Dickies Arena: Raising the fan experience to the highest level

The opening parade sets the rodeo tone at Dickies Arena. Credit: Phil Harvey, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Without a professional or major college sports team as a main tenant, it’s somewhat of a wonder that Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, got built at all. But once you step inside and attend an event there, the wonder shifts to the sheer excellence that surrounds you, in what may be simply the best-built arena-sized venue, anywhere.

It might seem like a Texas-sized stretch to make such a claim, but any other basketball-sized stadium similar to 14,000-seat Dickies Arena would be hard pressed to top the amenities, infrastructure and operations installed inside the new gem of Fort Worth. While first and foremost the venue serves as home of the annual Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, a three-week-plus extravaganza that held its maiden run there earlier this year, when it’s safe to allow events to return Dickies Arena will also host concerts, ice shows and other sporting and non-sporting events, saving local folks from having to drive east to Dallas for a big-time experience.

But it’s opulence, comfort and service that will be the hallmarks of a Dickies Arena experience going forward, with those attributes far outweighing the convenience of just having a world-class venue in Fort Worth. During a visit by Mobile Sports Report during the middle of this year’s rodeo program (which ran 23 straight days from Jan. 17 to Feb. 8) we saw not just the visible attributes of perhaps the most polished finish of any arena ever, but also the underpinnings of important infrastructure assets like the wireless networks and video operations, and the intense level of attention to detail in food and beverage operations, all aimed at raising the fan experience to the highest level.

The opera house meets the rodeo

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue is a recap of the record-breaking Wi-Fi usage at Super Bowl LIV, and a recap of a DIY Wi-Fi deployment at Rutgers University! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

Fine dining is just one of the premium seating options at Dickies Arena. Credit; Paul Kapustka, MSR

When we last visited the under-construction Dickies Arena in the fall of 2019, the finishing touches weren’t in place yet, even though we could see hints of what it was shaping up to be. For our late-January visit for a night of rodeo, we got to see the finished product in all its glory, and all we can say is, it may be some time before another venue even approaches the level of cosmetic finish achieved at Dickies Arena.

To be sure, not many venue ownerships may have the financial resources or the certainty of what they want out of a finished product as the team behind the creation of Fort Worth’s newest centerpiece. If you’re not familiar with the Dickies Arena story, the arena is part of a public-private venture between the city of Fort Worth and a consortium of investors and donors led by local Fort Worth philanthropist Ed Bass. As the home of Fort Worth’s namesake rodeo, Dickies Arena is clearly meant to be that and so much more, cementing in place a building where people who know what they want got exactly what they wanted – and more.

While we didn’t get to speak with Bass directly, his presence is felt in all areas of operation of the facility, with multiple stories of his direct involvement in making sure the smallest of details were adhered to. Even a first-time visitor to the rodeo could see and feel the devotion of leaders like Bass to their signature hometown event, from his riding a horse at the front of the event-opening parade to his video-board cameos of slapping bundles of cash into the hands of the event winners as the night progressed.

Behind the scenes, we heard stories about how Bass and the leadership team wanted very specific things done cosmetically – like making sure that no antennas for either the Wi-Fi or DAS networks were visible in any of the main public areas. To meet that challenge, main technical integrator AmpThink had to go outside the norm to design (and in some cases, custom-build) enclosures to hide the gear. Walking through the main concourses and seating areas, the only hint that wireless equipment might be overhead was the outline of flush-mounted panels, a design theme that even carried out to outside-wall mounting areas in the plaza areas around the arena’s exteriors.

Once inside Dickies Arena, visitors may feel like they are in somewhere more like an opera house than a multi-purpose venue (which on this night had a “playing floor” of some finely raked dirt). Floors of decorative tiles are underfoot, and railings on the staircases enclose sculptures of a distinctive local grass plant. That same design is reflected on the plates used in one of the premium seating areas, where the dining choices include a sit-down, white-tablecloth experience that looks like a four-star steakhouse inserted into the concourse.

A rafter deployment of DAS and Wi-Fi gear. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Bill Shaw, the assistant general manager for Dickies Arena, was courteous enough to give us a directed tour of the venue before the night’s activities, pointing out things we might have noticed but not really realized, like the different tones and types of wood used for paneling, which changed as you moved from a higher premium seating area to a more general admission space. In the suites, Shaw showed us some especially comfy leather stadium chairs, which he said were the end result of a long process of determination to find out the best way to pad and tan the chair’s components.

Even the construction of the wheeled chairs in the loge box where we were the guest of AmpThink for the night were subject to scrutiny by Mr. Bass, we were told, with a story about him using tape measures to ensure the seat width was correct, and discussions about having the proper types of armrests that wouldn’t inadvertently snag the handles of a handbag.

“Mr. Bass spent a lot of time on all of that,” said Shaw. “His fingerprints are everywhere.”

To be sure, the somewhat unique ownership structure and the recurring revenue from the rodeo – which has sold-out status for all the premium seating spaces thanks to the families who have been supporting the event for generations – means in part that Dickies Arena doesn’t have to saturate its public spaces with advertising. While its digital display arsenal includes striking elements like curved LED screens from LG and menu boards and other displays running the Cisco Vision dynamic signage system, Dickies Arena only has a small number of partner-sponsors whose messages run somewhat discreetly compared to other arenas that may have more need to have a higher number of displays and advertisements.

The layout of the arena in general also takes its cue from how the premium seating space is used for the rodeo. Instead of a normal sort of top-down arena seating with “courtside” seats being the most desired, the wide space needed for rodeo events and the family atmosphere (most premium packages, according to Shaw, are bought by families and not corporations) means that there are “boxes” of seats ringing the lower bowl, with a wide walkway behind them to facilitate the meeting and greeting (and the seeing and being-seen) that is part of the rodeo culture. Thanks to some very clever architecture and movable stands technology, the mid-bowl walkway can disappear for events like concerts and other sporting situations like basketball; but good luck trying to figure out how that works by walking by the stands, since all the moving parts are, of course, hidden from view.

While a ring of suites provides another premium seating option a bit higher up, at either end of the venue are two more unique gathering areas, with belly-up bars that stretch almost the full width of the space, providing a place for the premium box-seat patrons to mingle while still having a clear view of whatever action is taking place. Shaw noted that at one end of the arena the seating can collapse back to almost a straight line, providing ample space for concert stages that also gives Dickies Arena a concert-seating total that Shaw said is comparable to American Airlines Center in Dallas, which seats 20,000 for NBA and NHL games.

Then there are some more touches you can’t see, like the bass-sound traps installed in the roof area to improve acoustics – and those you can see, like the soaring rooftop that is meant to mimic the open sky of Texas. As more fans attend different events scheduled in the future they are no doubt going to be impressed and perhaps surprised by the “opera house” where boots and Stetsons are the local fashion of choice.

Well wired for wireless

In our early fall visit to Dickies Arena we detailed the single, converged fiber network that supports all network operations, including the cellular DAS, the arena Wi-Fi and the IPTV operations, in an orderly, future-proofed way.

Built by AmpThink for the arena, the network is a departure from what has long been the norm in venue IT deployments, where multiple service providers typically build their own networks, with multiple cabling systems competing for conduit space. At Dickies Arena, AmpThink was able to control the fiber systems to follow a single, specific path, allowing the company to save costs and space for the client while building out a system with enough extra capacity to handle future needs for bandwidth, according to AmpThink.

According to AmpThink president Bill Anderson, one of those future needs became necessary this past fall, when Verizon wanted to bring its 5G millimeter-wave services as a late addition to the arena. To support the four 5G antennas that are now mounted up in the catwalk, Anderson said AmpThink was able to just allocate some of the spare optical fiber it has in place throughout the building, making it possible to bring in the service “in a very affordable way.”

In addition to the numerous custom enclosures used throughout the venue, Anderson said AmpThink also designed a pre-fabricated combination Wi-Fi and DAS antenna unit design that it could then hoist up into the rafters in a single pull. By having the green light to lead and innovate, AmpThink was able to develop and learn things it will draw on well into the future, Anderson said. “This is really our master class [on stadium network design],” Anderson said.

An under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure. Credit: Dickies Arena

Since we spent most of our January time at the venue touring the spaces and talking to different representatives, we didn’t have that much time for network speed tests but the ones we did get showed the typical strong performances of an AmpThink-built network. On one of the concourses behind the suite levels we got a Wi-Fi speedtest of 67.0 Mbps on the download side and 65.0 Mbps on the upload.

Up at the highest level of seating, which is served from the rafter-mounted APs, we got a speedtest of 28.3 Mbps / 39.5 Mbps, during the night’s final event.

Though we didn’t get down there for a speedtest, the lower-bowl seats are served by under-seat Wi-Fi enclosures. According to Anderson there are approximately 550 Cisco Wi-Fi APs used throughout the venue, all of which are now the latest versions supporting the new Wi-Fi 6 standard. The DAS, which is overseen by ExteNet Systems, uses the Corning ONE DAS hardware system with approximately 258 active antennas in 11 zones for the DAS.

Keeping video and food and beverage operations in-house

Having never been to a live rodeo event before, Mobile Sports Report was somewhat in awe of the video production inside the arena, with multiple camera angles repeatedly in use on the large-screen centerhung videoboard. With no pauses, halftimes or timeouts, action was constant, and reflected as such on the main video screens.

We are simply going to have to revisit the arena for a more in-depth exploration of the video production operation itself, which is run entirely by the Dickies Arena team and even provides live feeds itself to cable channels covering rodeo. One of the more innovative twists inside the building is a concourse-level fan booth, where a large interactive video board can serve up multiple instant replays of rodeo action by clicking and dragging screenshots to the main display area.

The three-plus weeks of back to back rodeo action was somewhat of a stress test for the video crew, since almost every night there were different types of competitions (for instance, the night we attended there was a team competition, with scores from multiple events tabulated into a final team score) requiring custom programs to populate the video board displays. According to the video team there were no fewer than seven different scoring programs in play each night, but they were able to coordinate the results so quickly that they actually had to introduce a time delay into the reporting from judges to the video screens, so that the announcers could add some drama to their live play-by-play.

On the food and beverage side of operations, the do-it-ourselves theory of Dickies Arena meant that the arena controls all aspects of F&B operations, instead of contracting much of the work to a third-party caterer.

Families are a big part of the rodeo crowd. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Julie Margolin, director of food and beverage operations at Dickies Arena, said it starts with little things, like not having to live with a certain brand of hot dog because that is the brand a caterer carries. But then it expands into what is possible, and why you would try to do things like provide in-seat delivery service to 4,000 premium seats while also balancing the F&B needs for a diverse operation that includes white-tablecloth dining, suite operations, high-end bar areas, and mobile point-of-sale to support cotton-candy sales on the concourses.

“We do everything we can to make sure every experience is the best,” said Margolin. “That’s a task not a lot of people are willing to take on.”

But Margolin, who previously held a similar title at the Honda Center in Los Angeles, is like other top performers who found the opportunity and challenge presented by Dickies Arena too good to pass up.

“This building is very different than others in the industry,” said Margolin, citing the close working atmosphere that rapidly built between operations and construction and information technology teams as the building opened late in 2019 ahead of the real debut, the rodeo season.

“If something needed fixing, nobody went home until it was done,” Margolin said. And while like others she’s always looking for ways to improve, Margolin said the whole idea of a venue owning and operating its own F&B was an exciting challenge.

“If you go with someone else’s [catering] model, you’re serving two masters,” Margolin said. But trying to meld numerous different types of fan experience operations, she said, is a challenge worth pursuing.

“If you stick with the status quo, you’re going backwards,” she said.

Dickies Arena: As good as it gets?

Standing outside the arena on a clear-sky night, from one of the outdoor plazas, fans have a pleasing view back toward the lighted buildings of downtown Fort Worth. Legend has it that Ed Bass purchased the land Dickies Arena sits on more than three decades ago, with the vision that someday he would help build an arena with that signature view back toward downtown. Now that that dream is reality, the sky’s the limit for what Dickies Arena future may be.

Though the coronavirus has effectively put all arena schedules somewhat on hold, prior to the outbreak Dickies Arena had already announced future bookings for big-name concert acts as well as family events like Disney on Ice, Cirque du Soleil and even the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. Clearly, the events market will make use of a venue of Dickies Arena’s size and stature.

According to Shaw, patrons with rodeo season tickets get first dibs on other events, but it’s a good bet that the diversity of action inside the Dickies Arena walls will mean that a wide number of fans will be able to experience the wide range of seating options available. But even those attending on the least-expensive tickets will still be able to experience the overall quality of all aspects of the arena, which will be hard for other venues to match.


A panoramic view of the Dickies Arena seating bowl. Credit: Phil Harvey, MSR


A sunny-day view of the arena’s exterior. Credit: Phil Harvey, MSR

Fiserv Forum’s wireless networks ready for the Democratic Convention

Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum, home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and also the locale for this summer’s Democratic Convention. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With one of the most demanding arena-sized events headed its way this upcoming summer, the wireless networks at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum appear to be more than ready to handle any audience demand for mobile connectivity.

With a full-featured distributed antenna system (DAS) deployed and operated by ExteNet Systems using gear from JMA Wireless, as well as a Wi-Fi network using Cisco gear, Fiserv Forum shows both the expertise of wireless providers who have a long history of knowing what works, as well as the foresight to add new techniques and technologies to combine high performance with the quality aesthetics that are the hallmark of the new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks.

And while a Mobile Sports Report visit this past fall for a Bucks game found all the wireless elements in top working order, the big event for the venue’s second year of operation will be the Democratic National Convention in July 2020. While the four-day nomination gathering is a test for any locale, Fiserv Forum’s forethought on how to prepare for numerous types of events in and around its uniquely designed structure has it well prepared to handle whatever wireless needs the convention will require.

It all starts with the DAS

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, which is available to read instantly online or as a free PDF download! Inside the issue are profiles of the new Wi-Fi deployment at the University of Oklahoma, as well as profiles of wireless deployments at Chase Center and the University of Florida! Start reading the issue now online or download a free copy!

Even in these days of predictions of the death of DAS, Fiserv Forum is proof that for high-profile venues, carriers will still participate in a quality deployment. And while many venues have just two or three cellular providers on their DAS, according to ExteNet, the Fiserv Forum DAS has five major carriers participating — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular.

Wi-Fi AP on an outdoor plaza light pole

Unlike some new arenas, where wireless is an afterthought to construction, ExteNet was involved early on, according to Manish Matta, vice president of marketing at Extenet.

“Getting in sooner rather than later is always better,” said Matta, who said ExteNet was well involved in the overall construction plans, ensuring that there were no delays associated with wireless deployments holding up construction of other parts of the building.

During a pregame tour in October with a team from ExteNet as well as with Robert Cordova, chief technology and strategy officer for the Bucks, Mobile Sports Report got an up-close look at some of the inside parts of the DAS network design, including the headend room and multiple antenna installations that were hard to find given their well-designed placements and camouflaging.

In addition to regular enclosures that were painted or otherwise placed in areas out of the main sight lines, ExteNet and JMA also utilized some of the newer circular flat-panel antenna enclosures that fit flush to ceilings, minimizing the exposure.

The 215 DAS antennas are powered by 40 remote units. According to JMA, the remotes are connected to the backbone with optical fiber, and use digital power to bring power to elements up to a mile away. With 16 sectors in the bowl design, the DAS is able to segment coverage to all parts of the arena, including the bowl as well as concourses and other in-house areas.

DAS antenna in a concourse location

ExteNet, which owns and operates the DAS as a neutral host, also installed 10 extra MatSing ball antennas in the rafters for additional top-down coverage. Though only AT&T is using the MatSings right now, ExteNet said they are integrated into the DAS design if other carriers should wish to utilize them in the future.

During a short walk-around before the Bucks game started, MSR got a DAS speedtest of 85.8 Mbps on the download and 14.9 Mbps on the upload, even though our older iPhone (on the Verizon network) doesn’t support all the latest DAS capabilities. Near the start of the game, as the pregame introductions were at their peak, we got a DAS mark of 18.0 Mbps / 15.7 Mbps in the middle of an upper-deck seating area (Section 227) and then a little bit after the game started, we got a mark of 21.3 Mbps / 12.5 Mbps near a bar area on the upper-level concourse.

Wi-Fi inside and out

On the Wi-Fi side of things, a visitor to Fiserv Forum can connect to the network even before coming in the doors, as part of the 623-AP Cisco installation includes Wi-Fi APs mounted on light poles in the “Deer District,” the plaza area on the stadium’s east side that connects to an outdoor beer garden and several bars and restaurants that were all part of the planned environment built in sync with the arena’s opening.

Before we went inside, we got a Wi-Fi speedtest of 40.5 Mbps / 40.2 Mbps in the middle of the Deer District plaza, which was hosting a pop-up haunted house attraction sponsored by Jack Daniels.

Inside the building, we again needed some guidance from the Bucks’ Cordova to locate some of the Wi-Fi APs, which are inside triangular enclosures that are either painted to match wall surfaces, or utilized as high-visibility section number signs, hiding the gear in plain sight.

Wi-Fi AP blended in to the wall covering

In the seating bowl, Fiserv Forum again shows its commitment to aesthetics with the smallest handrail enclosures we’ve ever seen, a discreet hand-sized enclosure that tucks the antenna components neatly into the top part of a railing, with the AP electronics hidden below the seating areas. Designed by integrator Johnson Controls and its ecosystem partners, Abaxent and AccelTex, the 28 special enclosures are also designed to be easy to detatch and re-attach (with something Johnson Controls calls a simple two-click “dart connector”) which facilitates keeping the network working when the lower-bowl seating areas need to be reconfigured for different events.

Sitting in a courtside seat near one of the handrail enclosures about 20 minutes before tipoff, we got a Wi-Fi speedtest mark of 15.8 Mbps / 33.2 Mbps. On the main concourse just after the game’s start we got a Wi-Fi mark of 28.6 Mbps / 60.4 Mbps, and later on at that same upper-concourse bar we got a mark of 39.9 Mbps / 61.1 Mbps.

Later on during the second quarter of the game, we watched another fan in our lower-bowl seating area spend most of the period keeping one eye on Monday Night Football streaming on his phone. “The Wi-Fi is really good here,” he noted.

Looking ahead to CBRS and 5G

As ExteNet and JMA prepare for the onslaught of the convention’s needs, in many areas the Bucks are already looking farther ahead, to future communications improvements including 5G millimeter wave deployments, and a possible introduction of CBRS services. Cordova, who is an advocate of the capabilities of private LTE networks over the CBRS spectrum, said the flexibility of provisioning services in a CBRS environment could be extremely useful for temporary needs, like during last year’s NBA playoffs when the NBA on TNT crew set up a temporary stage out in the plaza.

While the Bucks have already prepared for connectivity of all sorts out on the plaza space – from the top-level outside Panorama deck at Fiserv Forum that lets fans look out over the city, Cordova pointed out several metal boxes in the plaza that have home-run fiber connections for broadcast TV as well as remote power – there’s going to be all sorts of temporary connectivity needs when the convention media tents set up in the empty lot next door where the previous stadium, the Bradley Center, used to stand.

The fact that the Bucks and ExteNet were already well involved with planning for a July event in October the year before is just another sign of a networking operation that is well positioned now and already thinking about what the next necessary steps are.

Robert Cordova, chief technology and strategy officer for the Bucks, in the headend room

MatSing ball antennas point down from the rafters

The Daktronics centerhung video board

New Report: Oklahoma leads the way with Wi-Fi 6

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Winter 2019-20 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Our latest issue contains an in-person report on the new Wi-Fi 6 network installed at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, and another in-person visit to see and test the new Wi-Fi network at Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, aka “The Swamp.” This issue also has an in-person look at the wireless networks at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum and at Chase Center, the new San Francisco home of the Golden State Warriors.

You can READ THE REPORT LIVE right now in our new flip-page format, with no registration required! (Great for tablets and big phone reads!) You can also DOWNLOAD THE REPORT in PDF format as well!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, Oberon, 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.

ExteNet acquires Dallas-based TPI, which provides DAS infrastructure to AT&T Stadium

More consolidation in the in-building wireless marketplace happened today with the announcement that Lisle, Ill.-based ExteNet Systems acquired Dallas-based Telecommunications Properties, Inc., (TPI) in a deal whose terms were not disclosed.

ExteNet, which runs DAS systems in many venues like Miami’s Marlins Park, was acquired itself last year by telecom investment group Digital Bridge Holdings and Stonepeak Partners in a deal that wound up being worth $1.4 billion. Since we haven’t heard from ExteNet yet it’s unclear if some of those funds went to acquire TPI, which among other clients runs the DAS at AT&T Stadium, as we found out when TPI’s president Jimmy Chiles posted a comment to one of our reports about AT&T Stadium.

From the sounds of the press release, not much will change on the TPI end except the company control and maybe the logo. From the release:

ExteNet will undertake maintenance operations responsibilities for all existing TPI networks. Properties and venues in TPI’s portfolio currently include Madison Square Garden, the LA Forum, AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys), the KFC YUM Arena and the Kentucky Exposition Center, among others.

More as we hear more…

Digital Bridge acquires ExteNet Systems in $1B recapitalization deal

Telecom investment group Digital Bridge Holdings has acquired DAS deployer ExteNet Systems in a recapitalization deal valued at around $1 billion, a move that buys out all previous investors and makes ExteNet a part of Digital Bridge’s pool of telecom-infrastructure companies.

A good writeup of the deal can be found over at RCR Wireless but from a stadium-infrastructure standpoint there doesn’t appear to be any change in ExteNet’s existing strategy path, since CEO Ross Manire will be staying to lead the company. ExteNet, which installs neutral host DAS deployments in stadiums and also provides DAS infrastructure deployments for cities, has installed networks at ballparks like the Miami Marlins’ Marlins Park.

We’re hoping to speak with ExteNet folks sometime soon to try to find out how much of the $1 billion went toward buying out previous investors, and how much will remain on hand to help run the business. Stay tuned on yet another big-bucks consolidation event in the stadium tech marketplace.

Stadium Tech Report: Wi-Fi, DAS and live video get good reception at Barclays Center

Concessions feature of Barclays Stadium app. Credit: Barclays Center

Concessions feature of Barclays Stadium app. Credit: Barclays Center

Sometimes, the best surprise is no surprise. That’s the case when it comes to technology deployments at the still-new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the Wi-Fi, DAS and live video on both fixed and mobile platforms are all performing pretty much as expected.

According to Chip Foley, vice president of building technology for Forest City Ratner Companies (the developer of Barclays Center), perhaps the only mild surprise so far at the just-over-a-year-old Barclays is that the biggest Wi-Fi usage came not during a sporting event, but instead at the MTV Video Music Awards ceremony this past August.

“We had 7,000 people using the Wi-Fi network at the VMAs, and I was a little surprised at that,” said Foley. At Brooklyn Nets games, Foley said, the average Wi-Fi load in the 17,500-seat arena is somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 users per game. In a recent phone interview, Foley recapped the performance of the stadium’s cutting-edge technology, which also includes one of the first deployments of Cisco’s StadiumVision Mobile, which brings live video feeds to fans using the stadium app. There’s also Cisco-powered digital displays throughout the arena, and a robust DAS deployment to make sure regular cellular connections don’t fail.

HD Wi-Fi attracts 20 percent of attendees

Barclays Center, which opened in September of 2012, had the benefit that few NBA stadiums have in that it was built from the ground up with networking as a key component. If Foley has any regrets about the Cisco Connected Stadium Wi-Fi deployment, it’s that it hasn’t really been fully tested yet. Even during the VMAs, Foley said he was using the in-building Wi-Fi to watch 10 different streaming video views on his laptop, from the red carpet cameras to the behind-the-scenes views of stars getting their awards.

Chip Foley

Chip Foley

“Our goal was to build as robust a network as possible, so that we can handle big needs of one-off events [like the VMAs] as well as the 41+ Nets games every season,” Foley said. With two 1-gigabit backbone lines providing Internet access, Foley said the Barclays network is meeting its goal of being “as fast as your fiber connection at home.”

The only drawback so far seems to be getting more fans to try out the network connection when they are at the games or events. According to Foley, despite advertising and promotions, Nets crowds almost always hit a figure of between 20 percent and 25 percent of them being online, a “Groundhog Day” situation that has Foley wondering whether it’s a natural limit.

“That may just be the number of fans who want to use it [the network]” at a game, Foley said.

The Barclays Center DAS, deployed by ExteNet Systems using gear in part from TE Connectivity, is another non-surprise center for Foley.

“The DAS is great, we never get complaints [about cellular connectivity],” Foley said. “You dread hearing that people can’t send texts. That just hasn’t happened.”

Digital displays, both mobile and fixed

One of the more compelling features of the Barclays tech experience is the implementation of Cisco’s StadiumVision Mobile technology, which brings several live “channels” of video to any fan using the Wi-Fi connection and the stadium app, which was built by WillowTree. With views from the benches, behind the basket and quick replays, Barclays can bring an up-close and personal view to even those far away from the court.

StadiumVision Mobile app being used in Barclays Center. Credit: Barclays Center

StadiumVision Mobile app being used in Barclays Center. Credit: Barclays Center

“StadiumVision Mobile is great for the upper pavilion seats, you can now get a view from a different perspective, and get replays,” Foley said. According to Foley, Cisco engineers tested the technology’s performance to ensure that it worked at every seat in the house.

Fixed digital displays are also a key technology at Barclays, starting with the unique Oculus display built into the striking exterior of the building, and continuing to the hundreds of digital displays inside. Using the Cisco Stadium Vision digital display technology, Barclays Center is able to change and update information on single screens or on all screens on the fly, allowing for greater flexibility in terms of messaging and information like concession-stand prices. Barclays also uses its displays to show train schedules, giving fans better information to plan their departures from events.

“The Stadium Vision displays have been nothing but great for us — we sold a lot of advertising on them even before launch,” Foley said. “It’s fun for our content group to build out content for the L-boards [displays where an L-shaped advertisement brackets other information on the screen], and keep it changing. Restaurant operators can use an iPad to change prices [on their screens] right before an event. They don’t have to talk to us. Overall, it’s a lot less maintenance than I expected or anticipated.”

If Foley had one chance to do anything over again with displays, it would be to add more of them to the original mix. His lesson to future stadium display builders is: If you’re in doubt, put up more.

“We must have had 30-plus meetings regarding [internal] TV locations, with 3D modeling and fly-throughs,” Foley said. “For the most part, I’m happy. But if I could, I would have more clusters [of screens]. Wherever there is one screen now, I wish I had three. People always look at a cluster.”

Adding new screens after the fact, Foley said, isn’t as simple as going to Best Buy to pick up a discount TV.

“You might be able to buy a TV for a couple hundred bucks on Black Friday, but no one tells you that to put that in a venue, once you get past union costs, connectivity and everything else, it’s about $5,000,” Foley said. “It’s way more money to add them now.”

What’s next: iBeacon, Google Glass and more analytics

What’s in the future for Barclays technology? For starters, Foley will oversee deployment of Wi-Fi services for the outside spaces surrounding the arena.

“It’d be nice to have Wi-Fi for ticket scanning outside the venue,” said Foley. “That’s one of those things that you don’t understand the need for it until you open the stadium and see what happens.”

Barclays is also looking into testing the Apple iBeacon technology, which can send text messages to devices in very close proximity. Technologies like iBeacon and even digital signage must also cross internal administrative hurdles, such as simply training sales forces and alerting advertisers to the opportunities.

“For some of the streams, there’s the question of ‘how do we sell this’ — the team has never done this and sponsors may not be aware,” Foley said. “You also have to figure out things like how many notifications and emails should we send out. You don’t want to send out too many, because that turns people off.”

Foley said the Barclays social media team is also at the start of a process of mining statistics from places like Twitter, Facebook and other social media streams, to get a better handle on what fans are using the technology for and how the experience might be improved. One possible way is through a Google Glass application, something Foley agreed might not be for everyone.

“I’m fascinated by the possibility of something like an XML stats feed [in Google Glass] where you’d still be able to watch the game,” Foley said. “We’re getting closer! It’s not for everybody, but some portion of the population is probably thinking that way.”