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.

Massive MIMO is Sprint’s path to 5G, says CTO Saw

Dr. John Saw, CTO of Sprint, at an IEEE keynote speech. Credit all photos: Sprint

Sprint chief technical officer John Saw has seen the future of cellular wireless, and according to him it was at a sports event.

“I was at the [Winter] Olympics where KT [Korea Telecom] and Intel set up the first 5G network,” said Saw in a recent phone interview. “Stadiums will be a good showplace for the capabilities of 5G. It’s pretty impressive what you can do with 5G that you can’t do today.”

Saw, who was CTO at WiMAX play Clearwire before that company became part of Sprint, will be the first to admit that the network built for the PyeongChang Olympics wasn’t “true” 5G, but said it was a good precursor. He also added that it wasn’t a cost-conscious deployment, something MSR had heard from other sources who said Intel and KT didn’t hold back when it came to spending.

“They spent a lot of money [on the network],” Saw said.

But some of the services the Olympic network was able to support included local viewing of replays using Intel’s True View technology, which gives fans the ability to watch a play or action from a 360-degree angle. While Intel has had limited deployments of the technology at some U.S. sporting events, for the Olympics Saw said they used hundreds of cameras linked over millimeter wave frequencies, which can offer very low latency.

“They needed [to have the images] in real time,” Saw said, and built the millimeter wave network to do just that. While the network “wasn’t fully compliant to the subsequent 5G standards, a lot of what they built is the forerunner to 5G,” Saw said. “It was a pretty cool showcase, and will certainly find a home in stadiums.”

No Millimeter Wave spectrum for Sprint

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Millimeter wave networks, however, won’t be part of Sprint’s early push toward 5G, said Saw. Instead, he said Sprint will concentrate on deploying “Massive MIMO” networks in its rich space of spectrum at the 2.5 GHz frequency, where Sprint controls upwards of 150 MHz of spectrum in most major U.S. metro markets.

Without trying too hard here to explain exactly how Massive MIMO works — think splitting up transmissions between mulitple antennas then using lots of compute power to bring the data back together — the key here is Sprint’s spectrum holdings, which Saw said are still only about half used.

“When we launched LTE [on the 2.5 Ghz spectrum] we used less than half the spectrum we had,” Saw said. “With 5G, we will use all the spectrum we have in market. We’ll be one of very few carriers who launch 5G in the same [spectrum] footprint [as LTE].”

With the ability to carry “four to 10 times the capacity of regular LTE,” Saw sees Massive MIMO 5G as something perfect for large public venues like stadiums and shopping malls.

Dr. John Saw

“When you have sports events with 50,000 people in the stadium, you need this kind of capacity,” Saw said. “Were building out the footprint for [5G] this year, and we’ll launch next year.”

Saw said that part of the infrastructure support for 5G networks will be different as well.

“It’s more than just speed, or more capacity. It’s more than tonnage,” Saw said. “We’ll have a different way of deploying the new network, with a more distributed core, one [with more resources] out to the edge of the network.”

Why is such equipment redistribution necessary? According to Saw, a network with more components at the edge can help with content delivery for the new bandwidth-hungry apps like virtual-reality replays.

“Say you want VR at a hockey game, where you want to give real time [replay] viewing to customers, with different camera angles,” Saw said. “You literally have to have the 5G core inside the stadiums, so it can process [the content] without having to go back to the cloud.”

Will DAS trail in the path to 5G?

One type of network Saw doesn’t see leading the way to 5G is the traditional DAS, or distributed antenna system.

“DAS is going to have to migrate to 5G,” Saw said. “It’s not going to lead the pack.”

In fact, Saw said Sprint has been somewhat of a reluctant DAS participant at times, including at the most recent Super Bowls. In the last two of the NFL’s “big game” events, Super Bowl 51 in Houston and Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis, Saw said Sprint used small cell deployments instead of the neutral DAS systems to augment its coverage.

“We had hundreds of small cells, inside and outside [the venues],” Saw said. “We got the same performance, maybe better, for a lot less money.”

Part of the issue for Sprint and DAS, Saw said, is that the carrier usually has to pay more for its unique spectrum bands, especially the 2.5 GHz frequencies which are not used by any of the other major wireless carriers.

“We always think through before we sign up for DAS fees… there’s more than one way to skin a cat,” Saw said. While in many cases there is no alternative except to participate in a neutral-host configuration, Saw said “we do prefer small cells.”

Will CBRS help?

One of the more hyped platforms being pushed this year is use of the CBRS spectrum at the 3.5 GHz range for not just more carrier networks, but even for “private” LTE networks, like for venues or campuses.

“It’s an interesting concept because it opens things up to more than just four operators,” Saw said. But he also called out the need for an online database to make sure CBRS spectrum use doesn’t interfere with systems run by the U.S. Navy, and added that without any definitive FCC action yet, the rules for future CBRS use are still unclear.

“There’s quite a lot of work to be done, and not a lot of spectrum there,” said Saw. While claiming that Sprint is “watching CBRS with interest,” he added that with its 2.5 GHz holdings, Sprint most likely won’t be at the front of any CBRS deployments.

“At the end of the day, CBRS is not 5G,” Saw said.

How will a merger with T-Mobile help?

Since our conversation took place just a day after Sprint and T-Mobile announced their renewed plans to merge, Saw didn’t have a lot of details to share, beyond his opinion that the two companies’ different spectrum holdings would build a more powerful competitor when put together.

“When you put our 2.5 (GHz) with their 600 MHz it gives you a much larger footprint with higer capacity,” Saw said. “There’s tremendous synergy. Both [companies] are enthusiastic about this deal.”

Editor’s note: This post is part of Mobile Sports Report’s new Voices of the Industry feature, in which industry representatives submit articles, commentary or other information to share with the greater stadium technology marketplace. These are NOT paid advertisements, or infomercials. See our explanation of the feature to understand how it works.

Eagles sign Appetize for new point-of-sale system at Lincoln Financial Field

Self-serve kiosks from Appetize allow fans to order and pay for their own food for nearby pickup. Credit all photos: Appetize

The Philadelphia Eagles have signed a deal with Appetize to bring its technology-centric point of sale system into Lincoln Financial Field, a deal designed in part to help speed up concessions transactions for home fans of the new Super Bowl champions.

According to a press release out today, Appetize will install “more than 500” iOS- and Android-based terminals inside the Linc, including some touch-screen fan-facing checkout displays as well as self-service concession kiosks that are meant to function much like the terminals found at airports for checking in to flights.

Kevin Anderson, co-founder and chief strategy officer for Appetize, said in a phone interview that internal company tests have shown that the self-service kiosks can speed up a concessions transaction by as much as 20 percent, good news for fans who are tired of spending lost minutes standing in line waiting for a cheesesteak. For teams and venue owners, the 10-inch screens being installed at other, regular concession stands in the Linc can help with upsell, as Anderson said that the screen space allows the operator to program in add-on options (like adding a drink or fries to a sandwich order) via a side-of-screen advertisement that makes it easy to add to the order with a click.

In addition to the new customer-facing technology, Appetize is also gaining entree to venues for its cloud-based back-end systems, which Anderson said cuts out the need for teams to have localized infrastructure to buy and manage. Though he won’t name them all yet, in addition to the Eagles win Anderson said Appetize has claimed three other NFL contracts that were out for bid this summer, perhaps proof that the company’s mantra of having “enterprise and modern” facets in their systems is finding receptive ears.

Making sure the infrastructure is set up for kiosks

While MSR clearly needs to schedule a stadium visit sometime to check out kiosk wait times compared to older concessions systems, Anderson did note that teams can’t just plug the kiosks in and expect them to work with an existing infrastructure. “There is a shift in operations” that is necessary, he said, since kiosks can double or triple the number of orders in a given time to an existing kitchen location. However, having kiosks also means that self-service stands can be staffed with workers who simply put orders together, instead of having to train those workers on payment systems and devices.

New tablet-based POS terminals can entice fans into add-on purchases

One area where Appetize doesn’t see a lot of explosive growth is on the in-seat delivery end, a trend that seems to slowing down and finding its way mostly into premium seating areas at most venues. While Appetize can support mobile-device ordering and delivery (it even started its corporate life with an end-user focus on a mobile/delivery app) Anderson said the infrastructure and human engineering necessary to support a full-stadium delivery scheme is usually found to be unworkable. The San Francisco 49ers, who opened Levi’s Stadium in 2014 with mobile-app delivery of concessions to every seat, scrapped that service last season.

“We’re definitely not seeing [customers] asking us to do full-stadium” in-seat delivery, Anderson said. However, having the ability to place an order via a mobile device does have value in premium seating areas, where stadiums may already have systems like the Appetize-based one currently used at Lincoln Financial Field, where servers with wireless devices roam the seating areas offering in-seat ordering as a white-glove service.

“It’s a nice line-item for the season ticket sales sheet” to offer in-seat delivery services in places where it makes sense, Anderson said. “Venues are being smart [now] about where they are putting it.”

Taylor Swift show sets Wi-Fi record at Mile High with 8.1 TB used

Taylor Swift Reputation Tour show at Mile High Stadium, May 25, 2018. Credit: Taylor Swift Instagram

From the reviews we’ve seen lately the Taylor Swift Reputation tour is a great show — and last week in Denver it set a stadium record for Wi-Fi network use, with 8.1 terabytes used, according to the Denver Broncos’ IT team.

Formerly known as Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the now-unsponsored stadium that is the home of the NFL’s Denver Broncos got a significant upgrade to its Wi-Fi network throughout last season, mainly via new APs installed in under-seat and handrail deployments. Even with the network now fully installed but not yet completely tuned or optimized, the stadium saw approximately 30,000 unique clients connected to Wi-Fi for the Swift show on May 25, out of about 50,000 total attendees. Some of the seats in the stadium were not used due to stage configuration.

Russ Trainor, vice president for IT for the Broncos, said the 8.1 TB mark was the highest yet for Wi-Fi at the stadium, a mark that may be challenged this football season with more fans in the stands and perhaps a playoff season from the Broncos. Anyone else out there with Taylor Swift Wi-Fi numbers to share, let us know. Seattle? Levi’s Stadium? C’mon — it’s not too soon to share all that. And just FYI — the concert checks in at No. 5 on our unofficial all-time Wi-Fi list! Not bad!

THE LATEST TOP 10 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
2. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
3. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
4. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
5. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Mile High Stadium, Denver, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
6. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
7. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
8. Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
9. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
10. NCAA Men’s Final Four, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., April 1, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB

Intel True View coming to Niners, Vikings apps; but will anyone watch?

Screen shot of an Intel-powered 3D view of an NFL game.

From a sports viewing standpoint, there may not be a more compelling new technology lately than Intel’s True View platform, which can provide 360-degree 5K-resolution looks at a sporting event that are equally stunning and informative, a true leap in performance for TV-watching fans. Last week, a move by Intel to provide venture funding for app development firm VenueNext seemed like a great deal for fans of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings, whose stadium apps are slated to get the Intel technology to support 3D replay views, perhaps as early as next season.

While both the funding and the replay plans are positive moves for sports fans, our question is, will anyone really watch? While VenueNext’s app platform seems to be gaining momentum with pro teams from all the major U.S. sports leagues, the instant replay function — which was part of VenueNext’s first platform, the app for the Niners’ Levi’s Stadium — has never really caught on, peaking at the start and slowly dwindling thereafter. Replays on other mobile platforms, however — like Twitter — are enormously popular, with one Vikings video alone earning more than 4 million views.

VenueNext CEO John Paul at last week’s Intel event.

Though the Intel/VenueNext announcement garnered a lot of headlines last week, none of the other stories mentioned how little-used the instant replay function is. In fact, almost every team or stadium that has instant-replay functionality in its app declines to provide any statistics for the feature, a shyness we can only attribute to the fact that the numbers are embarrassingly low. The only one VenueNext was able to tell us about was the Niners’ app, which according to VenueNext generated approximately 1,000 views per game last season.

During 2014, the first season Levi’s Stadium was open, the app peaked early with 7,800 replays during that year’s home opener; by the end of the season that number was down to fewer than 4,000 replays per game, which prompted Niners CEO Jed York to label the service’s low uptake a surprising disappointment. Now it’s even used far less often. (VenueNext competitor YinzCam also has instant replay available for many of its team apps, but also does not provide team-by-team viewing stats.)

One reason York cited for the low replay use was the quality and frequency of replays shown on the Levi’s Stadium large video boards; while in the past many pro teams kept replays to a minimum (especially if they were unflattering to the home team) the acceptance of replay review in many leagues and a general change of behavior now sees almost constant replay showing, as well as live action on in-stadium video boards. And while the process to produce in-app video replays is stunningly quick, even the fastest replay functionality combined with the need to navigate a device screen is usually well behind live play.

Screen shot of instant replay service inside Levi’s Stadium app.

Since the amount of funding Intel is providing VenueNext was not announced, it’s hard to tell whether or not either company will consider the transaction worthwhile if the replay viewing numbers remain low. Another problem with the app replays is that many are confined to in-stadium views only due to broadcast rights restrictions; compare that handcuff to the openness of Twitter, where a video of the “Minnesota Miracle” walkoff TD shot by a quick-thinking Minnesota Vikings employee (Scott Kegley, the team’s executive director of digital media & innovation) during last year’s playoffs garnered more than 4 million views and recently won a Webby award.

If there’s a dirty not-so-secret about stadium wireless connectivity, it’s that almost every report we’ve ever seen about app and service usage inside venues puts use of open social media platforms like Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook far, far above team and stadium app usage. Though stadium and team apps are gaining more traction recently due to their embrace of service functionality for things like parking, concession transactions and digital ticketing, we still haven’t seen any reports or evidence that in-stadium instant replays are gaining in use.

Will Intel’s revolutionary technology change the game for in-app replays? We’ll track the developments and keep asking for stats, so stay tuned.