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.

Connectivity at the core of Little Caesars Arena, District Detroit

Little Caesars Arena, the new home for the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Pistons. Credit: Olympia Entertainment (click on any photo for a larger image)

Bringing great wireless connectivity to a new stadium is almost table stakes these days. But building up a nearby commercial district — and keeping connectivity high outside the venue’s walls — is a bet of another level, especially in Detroit where networks extend outside the new Little Caesars Arena into the 50-block District Detroit.

Following the arena’s opening in September of 2017, the prognosis so far is so far, so good, with solid reports of high network performance on both Wi-Fi and cellular networks in and around the new home of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. But for John King, vice president of IT and innovation for venue owners Olympia Entertainment, the responsibilities for him and his network team extend far beyond the new stadium’s walls.

“We’re focused on the [wireless] signal not just in the bowl, but also in the surrounding elements — the streets, the outdoor arenas, and the Little Caesars Arena garage,” said King in an interview shortly after the arena opened. “The vision is, to be connected wherever you are. And to share that experience.”

An ambitious revival in downtown Detroit

Editor’s note: This profile is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT for Winter 2018, 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, as well as profiles of network deployments at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Orlando City Stadium! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!

The inside concourse at Little Caesars Arena. Credit: Olympia Entertainment

Built nearby the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field and the Tigers’ Comerica Park, the new hoops/hockey stadium seats 19,515 for hockey and 20,491 for basketball. Unlike many stadiums of the past which rise up from the ground, Little Caesars Arena is built into the ground, 40 feet below street level. The innovations in construction and accessibility, including an outdoor arena adjacent to the indoor one, may require another full profile and an in-person visit. For now, we’ll concentrate on the wireless deployment in and around Little Caesars Arena, which was funded in part by a sponsorship from Comcast Business, which provides backbone bandwidth to the arena and the district in the form of two 100 Gbps connections. The Wi-Fi network design and deployment, done by AmpThink, uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear; Cisco’s Vision for Sports and Entertainment (formerly known as StadiumVision) is used to synchronize video output to the 1,500 TV screens located in and around the venue.

On the cellular side, Verizon Wireless built a neutral-host DAS, which was getting ready to welcome AT&T as the second carrier on board shortly after the opening. According to King, the Wi-Fi network has approximately 1,100 total APs both inside and outside the arena, many of those from Cisco’s 3802 series, which each have two radios per AP. For many of the 300 APs located in the main seating bowl, Little Caesars Arena went with an under-seat deployment, with some others placed in handrail enclosures, especially for the basketball floor-seating areas.

“AmpThink did a really nice job with the deployment,” said King, who said the arena’s open-air suite spaces helped provide “lots of flow” to wireless gear, without the historical overhangs around to block signals on different levels. One early visitor to the arena saw many Wi-Fi speed tests in the 50-60 Mbps range for both download and upload, as well as several in the 80-to-100 Mbps range, signs that a strong signal was available right at the start.

“We’ve still got a lot of tuning, but early on we’re getting great results,” said King of the Wi-Fi performance. “Our goal is to make it the best it can be.”

Staying connected outside the walls

Like The Battery area surrounding the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, the District Detroit is meant to be a stay-and-play kind of space, with restaurants, clubs, office spaces and residences seeking to lure visitors and residents to do more than just see a game. For King and his team, one of their tasks is to ensure that visitors can stay connected no matter where they are inside the district, including inside restaurants, offices and other indoor spaces.

Connectivity blends well with the architecture inside Little Caesars Arena. Credit: Tod Caflisch, special to MSR

“We want the [network] signal to be robust, to carry into outdoor spaces, restaurants and many other areas” inside the District Detroit, King said. “We want to push the envelope a little bit and create a useful opportunity.”

Back inside Little Caesars Arena, the team and stadium apps are built by Venuetize, which built a similar integrated app for the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres, one that also extends outside arenas to support connectivity in city areas. King said that Little Caesars Arena will be testing pre-order and express pickup concession ordering through the app, with a focus on seating areas that don’t have ready access to some of the club facilities.

Like any other new facility, Little Caesars Arena will no doubt go through some growing pains in its debut season, but for King and others who spent time getting the venue ready it’s fun to have the doors open.

“It’s really great seeing it all come to life,” King said.

Comcast Business to power Wi-Fi at Little Caesars Arena

Comcast Business has signed up as the Internet bandwidth provider for the soon-to-open Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, as part of an $11 million capital expenditure deal that will also bring assorted voice, video and other services to both the new arena and the surrounding “District Detroit.”

According to a press release from Comcast Business, the service provider will bring two 100-gig circuits of bandwidth to the arena, the new home of the NHL Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. Set to open on Sept. 12, the new venue will have more than 1,000 Wi-Fi APs in the arena and in “surrounding buildings and event spaces,” according to the Comcast release.

Comcast has a similar arrangement with the Atlanta Braves and their new home, SunTrust Park, as well as with the surrounding live/work environment there, called The Battery Atlanta. In a report in Crain’s Detroit Business, a Comcast exec said the Detroit deal was taking such sponsorships “A whole ‘nother step further,” adding that the District Detroit area is much bigger than the Battery’s footprint.

Braves see 8.4 TB of Wi-Fi data used at SunTrust Park’s opening weekend

SunTrust Park, new home of the Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves and Wi-Fi provider partner Comcast Business claim that there was 8.4 terabytes of data used on the Wi-Fi network at SunTrust Park and in the surrounding “Battery” public areas during the opening weekend for the Braves’ new home stadium.

According to the Braves and Comcast the networks inside and outside the new ballpark saw 5.3 TB of Wi-Fi used on April 14, the park’s first game for Major League Baseball regular-season action. On the following two nights, the network saw 1.8 TB and 1.3 TB of activity, respectively. The network, which uses Cisco Wi-Fi gear, has 800 APs inside the stadium proper. Look for a profile of the network at SunTrust Park coming soon here on MSR!

Niners: More than 1,000 fans used in-seat food delivery at 2nd Levi’s Stadium preseason game

Screen grab from Levi's Stadium app showing in-seat food delivery option. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report.

Screen grab from Levi’s Stadium app showing in-seat food delivery option. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, Mobile Sports Report.

One of the more unique features the San Francisco 49ers are introducing at their new home this year is the ability for all fans to have food and drink delivered to them, no matter which one of Levi’s Stadium’s 68,500 seats they are in. And according to the Niners, the feature is quickly catching on, with more than 1,000 in-seat orders delivered at the second preseason game at Levi’s on Aug. 24.

At a Levi’s media technology tour Wednesday, the Niners’ tech staff provided an in-depth and up-close look at some of the new stadium’s network infrastructure, including a quick glimpse of one of the several data-center rooms. Dan Williams, vice president of technology for the Niners, said that at the first preseason game at Levi’s on Aug. 17, more fans used the “express pickup” service to order food that they could then pick up at concession stand windows than the seat-delivery feature. But at the second game against the San Diego Chargers, more fans went for the in-seat option, perhaps a sign that Niners fans are learning and testing the new stadium services as they go.

“It’s going to be an ongoing education process,” said Martin Manville, business operations analyst for the Niners and one of the key tech leaders on the Levi’s app team. Manville said the Niners had learned a lot about food delivery in test situations at Candlestick Park last season — and some of those lessons are now evident in the Levi’s delivery menu, which is stripped down to ensure the food runners can get grub to fans before it gets cold (or warm, in the case of cold beverages). According to Manville the average delivery time at the Aug. 24 game was between 10 and 12 minutes, but the team expects that “normal” delays during the regular season will be closer to 15 to 20 minutes per order.

Still, that’s not a bad option if you don’t want to leave your seat and you don’t mind the extra $5 delivery charge. One early interesting stat from the food-delivery process is that the Niners found more orders coming from the “cheap seats” in the north and south stands at Levi’s than from the 50-yard-line seats where the high rollers sit. According to Manville, since the fans in the club seats have easy access to numerous uncrowded concession stands they may not see the need for the in-seat options.

Wi-Fi APs: 600 in Levi’s bowl seating

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP at Levi's Stadium.

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP at Levi’s Stadium.

Some other news nuggets from the tech tour day: According to Williams, of the 1,200 Wi-Fi access points at Levi’s, 600 of those are distributed in the seating areas (aka “the bowl”), with the other 600 placed in suites, concourses and other stadium areas. Williams said the Aruba Networks Wi-Fi antennas are basically split into three types — regular enterprise-type APs for suite and office areas, regular outdoor APs for concourse areas, and more specialized versions (including the under-seat APs) for bowl placements.

— For the app itself, the Niners said that there have been 80,000 downloads so far, with almost half of the season ticket holders having put their ticketing information into the app. The “NiNerds,” the geek-dressed help squad that provides fans with personal assistance with the app, is now at about 50 or 60 strong at each event (originally the team had said it wanted to hire 150 such Wi-Fi coaches). The Niners said the NiNerds will be doing more pro-active app education going forward, doing things like approaching fans in concession lines to see if they know about the express line or in-seat ordering options.

— Though Comcast’s 10-year deal with the Niners calls for the cable provider to bring in two 10-gigabit backbone pipes, the Niners are often quoted as saying they have 40 GB of backbone bandwidth. We solved this mystery today: According to Comcast, the other two 10-GB pipes are a redundant channel from another (unnamed) provider. So: the stadium does have four 10 GB bandwidth pipes, by far the most capacity in any stadium we’ve heard of.

— More traffic stats: Though we will break these down in a separate post, the Niners said that for the Aug. 24 game fans used 1.96 Terabytes of Wi-Fi traffic, just a bit lower than the 2.13 TB used at the first preseason game on Aug. 17. The team also provided some DAS stats, claiming fans used another 1.02 TB of cellular data at the two preseason games combined.

Tech tour photos follow… including a sighting of some (shhhh!) Cisco equipment in the data center racks… click on photos for larger images.

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams (left) and COO Al Guido kick off the Wednesday tech tour.

Niners VP of technology Dan Williams (left) and COO Al Guido kick off the Wednesday tech tour.

Ted Girdner, Comcast VP of business services for California, talks stadium networking.

Ted Girdner, Comcast VP of business services for California, talks stadium networking.

Dan Williams talks Wi-Fi while the Levi's Stadium new turf grows silently behind him.

Dan Williams talks Wi-Fi while the Levi’s Stadium new turf grows silently behind him.

Mystery Cisco gear inside Levi's Stadium data center. Alert! Intruder!

Mystery Cisco gear inside Levi’s Stadium data center. Alert! Intruder!

Brocade router at Levi's Stadium data center. One of many. As in, many many.

Brocade router at Levi’s Stadium data center. One of many. As in, many many.

Wi-Fi gear in Levi's Stadium data room.

Wi-Fi gear in Levi’s Stadium data room.

Franks and DAS: DGP DAS antennas above food station.

Franks and DAS: DGP DAS antennas above food station.

Screenshot of food feature on Levi's Stadium app. Note the green light buttons to show expected wait times for express option.

Screenshot of food feature on Levi’s Stadium app. Note the green light buttons to show expected wait times for express option.

Obligatory Levi's Stadium selfie. MSR shirts complete the style.

Obligatory Levi’s Stadium selfie. MSR shirts complete the style.