NCAA cancels March Madness; MLB, NHL, MLS susupend schedules

In another somewhat inevitable decision, the NCAA on Thursday announced it was canceling the men’s and women’s Division I basketball tournaments, “as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships.” After the NBA suspended its season Wednesday night and most conferences canceled their year-end tournaments in progress, it was quickly apparent that the NCAA’s Wednesday decision to hold games without fans was not going to be a good enough measure given the seriousness of the growing coronavirus pandemic.

Also on Thursday all of the other top professional sports with active schedules announced postponements to games, including Major League Baseball’s decision to postpone opening day by at least two weeks and to cancel spring training; the NHL’s decision to postpone its current season; and Major League Soccer’s decision to suspend its season for 30 days.

Statement tweets below.

NCAA mum on coronavirus tourney plans while two conferences close doors to fans

The NCAA has yet to commit to any measures to exclude fans or cancel games for its upcoming men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, even as two conferences closed their tournament doors to fans and one canceled its tournaments altogether.

In a statement on its website, the NCAA put off making a decision Tuesday, even as the Ivy League canceled its conference tournaments and the Big West and the Mid-American Conference closed their tournaments to fans. The NCAA, whose tournaments are scheduled to begin next week, said:

The NCAA continues to assess how COVID-19 impacts the conduct of our tournaments and events. We are consulting with public health officials and our COVID-19 advisory panel, who are leading experts in epidemiology and public health, and will make decisions in the coming days.

UPDATE, March 11: The NCAA now says its tourney games will be played without fans.

The Big West, whose tournaments will be played in Southern California, had a different take:

“The Big West Board of Directors, comprised of the chief executive officers of the nine member universities, strongly feel that this is a prudent way to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus while being sensitive to our student-athletes who have pointed towards playing in the tournament all season,” said Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell in a statement on the conference’s website.

The Ivy League, meanwhile, canceled its year-end tournaments completely, naming the Yale men’s team and the Princeton women’s team, the leagues’ regular-season champions, as its NCAA tournament representatives.

BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament postponed due to coronavirus

One of the bigger non-major tennis tournaments in the U.S., the BNP Paribas Open, has been postponed indefinitely this year due to a local confirmed case of the coronavirus in southern California.

In a post on the tournament’s website, officials said they are exploring options to hold the tournament on a later date, but have no set plan yet.

“We are very disappointed that the tournament will not take place, but the health and safety of the local community, fans, players, volunteers, sponsors, employees, vendors, and everyone involved with the event is of paramount importance,” said tournament director Tommy Haas, in a prepared statement. Here is the lead paragraph from the website page announcing the postponement:

The Riverside County Public Health Department has declared a public health emergency for the Coachella Valley after a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) locally. As a result, the 2020 BNP Paribas Open will not take place at this time due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and the safety of the participants and attendees at the event. This is following the guidance of medical professionals, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and State of California.

The BNP Paribas Open is the biggest sports event so far to be canceled or postponed due to the virus. Previously this year the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona, Spain, was canceled, as was the South by Southwest conference in Texas, which was scheduled for later this month.

In the sports world, the focus now shifts to the NCAA and its upcoming men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, which are scheduled to begin next week. Among the options being talked about in news reports are holding games at fewer arenas, or holding games in empty stadiums. As of Sunday night, there was no definitive plan for the NCAA events.

Other observers are looking further ahead in the sports schedule and questioning whether the NFL should eliminate the fan presence from its annual draft. The 2020 draft, scheduled for late April in Las Vegas, had been expected to draw as many as 300,000 visitors to the event.

Stay tuned for more news as we are sure this will become somewhat of a daily thing as the virus spreads.

Temporary courtside network helps set Final Four Wi-Fi records

A temporary under-seat Wi-Fi network helped bring connectivity to courtside seats at this year’s Final Four. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

One of the traditional characteristics of the Final Four is the yearly travel scramble of the fortunate fans and teams who have advanced to the championship weekend. Somehow, with only a week’s notice, plane flights, road trips and hotel rooms get scheduled and booked, leading to packed houses at college basketball’s biggest event.

On the stadium technology side, a similar last-minute fire drill happens just about every year as well, as the hosting venues reconfigure themselves to host basketball games inside cavernous buildings built mainly to hold football crowds. At this year’s NCAA Men’s Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the stadium tech team and partner AmpThink were able to quickly construct a temporary Wi-Fi network to cover the additional lower-bowl seating. The new capactity was part of a record-setting Wi-Fi network performance at the venue, with single-day numbers surpassing those from Super Bowl 52, held in the same building the year before.

The Wi-Fi numbers, both staggering and sobering especially to venues who are next in line for such bucket-list events, totaled 31.2 terabytes for the two days of game action, according to figures provided by the NCAA. For the semifinal games on Saturday April 6, U.S. Bank Stadium’s Wi-Fi network saw 17.8 TB of traffic, topping the 16.31 TB used during Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4, 2018. The Saturday semifinals also set an attendance record for the venue, with 72,711 on hand, topping the 67,612 in attendance for Super Bowl 52.

During the championship game on April 8, U.S. Bank Stadium saw an additional 13.4 TB of data used on the Wi-Fi network, giving the venue three of the top four single-day Wi-Fi numbers we’ve reported, with this year’s mark of 24.05 TB at Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta the only bigger number. Saturday’s take rate at U.S. Bank Stadium, however, surpassed even the most-recent Super Bowl, with 51,227 unique users on the network, a 70 percent take rate.

‘Like building an arena network inside a football stadium’

Editor’s note: This report is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the new Wi-Fi network at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn., and an in-depth research report on the new Wi-Fi 6 standard! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

Switches for the temporary network were deployed under the seat scaffolding.

There’s no doubt that the temporary network installed by AmpThink and the U.S. Bank Stadium IT team contributed a great deal to the final Wi-Fi totals, with 250 access points installed in the additional seats. Like at other football venues that are transformed into basketball arenas, U.S. Bank Stadium had temporary seating installed on all four sides of the stadium, with temporary risers stretching down over football seating as well as with risers built behind both baskets. More seats were installed on the “floor” of the football field, right up to the elevated court set in the middle. The temporary APs, like the existing ones in the stadium, are from Cisco.

“There are a lot more moving parts to a Final Four than to a Super Bowl,” said David Kingsbury, director of IT for U.S. Bank Stadium, describing the difference in providing the networking and technical underpinnings for each event. While planning for the networks was obviously done far in advance, the actual buildout of the temporary Wi-Fi couldn’t even begin until the additional seating was in place, a task that finished just five days before the first game was played.

That’s when AmpThink deployed a staff of 12 workers to start connecting cables to APs and to switches, while also adding in another 700 wired network connections to the courtside areas for media internet and TV monitor connections. Like it does for every venue network it designs and deploys, AmpThink came to the stadium equipped with a wide assortment of lengths of pre-terminated cables, preparation that made the fast deployment possible.

“If we had to spin raw cable and terminate it on site, we never would have been able to finish in five days,” said AmpThink president Bill Anderson.

AmpThink’s previous experience in deploying such temporary networks under temporary seating — including at the previous year’s Final Four in San Antonio — taught the company that it would also need protection for under-seat switch deployments, to fend off the inevitable liquid spills from the seats above. That requirement was potentially even more necessary at U.S. Bank Stadium, since this year’s Final Four was the first to allow in-venue sales of alcoholic beverages.

Some temporary seats were deployed on top of existing lower bowl seats.

With some of the temporary seating installed over existing seating, there were 95 APs in the existing handrail-enclosure design that had to be turned off for the Final Four, according to Kingsbury. The 250 new APs added were all installed under the folding chairs, in enclosures that simply sat on the floor.

According to AmpThink’s Anderson, the company did learn a lesson at U.S. Bank Stadium — that it will, at future events, need to secure the actual enclosures since during the weekend curious fans opened a few of the boxes, with one AP disappearing, perhaps as an interesting IT souvenir.

In San Antonio, AmpThink had zip-tied the enclosures to chairs, which led to increased labor to detatch the devices during the post-event breakdown. While having no such measures at U.S. Bank led to a fast removal — AmpThink said it had removed all the temporary network elements just seven hours after the championship game confetti had settled — for next year’s Final Four AmpThink plans to at least zip-tie the enclosures shut so that fans can’t attempt any ad hoc network administration.

More APs for back of house operations

Another difference between the Final Four and the Super Bowl is the fact that four, not two, teams are in attendance for a full weekend, necessitating the need to set up temporary “work rooms” adjacent to each school’s locker room area. The media work center for the Final Four is also typically larger than that of a Super Bowl, again with more cities and their attendant media outlets on site thanks to there being four, not just two, teams involved.

A concourse speed test taken just after halftime of the final game.

“We had to cover a lot of places in the stadium that we don’t normally cover” with wireless and wired network access, Kingsbury said, saying that an additional 30 APs were needed for team rooms and the main media workspace, which were located on the field level of the stadium in the back hallways. An interesting note at U.S. Bank Stadium was that the yards and yards of fabric used as curtains to cover the clear-plastic roofing and wall areas was actually benefical to Wi-Fi operations, since it cut off some of the reflective interference caused by ETFE surfaces.

According to Kingsbury the final count of active APs for the Final Four was 1,414, a number reached by adding in the temporary APs while deducting the ones taken offline. Not included in the official NCAA traffic numbers was an additional 3 TB of traffic seen during the free-admission Friday practice sessions, when 36,000 fans visited the stadium, with 9,000 joining the Wi-Fi network.

From the official stats, the peak concurrent user number from Final Four Saturday of 31,141 was also an overall record, beating Super Bowl 53’s mark of 30,605. (Super Bowl 53 had 70,081 fans in attendance for the Feb. 3 game between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.) The Wi-Fi network numbers for Monday’s championship game (won by Virginia 85-77 over Texas Tech in overtime) saw big numbers itself, with 13.4 TB of total data used, and 48,449 unique connections and 29,487 peak concurrent users (out of 72,062 in attendance). Monday’s game also produced a peak throughput number of 11.2 Gbps just after the game ended.

None of those totals could have been reached without the temporary network, which AmpThink’s Anderson compared to “building a 10,000-seat arena network inside a football stadium.” Next stop for a temporary Wi-Fi network is Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where the 2020 Final Four awaits.

This is what your football stadium looks like with a championship basketball game inside of it.

The temporary center-hung scoreboard was able to play video programming onto the court surface.

The NBA on TBS crew was courtside for the Final Four.

The secret to keeping your network operations room running? All kinds of energy inputs.

Commentary: Cheer, Cheer for old Wi-Fi

A hoops fan records action during the FInal Four at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

News item: Super Bowl 53 sees 24 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used.

Second news item: Final Four weekend sees 31.2 terabytes of Wi-Fi data used.

Even as people across the wireless industry seem ready to dig Wi-Fi’s grave, the view from here is not only is Wi-Fi’s imminent death greatly exaggerated, things may actually be heading in the other direction — Wi-Fi’s last-mile and in-building dominance may just be getting started.

The latest ironic put-down of Wi-Fi came in a recent Wall Street Journal article with the headline of “Cellphone Carriers Envision World Without Wi-Fi,” in which a Verizon executive calls Wi-Fi “rubbish.” While the article itself presents a great amount of facts about why Wi-Fi is already the dominant last-mile wireless carrier (and may just get stronger going forward) the article doesn’t talk at all about the Super Bowl, where Verizon itself basically turned to Wi-Fi to make sure fans at the big game who were Verizon customers could stay connected.

Wi-Fi speedtest from U.S. Bank Stadium during the Final Four championship game.

As readers of MSR know, the performance of the cellular DAS at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta has been a question mark since its inception, and the emergence of competing lawsuits between lead contractor IBM and supplier Corning over its implementation means we may never learn publicly what really happened, and whether or not it was ever fixed. Though stadium tech execs and the NFL said publicly that the DAS was fine for the Super Bowl, Verizon’s actions perhaps spoke much louder — the carrier basically paid extra to secure part of the Wi-Fi network bandwidth for its own customers, and used autoconnect to get as many of its subscribers as it could onto the Wi-Fi network.

While we did learn the Wi-Fi statistics in detail — thanks to the fact that Wi-Fi numbers are controlled by the venue, not the carriers — it’s interesting to note that none of the four top cellular providers in the U.S. would give MSR a figure of how much cellular traffic they each saw in the stadium on Super Sunday. For the record, stadium officials said they saw 12.1 TB of data used on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium DAS on Super Bowl Sunday, a figure that represents the total traffic from all four carriers combined. But how that pie was split up will likely forever remain a mystery.

AT&T did provide a figure of 23.5 TB for Super Bowl traffic inside the venue as well as in a 2-mile radius around the stadium, and Sprint provided a figure (25 TB) but put even a less-measurable geographic boundary on it, meaning Sprint could have basically been reporting all traffic it saw anywhere inside the greater Atlanta city limits. Verizon and T-Mobile, meanwhile, both refused to report any Super Bowl cellular statistics at all.

An under-seat Wi-Fi AP placement in the end zone seating at the Final Four.

Verizon also did not reply to a question about how much traffic it saw on the Verizon-specific Wi-Fi SSID inside the venue. While we get the marketing reasons for not reporting disappointing stats (why willingly report numbers that make you look bad?), it seems disingenious at best for one Verizon executive (Ronan Dunne, executive vice president and president of Verizon Wireless) to call Wi-Fi “rubbish” when another part of the company is relying heavily on that same rubbish technology to make sure its customers can stay connected when the cellular network can’t keep up. One man’s trash, I guess, is another division’s treasure.

Wi-Fi 6 and more spectrum on the way

For venue owners and operators, the next few years are likely going to be filled with plenty of misinformation regarding the future of wireless. The big carriers, who pull in billions each quarter in revenue, are staking their near-term future on 5G, a label for a confusing mix of technologies and spectrum chunks that is unlikely to be cleared up anytime soon. Unlike the celluar industry change from 3G to 4G — a relatively straightforward progression to a new and unified type of technology — the change to 5G has already seen carriers willing to slap the marketing label on a different number of implementations, which bodes many headaches ahead for those in the venue space who have to figure out what will work best for their buildings and open spaces.

There’s also the imminent emergence of networks that will use the CBRS spectrum at 3.5 GHz, which will support communications using the same LTE technology used for 4G cellular. Though CBRS has its own challenges and hurdles to implementation, because it is backed by carriers and the carrier equipment-supply ecosystem, you can expect a blitz of 5G-type marketing to fuel its hype, with poor old Wi-Fi often the target for replacement.

While the Wi-Fi Alliance and other industry groups rallying around Wi-Fi might seem like the Rebel Alliance against a First Order dreadnought, if I’ve learned anything in my career of technology reporting it’s that you should never bet against open standards. I’ve been around long enough to see seemingly invincible empires based on proprietary schemes collapse and disappear under the relentless power of open systems and standards — like Ethernet vs. DEC or IBM networking protocols, and TCP/IP vs. Novell — to count out Wi-Fi in a battle, even against the cellular giants. In fact, with the improvements that are part of Wi-Fi 6 — known also as 802.11ax in the former parlance — Wi-Fi is supposed to eventually become more like LTE, with more secure connections and a better ability to support a roaming connection and the ability to connect more clients per access point. What happens then if LTE’s advantages go away?

With Wi-Fi 6 gear only now starting to arrive in the marketplace, proof still needs to be found that such claims can work in the real world, especially in the demanding and special-case world of wireless inside venues. But the same hurdles (and maybe even more) exist for CBRS and 5G technologies, with big unanswered questions about device support and the need for numerous amounts of antennas that are usually ignored in the “5G will take over the world soon” hype stories. I’d also add to that mix my wonder about where the time and talent will come from to install a whole bunch of new technologies that will require new learning curves; meanwhile, as far as I can tell the companies supporting Wi-Fi continue to add technology pros at ever-growing user and education conferences.

So as we ready for the inevitable challenge of sifting through cellular FUD and hype let’s have a cheer for good old Wi-Fi — for now the champion of the biggest data-demand days in venues, and maybe the leader for years to come.

U.S. Bank Stadium sees 31.2 TB of Wi-Fi data used during Final Four weekend

The Final Four generated record Wi-Fi totals this year at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Fans at this year’s NCAA Men’s Final Four basketball tournament at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis used more than 31 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network during the championship weekend, with stadium records set in total single-day Wi-Fi usage and sustained data rates, and overall records set for concurrent connections and unique connections, according to figures from the NCAA.

The semifinal matches on April 6 between Auburn and Virginia and Texas Tech and Michigan State saw fans use the second-highest single-day Wi-Fi total we have seen reported, with 17.8 TB of data used. The Wi-Fi total surpassed the 16.31 TB of Wi-Fi data used in the same stadium during Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4, 2018; only Super Bowl 53 this year at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, with 24.05 TB of Wi-Fi used, has seen a bigger data day (according to our unofficial list of such data events).

According to the NCAA figures, the network saw 51,227 unique users on Final Four Saturday, out of 72,711 in attendance. The 70 percent take rate just beats the 69 percent take rate seen at Super Bowl 53, an overall sign perhaps that bucket-event fans are increasingly turning to stadium Wi-Fi for connectivity. At Super Bowl 52 in U.S. Bank Stadium, there were 40,033 unique users on the Wi-Fi network (out of 67,612 in attendance), a take rate of 59 percent.

A familiar scene at the FInal Four — a fan recording their experience

The peak concurrent user number from Final Four Saturday of 31,141 was also an overall record, beating Super Bowl 53’s mark of 30,605. (Super Bowl 53 had 70,081 fans in attendance for the Feb. 3 game between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams.) The Wi-Fi network numbers for Monday’s championship game (won by Virginia 85-77 over Texas Tech in overtime) saw big numbers itself, with 13.4 TB of total data used, and 48,449 unique connections and 29,487 peak concurrent users (out of 72,062 in attendance). Monday’s game also produced a peak throughput number of 11.2 Gbps just after the game ended. The total official Wi-Fi data used during the semifinals and final was 31.2 TB.

According to stadium network officials, there were 1,414 active Cisco access points for the Final Four games, with some permanent Wi-Fi APs not being used because they were covered by the temporary seats that extended out to the court built in the middle of where the football field usually is. However, the temporary seating was covered by an additional 250 APs and 50-plus switches in a temporary network built by AmpThink and the stadium network team (look for a deeper profile of the temporary network in our upcoming Summer STADIUM TECH REPORT issue!).

Speed tests taken by Mobile Sports Report showed robust Wi-Fi connectivity all around the venue on both days, with marks like a 48.6 Mbps download and 44.0 Mbps upload in the higher seating section during pregame for Saturday’s events, another mark of 45.3 Mbps / 38.7 Mbps on the third-level main concourse close to Saturday’s tipoff, and a mark of 54.8 Mbps / 38.3 Mbps on the main lower-level concourse just after tipoff of Monday’s championship game.

One of the temporary seating under-seat Wi-Fi APs

“The traffic we experience on Wi-Fi networks at the Final Four is considerable each year, and Minneapolis was no exception,” said David Worlock, director of media coordination and statistics for the NCAA tournament. “We were completely satisfied with the performance of the network throughout the weekend.”

THE MSR TOP 20 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 53, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Feb. 3, 2019: Wi-Fi: 24.05 TB
2. NCAA Men’s 2019 Final Four semifinals, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., April 6, 2019: Wi-Fi: 17.8 TB
3. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
4. NCAA Men’s 2019 Final Four championship, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., April 8, 2019: Wi-Fi: 13.4 TB
5. 2018 College Football Playoff Championship, Alabama vs. Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 8, 2018: Wi-Fi: 12.0 TB*
6. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
7. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 6, 2018: Wi-Fi: 10.86 TB
8. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
9. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 27, 2018: Wi-Fi: 9.76 TB
10. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
11. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.53 TB
12. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
13. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
14. SEC Championship Game, Alabama vs. Georgia, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Ga., Dec. 1, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.06 TB*
15. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
16. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 29, 2018: 7.19 TB
17. (tie) Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 2, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.0 TB
18. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
19. Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
20. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB

* = pending official exact data