VenueNext debuts new strategy, products at University of Florida

VenueNext powers a new app at the University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, where it also debuted new products like a POS system and a web-based app. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Created in 2014 to provide stadium apps for sports teams, VenueNext has pivoted toward focusing on mobile commerce services, a strategy that includes building web-based apps for teams, schools and other large public venues as well as for big events.

Though the company hasn’t completely given up on building team and stadium apps, executives at VenueNext pointed toward the company’s partnership with the University of Florida as a good example of its new strategic focus. In addition to providing the school with a stadium app that launched this fall, VenueNext also debuted its back-house point-of-sale transaction system at Florida, as well as a web-based app for stadium services and purchases. According to VenueNext executives, the new offerings are part of a new focus on mobile transactions, one that de-emphasizes the company’s former goal of providing full-service, custom-built apps with a wide range of features, including concessions ordering, instant replay video, venue wayfinding and loyalty programs.

Cailen Wachob, VenueNext’s executive vice president for sales, retention, marketing and operations, said “we’ve been pretty quiet about it” in regards to the company’s new offerings and strategies. Originally launched as the provider of the team and stadium app for the San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, VenueNext raised $24 million in venture funding to fuel a push into what looked like a burgeoning market for team and stadium apps as venues became increasingly connected.

After an initial flurry of professional team customer wins, including other NFL teams like the Minnesota Vikings, NBA teams including the Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets and Utah Jazz, and the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, VenueNext did not have any big-name announcements in the past year. In mid-2018, VenueNext founding CEO John Paul was replaced by Orlando Perez, former chief marketing officer for the Orlando Magic, a point at which the company “took a step back to look at what we wanted to do, moving forward,” Wachob said.

An express pickup window for concession orders made on the Florida app.

What that turned into was a new focus more on helping teams, venues and events with mobile commerce activities, rather than a strict direction of just providing a do-everything app with bells and whistles like instant replay video. That combination proved alluring for Florida, which is VenueNext’s first big-college customer.

“We wanted to pick a lane and focus on that, rather than be a custom developer shop,” Wachob said. That means that while VenueNext will still build team apps, it may use third-party functionality as needed.

“We’re more focused on the venue commerce utility,” Wachob said. “We’re not going to be focused on building out things like replay and video.”

Tough market, lots of competition

Since VenueNext’s launch, the stadium and team app has gotten extremely competitive, with multiple players joining the game. Early market leader YinzCam remains the player with the most customers, but it has been joined by a list of providers that includes Venuetize, Hopscotch, Built.io and Rover.io as well as older apps from operations like CBS Interactive and Sidearm Sports. The problem all app providers face, however, is the lukewarm adoption of stadium apps by fans in general. While teams and venues all tout the idea of a stadium app as a way for fans to have a so-called “remote control” for their game-day visits, the reality is that most fans don’t download or use the apps widely, except when forced to for things like digital ticketing.

Screenshot of the web-app ordering system at Florida.

While teams and venues (and the app providers) may claim that fans use stadium apps, the reality is that actual statistics for fan app use are rarely ever provided. In the few instances where teams or venues do provide statistics for things like app usage at games, team and stadium apps fall far behind general-purpose mobile apps like social media apps, email and application updates.

In-venue transactions, however, do offer a way for teams and venues to lure fans to an app or web platform, either by requiring it (in the case of digital ticketing) or by making it an attractive feature, by supporting things like in-seat delivery, raffles and games, order-ahead concessions or in-venue “experience” purchases like seat upgrades or things like on-field tours, or meet-the-players gatherings.

VenueNext famously had an ambitious goal of providing in-seat concessions delivery services for all seating areas at Levi’s Stadium, but that program was shelved in 2017 after limited use and challenges in providing the service to 70,000-plus potential customers.

What has emerged in the market as a more manageable solution are less-ambitious programs like offering delivery to limited seating areas (usually premium club areas) or mobile order-ahead services with express window pickup. The app for Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium offers the latter, with several areas around the venue having pick-up windows set aside for the mobile orders.

POS, kiosk ordering and web-based apps

Wachob said that Florida was also the first live customer for VenueNext’s new POS software system, a product that puts VenueNext into competition with players like Oracle’s Micros and Appetize. The system supports 180 different stands at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, which Wachob said had previously used a cash-drawer system. VenueNext’s website also now includes promotion of kiosk-based self-serve concession systems, a rapidly growing service in sports venues.

VenueNext also rolled out its first live web-based app for Florida, where fans can interact with venue services without having to download an app. Once an unthinkable move for a company devoted to apps, the new service even has its own name and website, ordernext.com, linked to the main VenueNext site. The ordernext platform at Florida provided a way for fans to simply click on a link that said “Water Me” to get cold water delivered to seats in the stadium’s sunny section. Wachob said the site also allowed fans to purchase in-venue experiences, like an on-field pass or a visit with the Gator mascots.

“The new app and POS technology makes concessions better for everyone, it’s faster for those who order ahead of time, and the lines are shorter,” said Scott Stricklin, Florida’s athletic director.

The ordernext platform puts VenueNext into direct competition with providers like Rover.io, which tout the fast performance and greater flexibility of a web approach as opposed to a standalone app. Notably, Rover lists the Vikings and the Hornets as customers, even though those teams also have a VenueNext app. Stadium tech integrator AmpThink helped launch a similar program a year ago at Texas A&M, where the 12thmanlive.com site provided quick links to contests, discounts and other game-day activities.

To VenueNext’s Wachob, not being religious about whether services are offered in an app or on the web is part of the company’s new focus on mobile commerce first.

“Sometimes fans at the venue might not want to download the app,” Wachob said. “The ability to just go to a site [for a transaction] is really powerful. That’s the power of mobile — allowing the fan to determine what’s important to them.”

Introducing: The VENUE DISPLAY REPORT!

Mobile Sports Report is pleased to announce our latest editorial endeavor, the VENUE DISPLAY REPORT!

A new vertical-specific offering of MSR’s existing STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series will focus on telling the stories of successful venue display technology deployments and the business opportunities these deployments enable. No registration or email address required — just click on the image below and start reading!

Like its sibling Stadium Tech Report series, the Venue Display Report series will offer valuable information about cutting-edge deployments that venue owners and operators can use to inform their own plans for advanced digital-display strategies.

Our reporting and analysis will be similar to that found in our popular STR series, with stadium and venue visits to see the display technology in action, and interviews and analysis with thought leaders to help readers better inform their upcoming technology purchasing decisions. And in case you are new to the MSR world, rest assured that all our VDR reports will be editorially objective, done in the old-school way of real reporting. We do not accept paid content and do not pick profiles based on any sponsorship or advertising arrangements.

Our inaugural issue contains profiles of a new concourse display strategy at the San Jose Sharks’ SAP Center, powered by new LED screens from Daktronics and the Cisco Vision IPTV digital display management system; a look at the Utah Jazz’s decision to use Samsung’s system-on-a-chip displays at Vivint Smart Home Arena; and the San Francisco 49ers’ decision to use Cisco Vision to control displays at Levi’s Stadium.

Start reading the first issue now! No download or registration necessary.

As venues seek to improve fan engagement and increase sponsor activation, display technology offers powerful new ways to improve the in-stadium fan experience. While these topics are of prime interest to many of our long-term audience of stadium tech professionals, we suggest that you share the link with colleagues on the marketing and advertising sales side of the house, as they will likely find great interest in the ROI enabled by strategic display system deployments.

Sponsorship spots are currently available for future VDR series reports; please contact Paul at kaps at mobilesportsreport.com for media kit information.

Levi’s Stadium sees 5.1 TB of Wi-Fi data used at college football championship

Fans and media members at Monday night’s College Football Playoff championship game used a total of 5.1 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network at Levi’s Stadium, according to figures provided by the San Francisco 49ers, who own and run the venue.

With 74,814 in attendance for Clemson’s 44-16 victory over Alabama, 17,440 of those in the stands found their way onto the stadium’s Wi-Fi network. According to the Niners the peak concurrent connection number of 11,674 users was seen at 7:05 p.m. local time, which was probably right around the halftime break. The peak bandwidth rate of 3.81 Gbps, the Niners said, was seen at 5:15 p.m. local time, just after kickoff.

In a nice granular breakout, the Niners said about 4.24 TB of the Wi-Fi data was used by fans, while a bit more than 675 GB was used by the more than 925 media members in attendance. The Wi-Fi data totals were recorded during an 8-1/2 hour period on Monday, from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. local time.

Added to the 3.7 TB of DAS traffic AT&T reported inside Levi’s Stadium Monday night, we’re up to 8.8 TB total wireless traffic so far, with reports from Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile still not in. The top Wi-Fi number at Levi’s Stadium, for now, remains Super Bowl 50, which saw 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi traffic.

AT&T: Lots of DAS traffic for college football championship

DAS on a cart: DAS Group Professionals deployed mobile DAS stations to help cover the parking lots at Levi’s Stadium for the college football playoff championship. Credit: DGP

This may not be a news flash to any stadium network operations team but the amount of mobile data consumed by fans at college football games continues to hit high levels, according to some new figures released by AT&T.

In a press release blog post where AT&T said it saw 9 terabytes of cellular data used over the college football playoff championship-game weekend in the Bay area, AT&T also crowned a cellular “data champion,” reporting that Texas A&M saw 36.6 TB of data used on the AT&T networks in and around Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

(Actually, AT&T pointedly does NOT declare Texas A&M the champs — most likely because of some contractural issue, AT&T does not identify actual stadiums or teams in its data reports. Instead, it reports the cities where the data use occurred, but we can figure out the rest for our readers.)

For the College Football Playoff championship, AT&T was able to break down some specific numbers for us, reporting 3.7 TB of that overall total was used inside Levi’s Stadium on game day. Cell traffic from the parking lots and tailgating areas (see photo of DAS cart to left) added another 2.97 TB of traffic on AT&T’s networks, resulting in a game-day area total of 6.67 TB. That total is in Super Bowl range of traffic, so we are excited to see what the Wi-Fi traffic total is from the game (waiting now for the college playoff folks to get the statistics finalized, so stay tuned).

DAS antennas visible at Levi’s Stadium during a Niners game this past season. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

For the additional 2+ TB of traffic, a footnote explains it somewhat more: “Data includes the in-venue DAS, COWs, and surrounding macro network for AT&T customers throughout the weekend.”

Any other carriers who want to add their stats to the total, you know where to find us.

Back to Texas A&M for a moment — in its blog post AT&T also noted that the stadium in College Station (which we will identify as Kyle Field) had the most single-game mobile usage in the U.S. this football season, with nearly 7 TB used on Nov. 24. Aggie fans will remember that as the wild seven-overtime 74-72 win over LSU, an incredible game that not surprisingly resulted in lots of stadium cellular traffic.

Niners, SAP announce stadium-operations management application

A sample screen shot from the new Executive Huddle stadium operations management platform, developed by SAP for the San Francisco 49ers. Credit: San Francisco 49ers (click on any photo for a larger image)

A desire by the San Francisco 49ers to see stadium operations information in real time has become a real product, with today’s announcement of Executive Huddle, a stadium operations management application developed for the Niners by SAP.

In use at the Niners’ Levi’s Stadium since the start of the current football season, Executive Huddle brings transaction information from nine different stadium operations systems, including parking, concessions, retail sales, weather and fan opinions into a visual output that allows team executives to make real-time decisions on how to fix problems or otherwise enhance the game-day experience.

Demonstrated at Sunday’s home game against the Los Angeles Rams, the software not only reports raw data like concession sales or parking lot entries, but also provides a layer of instant feedback to let team executives make immediate changes to operations if necessary. The cloud-based application, developed by SAP and Nimbl, is currently only in use at one upper-level suite at Levi’s Stadium, where the output runs during Niners’ game days on several video screens. SAP, however, plans to make the system available to other teams in the future, according to SAP executives at Sunday’s demonstration.

Fixing issues in real time

Al Guido, president of the 49ers, said Executive Huddle was the end product of a desire of his to be able to fix any game-day experiences on the day of the game, instead of in the days or weeks after. According to Guido, the Niners have been passionate about collecting fan-experience data since Levi’s Stadium opened in 2014. But in the past, the compilation of game-day data usually wasn’t complete until a day or two after each event, meaning any issues exposed were only learned lessons that needed to wait until the next games to be fixed.

Executives huddle: from left, SAP’s Mark Lehew, Niners’ Moon Javaid, SAP’s Mike Flannagan and Niners president Al Guido talk about the Executive Huddle system at a Sunday press event at Levi’s Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Things like slower sales at concession stands, or issues with parking-lot directions, Guido said, wouldn’t be known as they were happening, something he wanted to change.

“I really wanted to be able to act on it [the operations data] in real time, instead of waiting until the Wednesday after a Sunday game,” Guido said.

Now, with Executive Huddle, the Niners’ operations team can sit in a single room and watch as operations events take place, and can make in-game moves to fix things, like calling on the radio to a parking lot to tell gate operators of traffic issues.

“It’s like having an air traffic control system,” said Mark Lehew, global vice president for sports and entertainment industry solutions at SAP. Lehew said SAP worked with the Niners’ list of operations vendors, including Ticketmaster, ParkHub, caterer Levy and point-of-sale technology provider Micros to provide back-end application links so that Executive Huddle could draw information from each separate system into the uber-operations view that Executive Huddle provides. According to SAP, Executive Huddle is based on SAP’s Leonardo and Analytics platform.

The manager of managers

Though the system doesn’t currently monitor some other key stadium operations information, like performance of the Levi’s Stadium Wi-Fi network, Michael Pytel, chief innovation officer for Nimbl, said the system could conceivably add “any information we can get from an API.”

The Levi’s Stadium suite where the Niners monitor Executive Huddle information. Credit: San Francisco 49ers

Moon Javaid, the Niners’ vice president of strategy and analytics, said the continued robust performance of the stadium’s wireless networks make them a lower-priority need for the kind of oversight Executive Huddle provides.

Javaid, the quarterback of the program’s development from the Niners’ side of the equation, noted that part of its power comes not just from surfacing the data, but also from providing some instant intuitive markers — like red for declining metrics and green for positive — and the ability to compare current data to those from other events so that data could not just be seen but also understood, within seconds.

And while SAP plans to make Executive Huddle available to other teams, it’s clear that the program — as well as education and training for the decision-making staff who will use it — will need different care and feeding for each stadium that might want to use it. But SAP’s Lehew noted that being able to provide real-time data in an exposed fashion was becoming table stakes for operations providers, who would have to move past old ways of doing things if they wanted to be a part of the next generation of stadium service providers.

VenueNext names Orlando’s Perez as new CEO

Anthony Perez

Anthony Perez, former chief marketing officer for the Orlando Magic, has been named the new CEO of stadium- and team-application developer VenueNext, replacing founding CEO John Paul.

According to a VenueNext press release, Perez had been with the Magic for the past 10 years in “various leadership roles,” including executive vice president for strategy and CMO, a title he gained in 2017. According to the release, Perez helped develop the Magic’s virtual currency strategy which has been one of the big successes for VenueNext as its app powers the program. The Magic were VenueNext’s first NBA customer and the second customer overall after the San Francisco 49ers.

Former CEO Paul will remain as vice chairman on VenueNext’s board, and according to the release will assist the company on future moves like a planned expansion into European markets. A longtime computer industry veteran, Paul led VenueNext’s charge into the app market for stadiums and arenas with a strategy based more on enabling services like ticketing, loyalty programs and mobile concession ordering and delivery, with the Niners’ new Levi’s Stadium as its proof of concept platform in 2014.

With $24 million in venture funding as of 2016, VenueNext appears to be in good shape, even if it is still a ways away from reaching its publicly claimed target of 30 customers that Paul said it would have three years ago. While the company’s website does not have a full list of customers, VenueNext has said in the past that it does have clients signed already in the healthcare and hospitality markets, but cannot name them due to confidentiality agreements.