A building for the future: Tech shines through at Sacramento’s new Golden 1 Center

Golden 1 Center, the new home of the Sacramento Kings. Credit: Sacramento Kings

If you’re building for the future, it’s best to start with a building for the future.

That’s what has happened in downtown Sacramento, where the Sacramento Kings have built a technology-laden future-proof arena, a venue designed not just to host basketball games but to be the centerpiece of a metro revival for years to come.

Now open for business, the Golden 1 Center is a living blueprint for the arena of the future, especially from a technology perspective. And while some technology inside the venue is impossible to ignore — starting with the massive 4K scoreboard that overhangs the court — there’s also a wealth of less-apparent technology woven throughout the building’s core and pervasive in its operating functions.

Led by Kings majority owner and former software company founder Vivek Ranadive, the technology-focused direction of the new arena is a blend of the latest thinking in venue experiences and operations. Among the many got-to-have staples: High-quality wireless connectivity and multiple mobile device-based services, including food ordering and delivery, map-based parking, wayfinding help, and digital ticketing. While its already-available options easily place Golden 1 Center among the top tier of connected stadiums today, what may be more impressive is the internal planning for future technologies and services, a sign that its owners and operators clearly understand the ever-changing nature of digital systems.

The purple lights are on in the Golden 1 Center data room. Credit all following photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

While the arena is open today, it’s still somewhat of a diamond in the rough, as planned surrounding structures, including adjacent hotel and retail outlets, are still in the concrete-and-cranes phase, with “coming soon” signs on the area’s many construction fences. As they wait for their team to show signs of on-court improvement, Sacramento citizens must also be patient for the full plan of the downtown arena to emerge, along with its promise to revive an area once stuck in the past.

The good news? With Golden 1 Center Sacramento fans already have a winner, in a venue that will provide fans with some of the best digital-based services and amenities found anywhere, for now and for the foreseeable future. What follows are our first impressions from an early December 2016 visit to a Kings home game, hosted by representatives of the Kings’ technical staff along with representatives from Wi-Fi gear provider Ruckus and cellular DAS deployment firm DAS Group Professionals.

Showing off the data center

Editor’s note: This profile is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace. Read about new networks at the Indiana Pacers’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the new Wi-Fi network used for the Super Bowl in our report, which is available now for FREE DOWNLOAD from our site!

Data center guards. Small, but well armed.

If you had any doubts about how proud the Kings are of their stadium technology, those are erased the moment you enter the stadium via the VIP doorway; after the metal detectors but before you hit the new-wave ticket scanners, you see a set of floor-to-ceiling glass walls and doors to your left, showing off the impressive racks of the venue’s main data equipment room.

How can gear racks be impressive? How about if they are impeccably encased in their own white metal and glass enclosures, a technique that allows the Kings to refrigerate each rack separately, leaving the rest of the room at a temperature more suitable to human bodies. You don’t have to be a network equipment operator to recognize an over-the-top attention to detail here; even the exposed fiber cabling that stretches out up and across the ceiling is color-coded in the Kings’ main team purple; another level of coolness appears when the main lights in the room are turned off, and more LEDs come on to bathe the room in a completely purple hue.

This room is also where you see the first hints of how the team is preparing for the future, with two 100 Gbps incoming bandwidth pipes (from Comcast), as well as two full rows of racks left empty, waiting for whatever innovation needs arise next. While the backbone bandwidth will eventually also support the nearby hotel and retail locations, twin 100-Gbps connections should provide adequate throughput for now and the foreseeable future.

Walk a few steps past the mini-sized Imperial Stormtroopers who guard the facility and you are in a hallway that separates a “mission control” room with monitors for a huge number of operational services, and the video control room. The innovation here starts simply with the side-by-side proximity of network, operations and video administration rooms, a rarity especially in older stadiums where coordination between people working in such rooms often meant walkie-talkies and lots of running around.

Multiple live video inputs in the “control room” at G1C.

While the video control room and its need to supply coordinated content to more than 800 monitors in the building (as well as to the app) is impressive, what’s really interesting is the “mission control” room, where Kings employees, network types and public safety personnel can track multiple inputs on a wall of monitors. In addition to security and public service video monitoring (Kings reps talk about seeing fans spill a drink and hustling to deploy clean-up services before anyone can ask for them), there are also displays for real-time social media mentions and live traffic information, which the Kings can monitor and respond to as needed.

Another “unseen” technology innovation is an operational app that provides real-time access to a huge list of game-day business statistics, like live ticket-scan numbers and real-time updates to concession purchases. This app is also available to Kings execs on their mobile devices, and it’s addicting to watch the numbers update in real time, especially the fast-moving alcoholic beverage purchase totals; according to the Kings, during a Jimmy Buffett concert at the arena, adult-beverage purchases were pushing the $1,000-per-minute mark.

When it comes to the fan experience, such “hidden” technologies may be the services that provide the best examples for how high-quality networks can bring real ROI to stadiums and large public venues. Fans may never know the guts of the system, but when a stand doesn’t run out of hot dogs or a clean-up squad arrives quickly to mop up a spilled beer, it’s a good bet that customer satisfaction will keep increasing. With massively connected systems and attached real-time analytics, such services become easier to deploy and manage; at Golden 1 Center, it’s easy to see how multiple stakeholders in the venue benefit from the decision to make networked technology a primary core of the building’s operations.

The huge scoreboard dominates the view at Golden 1 Center.

A scoreboard that stretches from hoop to hoop

Taking an elevator up to the main concourse floor, the initial impression of Golden 1 Center is its openness — it is built so that the main or ground level entrance is at the top of the bottom bowl of seats, with court level below. Open all the way around, the ability to see across the venue gives it an airy feeling, more like a bigger enclosed football stadium than a basketball arena. On the night we toured the venue its unique glass entryway windows were closed, but they can be opened to let in the breeze during milder days — adding another degree of difficulty for wireless network administration, since LTE signals can both enter and leave the building when the windows are open.

The next thing to catch your eye is the main scoreboard, which the Kings bill as the biggest 4K screen for a permanent indoor arena, with 35 million pixels. If it were lowered during a game, the Kings folks claim the screen would touch both baskets, so without any other numbers you get the idea: This thing is huge.

New entry kiosks from SkiData move more fans inside more quickly, the Kings claim.

It’s also incredibly clear, thanks in part to the 4K resolution but also in part to the fact that it is tilted at just the correct angles so that it’s easy to glance up from live action for a look at either the main screens or the bordering screens on both sides. Just citing clarity or size for scoreboards, I think, is missing a critical factor for video boards — what really matters is whether or not the screen is a positive or negative factor for during-game viewing, a subjective measurement that may take time to sink in. First impressions, however, during the live action between the Kings and Knicks during our visit, were incredibly positive, with the screen not interfering with live action views but incredibly clear for replays and live statistics.

The next part of our tour was to see if we could spot any of the 931 Ruckus Wi-Fi APs that are installed inside the venue. With the clear emphasis on clean aesthetics it was hard to spot any of the wall- or ceiling-mounted units, but we were able to locate several of the many under-seat AP enclosures, including some on retractable seats. According to the Ruckus folks on hand the retractable-seat APs took a little extra engineering, to allow the devices to be disconnected during seat movements.

The JMA Wireless DAS equipment was a little easier to spot, since like at Levi’s Stadium there are a number of antenna placements around the main concourse, pointing down into the lower bowl seating. The DAS Group Professional representatives on hand also pointed out more antennas up in the rafters, as well as some specially designed “antenna rocks” that hide cellular equipment outside the stadium in the open-air plaza. According to DGP and the Kings there are 136 DAS remote placements housing 213 antennas; right now only AT&T and Verizon Wireless are active on the DAS, with T-Mobile scheduled to join before the end of the NBA season. Negotiations with Sprint are still under discussion.

Blazing Wi-Fi in the basement of the building… and the rafters

When we dropped back down to the court-level to see the locker room entrances and one of the premium-seat club areas, we took our first Wi-Fi speed test at Golden 1 Center, and almost couldn’t believe the result: We got 132 Mbps for the download speed and 98 Mbps for upload. Greeted a few minutes later by owner Ranadive himself, we congratulated him on getting what he wanted in terms of connectivity, a theme he relentlessly promoted during the arena’s construction phases.

That’s good Wi-Fi. Taken in the Lexus Club on court level at Golden 1 Center.

The Wi-Fi connectivity was superb throughout the venue, with readings of 51.35/22.21 on press row (located at the top of the main lower bowl, just in front of the main concourse) and 42.14/38.83 in the crowded Sierra Nevada brewpub club at the top level of the arena. In section 220 in the upper deck we got Wi-Fi readings of 53.39 Mbps for download and 36.27 for upload. Throughout the stadium the Verizon LTE signal was in low teens to 20 Mbps range on the download side and usually between 20-30 Mbps on the upload side.

One of the decisions the Kings made on the Wi-Fi side was to drop 2.4 GHz coverage for fan devices in the main bowl area. According to both Ruckus and the Kings, fan devices now are almost 90 percent 5 GHz capable, meaning that it makes administrative sense to take 2.4 GHz out of the main fan Wi-Fi equation (while still keeping it for back-of-house operations like POS and wireless wristbands and cameras, which all still use 2.4 GHz technology). Other teams in the NBA, including the Indiana Pacers (who also recently installed a Ruckus Wi-Fi network) have also said that they are getting rid of 2.4 GHz coverage for fans since most devices used today have 5 GHz connectivity.

While we didn’t have time during this visit to explore all the numerous services available through the team’s app — including a game that lets fans bet loyalty points on predictions about which players will score the most points — it was clear that many fans were taking advantage of the connectivity, especially in the brewpub area where handy lean-up railings with small shelves made it easier to operate a mobile device while still being somewhat engaged with the court action below.

Team execs can get live feeds of fan-related stats on their internal app.

According to the Kings, during the first regular-season home game on Oct. 27, 2016, there were 8,307 unique users of the Wi-Fi network, out of 17,608 fans in attendance. The connected fans used a total of 1.4 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network that night, with a top peak concurrent connection number of 7,761 users. The highest sustained traffic to the Internet that night was a mark of 1.01 Gbps for a 15-minute period between 7:45 to 8:00 p.m., according to the Kings.

Another technology twist we saw in the brewpub was the use of Appetize’s flip-screen POS terminals, which allows for faster order taking simply by letting fans sign on screens with their fingers. Back at the front gates, the new ticket-scanning kiosks from SkiData may take some time for fans to get used to, but even obvious first-timers seemed to quickly understand the kiosk’s operation without much help needed, thanks to the helpful instructions on the wide screen that greets fans as they encounter the device. According to the Kings, tests of the new kiosks at other venues have shown that they can be as much as three times faster than previous technologies, good news to anyone who’s ever had to wait in line just to have their ticket checked.

A building for the future, whenever it comes

While we here at MSR clearly focus on venue technology, it was clear even during our brief stay at Golden 1 Center that while Sacramento fans may be immediately enjoying the amenities, they are still first and foremost concerned about the product on the court. In the upper deck two men spent several minutes questioning why Kings star DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins (who has since been traded to the New Orleans Pelicans) didn’t seem to get the kind of refereeing treatment alloted to other NBA leaders; on an escalator another fan interrupted one of my speedtests by loudly requesting a fan-to-fan fistbump while he simply said, “Kings basketball, right baby?”

A view outside the stadium’s main entrance, with one of the two large vertical video boards visible.

Even in the face of mulitple years without playoff teams, Sacramento fans still turn out for the Kings; the point here in regards to technology is that it may take time for fans to notice and embrace the finer points of all the technological attributes of their new arena, which should become more than just an NBA venue as more concerts and civic events are held in and around its environs.

Our quick take is that fans may turn faster to services like the traffic, parking and seat-wayfinding features in the app, simply due to the newness of the building to everyone, as well as its tightly sandwiched downtown location. Like in other new arenas, the jury is still out on other app-based services like the loyalty-points voting game, and in-seat concessions ordering and delivery; the Kings declined to provide any statistics for in-seat ordering and delivery, a service which became available to the entire stadium on the night of our visit. The Kings, like many other teams, also offer instant replays via the app, but with the numerous high-quality big-screen displays (including two arena-sized screens outside the main entryway) it will be interesting to see if fans ever see an overwhelming need to check their devices for live action while attending a game.

The good news for the Kings is that they based their stadium and team app on a new flexible platform from a company called Built.io, which the Kings say allows for easier addition (or deletion) of services through an API layer. Like the future-proof parts of the building itself, the app also shows the Kings’ dedication to building something now that will almost certainly change going forward. As we look to the future it will be interesting to see which parts of the technology base contribute most to the fan experience and business operations at Golden 1 Center — and to see how many other existing or new arenas follow the lead.

More photos from our visit below!

Under seat Wi-Fi AP on a moveable section of stands.

The view from upper-deck seats.

A Wi-Fi speed test from those same seats.

One of the “rocks” hiding DAS antennas on the outside walkway.

New Report: First look at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center

q4 thumbMOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Winter 2016-2017 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, with a first look at the pervasive stadium technology built into the Sacramento Kings’ new home, the Golden 1 Center.

Also in our latest in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace is a profile of a new Wi-Fi deployment at the Indiana Pacers’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and a profile of new Wi-Fi and DAS networks deployed at Arizona State’s Sun Devil Stadium. We also provide an update on how the new Wi-Fi network at Houston’s NRG Stadium is getting ready for the upcoming Super Bowl LI.

Renting a Wi-Fi network?

In addition to our historical in-depth profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, our fourth issue for 2016 has additional news and analysis, including a look at whether or not stadiums will soon be able to lease their Wi-Fi networks. Download your FREE copy today!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, SOLiD, CommScope, JMA Wireless, Corning, Samsung Business, Xirrus, Huber+Suhner, ExteNet Systems, and Extreme Networks. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to thank you for your 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.

Stadium POS system supplier Appetize gets $20 million in funding

Screen Shot 2016-12-22 at 12.14.36 PMAppetize, the company behind a new point-of-sale platform being used by such new stadiums as the Minnesota Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium and the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center, announced it had secured a $20 million funding round led by Shamrock Capital Advisors.

Oak View Group, the new stadium/technology concern from Tim Leiweke and Irving Azoff, also participated in the round, which Appetize said it will use to expand the company size and locations, adding New York and Atlanta offices to the Los Angeles-area (Playa Vista, Calif.) headquarters. In addition to supplying stadiums with their own custom point-of-sale equipment, Appetize’s platform acts as a digital middleman of sorts between mobile apps with food-ordering features, like those from VenueNext (which works with Appetize at U.S. Bank Stadium) and back-of-house systems for inventory, ordering and other analytics.

While its list of sports-venue customers is long, Appetize said it will also use the funding round to help it expand to other large public venue verticals, including theme parks, convention centers, and campus installations.

Andy Howard, a partner with Shamrock, said Appetize’s executive team has great relationships with top concession vendors, and a clear idea of how to help venues not only improve the fan experience (with shorter or faster-moving lines) but also to provide instant analytics that can allow teams or stadium operators to track concession purchases and inventory in real time.

Mobile Sports Report saw Appetize’s devices in use during a recent visit to Golden 1 Center (tech report also coming soon!) and from a quick observation it seems like the flip terminals (which rotate vertically between concession staff and customers) really seem to speed up the transaction process time. Appetize’s systems also helped the Sacramento team put together a back of house app that shows concession purchase totals in real time — an amazing tool for venue owners and operators.

Kings turn to startups Built.io, Cartogram for Golden 1 Center app development

Screenshots from new Sacramento Kings/Golden 1 Center app. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Screenshots from new Sacramento Kings/Golden 1 Center app. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

For an arena that seeks to redefine the fan experience at a large public venue, it’s somehow fitting that the Sacramento Kings have turned to startups for two of the core parts of the new stadium app for their new home, Golden 1 Center.

With a main app platform developed by stadium-newcomer Built.io and mapping features provided by Seattle-based startup Cartogram, the Kings have produced a stadium app they hope will help give fans a better game-day experience, by reducing “pain points” in areas like transit, parking and ticketing, while also providing features like concession-ordering and delivery via the app. There are also plans for a wide range of content including replays and stats, and the ability to purchase seat upgrades. Though the new Golden 1 Center is already open, the stadium-app features will likely not be fully tested until the Kings’ first regular-season opener, scheduled for Oct. 27 against the San Antonio Spurs.

And while the app is a centerpiece of the Kings’ very public campaign to tout Golden 1 Center as one of the most technologically advanced stadiums every built, to even begin to reach that title the Kings must first conquer the biggest hurdle most stadium apps have, that being just getting fans to download and use the app in the first place. Ryan Montoya, chief technical officer for the Kings, thinks the app’s focus on services will help drive adoption, especially for a brand-new place where all fans will need help finding there way there, and around once inside.

Flexibility to add more services quickly

“We wanted to build features [in the app] that were actually useful to fans,” said Montoya in a phone interview. “We wanted to push the boundaries, to remove friction and help the arena become more intuitive.”

Directions and parking / transit options

Directions and parking / transit options

Though most of the leading team- and stadium-app platforms, such as those from YinzCam or VenueNext, provide the ability to integrate third-party features, the Kings said they were seeking a more agile app platform, one that Montoya said “would provide us flexibility in real time.” For that core, the Kings turned to a company called Built.io, a San Francisco firm with experience in “assisting large organizations with digital transformations,” but no public claims to team- or venue-app developments.

Neha Sampat, co-founder and CEO of Built.io, said that since its founding in 2007, her company has a lot of experience in helping enterprise company move to cloud-based operations, moves that include support for content management and mobile-device usage.

“What the Kings are trying to do is a large-scale enterprise use case,” said Sampat in a phone interview. “There are a lot of big-data analytics and so much personalization that is dependent on data.”

Sampat said Built.io’s model of a “back end as a service” and its ability to quickly connect other programs’ APIs make it a perfect partner for the Kings, who want to expose multiple services and features through the combined Golden 1 Center/Kings app.

“When Vivek [Ranadive, Kings owner] said 2 years ago the ‘arena will check into you,’ we got excited because that was our vision,” Sampat said. Sampat compared the Kings’ ideas to services Built.io has helped deliver at other large public spaces, like connected cities and convention centers.

Ticketmaster integration

Ticketmaster integration

“The use cases are similar,” Sampat said. “If you’re at a conference, something can happen [to the event app] due to your location.”

Using the Built.io backend, the Kings have been able to add several well-known existing services to the new app, including Appetize for food ordering, and Parking Panda for parking services. There is also integration with Ticketmaster and some new “smart kiosks” from Skidata which Montoya said should be able to allow for up to 1,000 fans per hour to get into the arena, as opposed to limits of around 300 fans per hour via manual ticket-scanning techniques.

The important thing, Montoya said, is to have a backend system that allows for continuous additions to the application, a so-called “bus” theory “to allow us to integrate services seamlessly.”

Maps the way people want them

While the app certainly is pushing the envelope when it comes to functionality, perhaps the most important part of it at the start will be its wayfinding capabilities. With its intimate downtown setting — one placed right in the city center, and not surrounded by parking lots — Golden 1 Center will likely present a challenge for fans in just trying to get to and get inside the venue. Add into that the challenge for any fan simply to find their way around a brand-new facility, and you have an increased need for directions and assistance.

To help fans find their way, the Kings have built features into the app that include map-directed wayfinding to transit and to parking lots, and then into the building and to their seats. To power the wayfinding, the Kings selected Cartogram, a Seattle-based startup that uses Google Maps as its base to power maps that allow for directed searches both inside and outside buildings.

Indoor seating map

Indoor seating map

In a recent phone interview, Cartogram CEO Will Clausen said the Kings had been looking for a mapping solution that could integrate both exterior and interior views, mainly due to the aforementioned challenges of getting directions to a new stadium located in a downtown core. Having a Cartogram employee who worked previously with a Kings employee helped get Cartogram in the door, Clausen said, and now its system drives not only the wayfinding features in the app but other amenities like the ability to see how long lines are at concession stands or bathrooms.

Working closely both with Built.io as well as with the Kings’ wireless networking team, Clausen said the Cartogram software uses information both from Bluetooth beacons as well as from Wi-Fi access points to determine line lengths and wait times. While Bluetooth is great for providing granular location information for a single device, Clausen noted that while not all devices may have the app downloaded, almost all devices in a venue have Wi-Fi active, allowing the Kings’ system to detect density in local areas based on the number of devices its Wi-Fi network can see.

And while other stadium systems like the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium app have wayfinding features with live interactive maps, those maps are different than Google Maps, an app Clausen said most people know and like. Using Google Maps as its base, Clausen said, “gives end users the experience they’re used to.”

In the end, such familiarity may help the Kings’ Golden 1 Center app become more widely used than other stadium apps, which regularly trail social-media apps and email apps for most-used apps in any stadium game-day use measurements. And while relying on startups may be the team-app version of an NBA team relying on rookie players, the Kings’ Montoya is confident the new app will help the Kings deliver on their vision of an advanced fan experience.

“I think we’ve seen a transformation of what a [stadium] app is supposed to be,” Montoya said. “It’s a real evolution.”

The all-important cowbell sound feature for the app.

The all-important cowbell sound feature for the app.

For concerts -- who needs a lighter when the app can provide?

For concerts — who needs a lighter when the app can provide?

Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center will use really fast fiber technology from CommScope

Fiber cabling inside the Golden 1 Center data center. Credit: CommScope / Golden 1 Center

Fiber cabling inside the Golden 1 Center data center. Credit: CommScope / Golden 1 Center

Since the Sacramento Kings are already talking about bandwidth-hogging applications like virtual reality replays for fans who visit the new Golden 1 Center, it’s perhaps no surprise that the venue will also have some of the fastest, highest capacity fiber network technology at its core.

On Tuesday, the Kings and network infrastructure provider CommScope announced that Golden 1 Center will be the first place to employ something called wideband multimode fiber, or WBMMF in the world of tech acronyms. Without getting too deep into fiber optics details it might be enough for most to know that WBMMF, a new developing standard in the cabling infrastructure world, lets you send more stuff over fewer fibers, an advancement developed mainly for the data center world but one that will also benefit places that expect to move a lot of data around, like Golden 1 Center.

Back in the old days, it was news when stadium networks upgraded to 1-gigabit per second pipes coming in to provide bandwidth. These days, many stadiums are talking multiple 10-gig pipes and even looking at 100-gig pipes (like Golden 1 Center will use from Comcast), meaning that the internal networks also need to get faster and wider to handle the never-ending increases in data use.

Golden 1 Center nears completion. Credit: Golden 1 Center

Golden 1 Center nears completion. Credit: Golden 1 Center

Before its scheduled October opening we are sure we’ll hear more about the fan-facing Wi-Fi and DAS network deployments, but it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that the underlying core network at Golden 1 Center should be able to handle data expansion for the foreseeable future thanks to the choice of the latest in fiber technology.

John Schmidt, vice president for CommScope’s Data Center solutions team, said the WBMMF products are primarily targeted at the data center market; but he also noted that with its own 6,000-square-foot data center, Golden 1 Center qualifies as the kind of place that will need the kind of future-proofing WBMMF can provide.

When the plans for Golden 1 Center were first talked about publicly, Schmidt said CommScope reached out to the Kings with a pitch about using the latest fiber technology in the core.

“It was clear they wanted something state of the art, with a great fan [network] experience,” Schmidt said. “We told them we could help with the physical layer, to support the bandwidth they would need.”

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Cuban: Fans shouldn’t look at phones ‘while the ball is in the air’

Mark Cuban during CES panel. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Mark Cuban during CES panel. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

LAS VEGAS, CES 2016 — On the subject of wireless technology inside stadiums, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is historically painted as an anti-tech crusader, based on an old story that has become more myth than truth, especially in the stadium-tech marketplace. Thursday at CES, Cuban clarified his thinking on wireless technology use during sports events, with a very clear nuance that shows the deep thinking that makes him a popular analyzer on numerous topics.

Cuban, maybe known better now outside the sports world for his reality/investment TV show Shark Tank, clarified his thinking on in-stadium wireless use during a panel discussion that was part of a special sports/tech series here hosted by Turner Sports. Since his team’s stadium has a robust Wi-Fi network, Cuban clearly isn’t against good connectivity anymore, and said Thursday that during breaks in game action, wireless technology should help fans do as much as possible to ease the game-day experience.

But when the “ball is in the air,” Cuban said, he still thinks fans should put phones back in their pockets or purses.

“Anytime I see someone looking at a phone [during play] I feel like we lose a little bit of them,” Cuban said. “Technology can work against you in an arena. You have to be very careful that you don’t do anything that will take the game away.”

Shaq greets fans after panel

Shaq greets fans after panel

Using tech to take away pain points

To be sure, wireless technology is only going to increase in NBA arenas, especially when the Sacramento Kings’ new Golden 1 Center opens this fall with one of the most-dense Wi-Fi deployments in any arena. Fellow panelist Shaquille O’Neal waxed eloquently about the Kings’ planned use of wireless technology to support wireless ticketing and marketing integration, all for the benefit of the fan experience.

In an earlier panel, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said league teams “have done a great job” making sure the connectivity inside arenas is a similar experience to “what people get at home.” But even with enough bandwidth to watch the game live at courtside on a phone, almost all of the panelists Thursday were in agreement that the live game experience would still remain wildly popular, even as technologies like virtual reality and on-player cameras make the TV experience that much better.

“People still crave the ability to be around other people,” said Silver, who called sports stadiums “the modern town hall” while noting that NBA season ticket sales were currently at all-time highs. Vivek Ranadive, owner of the Sacramento Kings, said during another panel that live streaming video and other over-the-top Internet experiences only serve to make the live game attendance that much more attractive.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver

NBA commissioner Adam Silver

“Only 18,000 people can come to the stadium,” said Ranadive, noting the capacity of the Golden 1 Center, slated to open for the 2016-17 season. The streaming video and social media outreach by the team, he said, “drives demand for the in-stadium experience.”

And that’s an experience, Cuban said, that simply can’t be duplicated at home, no matter how big a screen or how comfortable a couch.

“When the outcome of a game is hanging on a shot, if you’re there you’re holding your breath while the ball is in the air,” Cuban said. One fan told Cuban that he “did a big tree hug” on a total stranger after a recent last-second win by the Mavericks. “You’re not going to do that with some stranger in your living room,” Cuban said. “The energy you feel [in the stadium] is the most valuable part of the product we own.”