image) Credit all photos: Baylor University

Just a few years ago, the Baylor University football program wasn’t a topic of national conversation. But now after a Heisman trophy, a Big 12 championship and perennial top rankings, Baylor is doing its best to stay at the front of the college football pack — and that effort extends to its new stadium, where Baylor has put in place a wireless network and a feature-filled app designed to bring an “NFL experience” to the Waco, Texas campus.

Now in its first season at the brand-new McLane Stadium, Baylor is already delivering an in-stadium fan technology experience that, like the team itself, ranks highly in the nation. Thanks to a Wi-Fi deployment from Extreme Networks, a DAS from AT&T and a new stadium app from sports-app leader YinzCam, Baylor is able to bring high-quality wireless connectivity to all parts of the 45,140-seat facility, along with advanced app features like live and on-demand streaming action video, as well as seating and parking maps for the new facility.

Like the recently opened Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Baylor had an advantage with McLane Stadium in being able to make technology part of the original design, instead of having to retrofit it in later. “It’s an amazing opportunity to have a new stadium and be able to plan for technology from the bottom up,” said Pattie Orr, Baylor’s vice president for information technology and Dean of university libraries, in a recent phone interview. “It sure is nice to have technology in mind from the beginning.”

The house that RG3 built

McLane Stadium - Opening Game Day vs SMU

McLane Stadium – Opening Game Day vs SMU

But just like the Baylor team, the plan for the new stadium and its technology underpinnings had to come together quickly. Even late in the 2011 season, when then-Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was just starting to turn heads with his on-field heroics, the idea of building a new football facility on campus hadn’t yet been formally approved. In 2011, Baylor still played games in Floyd Casey Stadium, a 50,000-seat facility that opened in 1950, located about four miles from campus.

And then, RG3 happened. As many people associated with Baylor will tell you, when the Bears and Griffin quickly vaulted into the national consciousness — especially after a dramatic RG3-led win over Oklahoma and his subsequent winning of the Heisman trophy — the push for a new stadium quickly gathered steam. (For more background, read this excellent history of the stadium’s origin from the Waco Tribune-Herald.)

“Two years ago we still weren’t sure the stadium was coming,” said Bob Hartland, associate vice president for IT infrastructure, who also participated in the phone interview. “Then there was the Heisman trophy, and everything started becoming a reality.”

After the university gave its formal approval in July of 2012, planning for the $266-million facility could begin — with Orr and Hartland’s tech team having to employ a bit of crystal-ball thinking.

“We knew we needed to deliver for mobile devices,” said Hartland. “The hard thing was trying to predict what was going to happen 2 years out [when the stadium would open].”

Pattie Orr, VP of IT for Baylor

Pattie Orr, VP of IT for Baylor

Bringing an ‘NFL experience’ to Waco

And even though Baylor is private and smaller than its Big 12 conference competitors, the IT team made no small plans. “We wanted an NFL experience,” Orr said. To her, that meant an interactive mobile app that delivered live video to each and every seat.

“The best thing we could do was be forward looking,” said Orr. “What we pictured was, ‘could we have it in our hands?’ In the stadiums of the past, fans loved the big screens, and they still do. But there’s nothing like having it right in the palm of your hand.”

Orr said the Baylor IT team visited some existing stadiums with advanced networks, like AT&T Stadium and Gillette Stadium, as part of a technology vetting process. Eventually the Baylor IT department whittled the Wi-Fi selection down to three different approaches — one that included under-the-seat antennas, one that proposed an under-the-concrete solution, and one that relied mainly on overhead APs. That final one, from Wi-Fi provider Extreme Networks, became the winning bid, in part because the Baylor team liked its less-intrusive technology.

If you look closely under the overhangs, you can see Wi-Fi APs

If you look closely under the overhangs, you can see Wi-Fi APs

“Overhead [APs] are just less intrusive, operationally,” said Hartland, noting the need to drill holes in concrete and do special cleaning or weather-hardening for under-the-seat APs. If you look at McLane, you can see multiple overhang areas around the entire seating bowl, which facilitates overhead AP placements. According to news reports, the Extreme Wi-Fi deployment has 330 APs.

Baylor’s Orr also liked the Extreme Purview Wi-Fi analytics software, which provides detailed views of network usage.

“Analytics provide what you need to know,” Orr said. “If you’re in the dark on the fan experience, and don’t know which apps are being used, how can you tune it or make it better?”

On the DAS side, Baylor went with AT&T as the neutral host, though AT&T already has signed up main competitor Verizon Wireless as a client, meaning that the two largest providers of cellular service have enhanced coverage at McLane Stadium through the AT&T DAS, which reportedly has 486 antennas.

“Our goal was a high-density solution, for both cellular and Wi-Fi,” Orr said.

Solving for the standing-on-the-seat problem

Wi-Fi "coach" helps out at McLane Stadium.

Wi-Fi “coach” helps out at McLane Stadium.

While the network has been an early success — Orr said Baylor is already seeing Wi-Fi take rates as high as 33 percent of all attendees at games so far this season — there have also been a few interesting fixes that have been necessary, including re-tuning Wi-Fi APs to get around the interference quirk of students standing on their seats.

Call it technology meeting tradition, with tradition winning: A Baylor tradition to have underclass students standing for the whole game turned into students standing on top of seats at their new section in McLane Stadium — a shift that led to unexpected interference with the original Wi-Fi antenna placements. (One of the quirks of Wi-Fi networks is that the water inside human bodies is a very effective blocker of Wi-Fi signals.)

“We had not anticipated the students standing on seats, and that extra 20 inches really made a difference,” Hartland said. According to another story in the local paper, large band instruments also blocked Wi-Fi signals. Hartland said that since the original problems the IT team and Extreme have developed work-arounds and new antenna placements to fix the issue.

“It’s pretty fantastic that our students are so excited,” said Orr of the standing-interference issue. “You don’t see things like that much at the NFL level.”

Live video and app ‘coaches’

On the app side, Baylor went with YinzCam, a company with numerous stadium apps under its belt for all the top U.S. professional leagues. YinzCam, like Extreme, is also a partner with the NFL, giving YinzCam an edge in winning NFL stadium deployments.

Like other stadium apps, the Baylor In-Game app from YinzCam features multiple camera-angle choices for replays and live streaming video, as well as a host of stats and other team information. Important to Baylor and its new stadium are maps that help direct fans to parking areas, as well as to specialty concession stands in a facility that is new to everyone this season.

Using the app at McLane Stadium

Using the app at McLane Stadium

“We have some well-known smoked onion rings [at the stadium] and the app can help fans find which stands are selling them and how to get there,” Orr said. The parking feature on the app, she said, can send text directions to fans. Also special to Baylor is a “brick finder,” an app that lets fans who participated in a stadium fundraiser find where the brick with their name on it is.

One more NFL-like feature with a collegiate twist is Baylor’s embrace of the Extreme “Wi-Fi coaches” program, which has network-knowledgeable staff members walking around stadiums in highly visible gear offering hands-on help with connectivity and stadium app use. While Extreme has used the coaches program at pro venues like New England and Philadelphia, at Baylor Orr took advantage of in-house “talent,” using students in the MIS program as roaming “coaches,” giving them some real-world experience at network troubleshooting and customer service.

“We put them [the student coaches] in bright vests and have them stationed near concession stands, to offer a friendly face,” Orr said. “They’re terrific, and they give us real-time feedback.”

Orr said Baylor also has a journalism department student intern leading the technology team’s social media effort, which encourages fans to tweet out problems or questions they might have.

“With my gray hair I’m not too good on social media, but one thing I learned is that we need to embrace it,” said Orr. Hartland said that YinzCam reps told Baylor they “just need to get out there” on social media to support the app, and he reports pleasant surprises when the IT team tweets back.

“On social media, [fans] don’t expect to be contacted,” Hartland said. “They really appreciate it when we get back to them.”