NFL Stadium Tech Reviews — NFC East

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE PRO FOOTBALL ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

NFC EAST

Reporting by Paul Kapustka

Dallas fan in mobile action at AT&T Stadium. Photo: Phil Harvey, MSR

Dallas fan in mobile action at AT&T Stadium. Photo: Phil Harvey, MSR

Dallas Cowboys
AT&T Stadium
Seating Capacity: 105,121
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

AT&T Stadium continues to push the envelope when it comes to wireless connectivity, perhaps no surprise given the sponsor name on the building. For 2015 the venue will have up to 2,000 Wi-Fi APs at any given time (1,900 fixed and 100 flexible for deployment where needed), making it by far the stadium with the most access points.

New York Giants
MetLife Stadium
Seating Capacity: 82,500
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

Like with the Jets, the Giants and their fans are still benefitting from the technology installed for the Super Bowl two years ago, with superb Wi-Fi and DAS coverage throughout the facility.

Philadelphia Eagles
Lincoln Financial Field
Seating Capacity: 69,176
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

One of the early Extreme deployments, the “Linc” will continue to be well-connected with Wi-Fi available to all seating areas.

Washington Redskins
FedExField
Seating Capacity: 79,000
Wi-Fi – Yes
DAS – Yes

After briefly considering Chinese firm Huawei for Wi-Fi last season, the Redskins pulled a reverse and instead went for a deployment led by Cisco and Verizon, now apparently with United Airlines as a service sponsor.

Stadium Tech Report — NFL stadium technology reports — NFC East

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NFL stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE FOOTBALL ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

NFC EAST

Reporting by Chris Gallo

Dallas Cowboys
AT&T Stadium
Seating Capacity: 105,121
Wi-Fi – Yes, 1,525 access points
DAS – Yes, 1,374 antennas
Beaconing – No

AT&T Fan Experience board with single message

AT&T Fan Experience board with single message

Everything is bigger in Texas – including connectivity. AT&T Stadium features 1,525 Wi-Fi access points and 1,374 DAS antennas. That’s enough cellular capacity to service the small suburb of McKinney, Texas. While watching Tony Romo target Dez Bryant, Cowboys fans will notice a new 130-foot LED display along the east platform. The AT&T Fan Experience board features 40 robotic panels that work in combination with other stadium displays to entertain fans all game along. And don’t forget the big TV hanging in the middle of the place!

New York Giants
MetLife Stadium
Seating Capacity: 82,500
Wi-Fi – Yes, 850 access points
DAS – Yes, over 600 antennas
Beaconing – No

The Super Bowl champions just three years ago, it appears their bunk mates’ play is rubbing off on the Giants. Like the cross-town Jets, the G-Men missed the playoffs for the second straight season last year. If it’s any consolation, the Giants still share one sports top venues in MetLife Stadium. AT&T and Verizon gave enough love and attention the stadium last year as host of Super Bowl XLVII. Over 600 DAS antennas, 850 Wi-Fi access points, Cisco StadiumVision with over 2,100 HD TVs around the concourse – that’s a recipe for a good time at a game, at least from a connectivity standpoint.

Philadelphia Eagles
Lincoln Financial Field
Seating Capacity: 69,176
Wi-Fi – Yes, 600+ access points
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – No

Lincoln Financial Field is one of the “greenest” stadiums in all of professional sports. And that’s not just because of the Eagles’ colors. All (100 percent) of the Eagles operations are powered by the sun and the wind. The stadium’s connectivity is something fans can get behind too. With over 600 Wi-Fi access points and a group of Extreme Networks’ “Wi-Fi coaches”, the Eagles are doing everything they can to make sure fans are connected at games.

Washington Redskins
FedEx Field
Seating Capacity: 85,000
Wi-Fi – Limited / club level only
DAS-Yes
Beaconing – No

A new coach, name controversy, and a $27 million dollar renovation underway at FedEx Field. It’s been an offseason full of distractions in the nation’s capital. The good news: The team just signed a deal with supplier Huawei to put Wi-Fi in the stadium, first in the club seats and then (hopefully) next year in the full seating bowl.

Stadium Tech Report: With advanced wireless network and app, Baylor brings ‘NFL Experience’ to McLane Stadium

McLane Stadium, Baylor University. Credit all photos: Baylor University

McLane Stadium, Baylor University. (click on any photo for larger image) Credit all photos: Baylor University

Just a few years ago, the Baylor University football program wasn’t a topic of national conversation. But now after a Heisman trophy, a Big 12 championship and perennial top rankings, Baylor is doing its best to stay at the front of the college football pack — and that effort extends to its new stadium, where Baylor has put in place a wireless network and a feature-filled app designed to bring an “NFL experience” to the Waco, Texas campus.

Now in its first season at the brand-new McLane Stadium, Baylor is already delivering an in-stadium fan technology experience that, like the team itself, ranks highly in the nation. Thanks to a Wi-Fi deployment from Extreme Networks, a DAS from AT&T and a new stadium app from sports-app leader YinzCam, Baylor is able to bring high-quality wireless connectivity to all parts of the 45,140-seat facility, along with advanced app features like live and on-demand streaming action video, as well as seating and parking maps for the new facility.

Like the recently opened Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Baylor had an advantage with McLane Stadium in being able to make technology part of the original design, instead of having to retrofit it in later. “It’s an amazing opportunity to have a new stadium and be able to plan for technology from the bottom up,” said Pattie Orr, Baylor’s vice president for information technology and Dean of university libraries, in a recent phone interview. “It sure is nice to have technology in mind from the beginning.”

The house that RG3 built

McLane Stadium - Opening Game Day vs SMU

McLane Stadium – Opening Game Day vs SMU

But just like the Baylor team, the plan for the new stadium and its technology underpinnings had to come together quickly. Even late in the 2011 season, when then-Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was just starting to turn heads with his on-field heroics, the idea of building a new football facility on campus hadn’t yet been formally approved. In 2011, Baylor still played games in Floyd Casey Stadium, a 50,000-seat facility that opened in 1950, located about four miles from campus.

And then, RG3 happened. As many people associated with Baylor will tell you, when the Bears and Griffin quickly vaulted into the national consciousness — especially after a dramatic RG3-led win over Oklahoma and his subsequent winning of the Heisman trophy — the push for a new stadium quickly gathered steam. (For more background, read this excellent history of the stadium’s origin from the Waco Tribune-Herald.)

“Two years ago we still weren’t sure the stadium was coming,” said Bob Hartland, associate vice president for IT infrastructure, who also participated in the phone interview. “Then there was the Heisman trophy, and everything started becoming a reality.”

After the university gave its formal approval in July of 2012, planning for the $266-million facility could begin — with Orr and Hartland’s tech team having to employ a bit of crystal-ball thinking.

“We knew we needed to deliver for mobile devices,” said Hartland. “The hard thing was trying to predict what was going to happen 2 years out [when the stadium would open].”

Pattie Orr, VP of IT for Baylor

Pattie Orr, VP of IT for Baylor

Bringing an ‘NFL experience’ to Waco

And even though Baylor is private and smaller than its Big 12 conference competitors, the IT team made no small plans. “We wanted an NFL experience,” Orr said. To her, that meant an interactive mobile app that delivered live video to each and every seat.

“The best thing we could do was be forward looking,” said Orr. “What we pictured was, ‘could we have it in our hands?’ In the stadiums of the past, fans loved the big screens, and they still do. But there’s nothing like having it right in the palm of your hand.”

Orr said the Baylor IT team visited some existing stadiums with advanced networks, like AT&T Stadium and Gillette Stadium, as part of a technology vetting process. Eventually the Baylor IT department whittled the Wi-Fi selection down to three different approaches — one that included under-the-seat antennas, one that proposed an under-the-concrete solution, and one that relied mainly on overhead APs. That final one, from Wi-Fi provider Extreme Networks, became the winning bid, in part because the Baylor team liked its less-intrusive technology.

If you look closely under the overhangs, you can see Wi-Fi APs

If you look closely under the overhangs, you can see Wi-Fi APs

“Overhead [APs] are just less intrusive, operationally,” said Hartland, noting the need to drill holes in concrete and do special cleaning or weather-hardening for under-the-seat APs. If you look at McLane, you can see multiple overhang areas around the entire seating bowl, which facilitates overhead AP placements. According to news reports, the Extreme Wi-Fi deployment has 330 APs.

Baylor’s Orr also liked the Extreme Purview Wi-Fi analytics software, which provides detailed views of network usage.

“Analytics provide what you need to know,” Orr said. “If you’re in the dark on the fan experience, and don’t know which apps are being used, how can you tune it or make it better?”

On the DAS side, Baylor went with AT&T as the neutral host, though AT&T already has signed up main competitor Verizon Wireless as a client, meaning that the two largest providers of cellular service have enhanced coverage at McLane Stadium through the AT&T DAS, which reportedly has 486 antennas.

“Our goal was a high-density solution, for both cellular and Wi-Fi,” Orr said.

Solving for the standing-on-the-seat problem

Wi-Fi "coach" helps out at McLane Stadium.

Wi-Fi “coach” helps out at McLane Stadium.

While the network has been an early success — Orr said Baylor is already seeing Wi-Fi take rates as high as 33 percent of all attendees at games so far this season — there have also been a few interesting fixes that have been necessary, including re-tuning Wi-Fi APs to get around the interference quirk of students standing on their seats.

Call it technology meeting tradition, with tradition winning: A Baylor tradition to have underclass students standing for the whole game turned into students standing on top of seats at their new section in McLane Stadium — a shift that led to unexpected interference with the original Wi-Fi antenna placements. (One of the quirks of Wi-Fi networks is that the water inside human bodies is a very effective blocker of Wi-Fi signals.)

“We had not anticipated the students standing on seats, and that extra 20 inches really made a difference,” Hartland said. According to another story in the local paper, large band instruments also blocked Wi-Fi signals. Hartland said that since the original problems the IT team and Extreme have developed work-arounds and new antenna placements to fix the issue.

“It’s pretty fantastic that our students are so excited,” said Orr of the standing-interference issue. “You don’t see things like that much at the NFL level.”

Live video and app ‘coaches’

On the app side, Baylor went with YinzCam, a company with numerous stadium apps under its belt for all the top U.S. professional leagues. YinzCam, like Extreme, is also a partner with the NFL, giving YinzCam an edge in winning NFL stadium deployments.

Like other stadium apps, the Baylor In-Game app from YinzCam features multiple camera-angle choices for replays and live streaming video, as well as a host of stats and other team information. Important to Baylor and its new stadium are maps that help direct fans to parking areas, as well as to specialty concession stands in a facility that is new to everyone this season.

Using the app at McLane Stadium

Using the app at McLane Stadium

“We have some well-known smoked onion rings [at the stadium] and the app can help fans find which stands are selling them and how to get there,” Orr said. The parking feature on the app, she said, can send text directions to fans. Also special to Baylor is a “brick finder,” an app that lets fans who participated in a stadium fundraiser find where the brick with their name on it is.

One more NFL-like feature with a collegiate twist is Baylor’s embrace of the Extreme “Wi-Fi coaches” program, which has network-knowledgeable staff members walking around stadiums in highly visible gear offering hands-on help with connectivity and stadium app use. While Extreme has used the coaches program at pro venues like New England and Philadelphia, at Baylor Orr took advantage of in-house “talent,” using students in the MIS program as roaming “coaches,” giving them some real-world experience at network troubleshooting and customer service.

“We put them [the student coaches] in bright vests and have them stationed near concession stands, to offer a friendly face,” Orr said. “They’re terrific, and they give us real-time feedback.”

Orr said Baylor also has a journalism department student intern leading the technology team’s social media effort, which encourages fans to tweet out problems or questions they might have.

“With my gray hair I’m not too good on social media, but one thing I learned is that we need to embrace it,” said Orr. Hartland said that YinzCam reps told Baylor they “just need to get out there” on social media to support the app, and he reports pleasant surprises when the IT team tweets back.

“On social media, [fans] don’t expect to be contacted,” Hartland said. “They really appreciate it when we get back to them.”

Stadium Tech Report: Wi-Fi + advanced stadium app helps Philadelphia Eagles ‘Linc’ with fans

Wi-Fi gear on the exterior of Lincoln Financial Field. Credit all photos: Philadelphia Eagles

Wi-Fi gear on the exterior of Lincoln Financial Field. Credit all photos: Philadelphia Eagles

With victories in their first three games, the Philadelphia Eagles are off to a fast start this NFL season. And from a networking standpoint, Eagles fans are keeping pace, with Wi-Fi connections at Lincoln Financial Field already surpassing last year’s totals.

Now in the second season of having full-stadium Wi-Fi available for fans, the Eagles’ technology team is pushing the needle forward, much like the high-powered offense head coach Chip Kelly runs on the field. An already advanced stadium app will soon get even more video features, including instant replay, to further enhance the game experience for the 69,176 fans who fill the “Linc” on home-game Sundays.

According to Anne Gordon, the Eagles’ senior vice president for media and communications, there were more than 21,000 fans using the in-stadium Wi-Fi network at the team’s Sept. 7 opening game, a total that surpasssed the 19,671 users on the network at the Eagles’ final game last season, a 26-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints in a wild card game on Jan. 4, 2014.

Anne Gordon, SVP Media and Communications, Philadelphia Eagles

Anne Gordon, SVP Media and Communications, Philadelphia Eagles

Along with the growth in user numbers is an even greater jump in the amount of data being used; according to Gordon, the Eagles’ Extreme Networks-powered Wi-Fi network carried 946 Gigabytes of data in the Sept. 7 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, up from around 400 GB used during the playoff game in January. Unlike some other stadiums with Wi-Fi networks, Gordon said that the Linc network regularly sees fans download more data than they upload — a reflection of the team’s strategy to provide a wide range of custom content for fans to help improve the game-day experience.

“We want to help them become better fans, and improve their enjoyment of the game,” said Gordon in a recent phone interview. “That was our vision from the beginning.”

But to get to that vision, the Eagles first had to give fans a way to get the content. That meant using some of the $125 million in recent renovation fees to build out the stadium-wide Wi-Fi network, which Gordon said eliminated past connectivity headaches for Philadelphia fans.

Build it, and show them how to use it

Screen shot of Eagles' stadium app

Screen shot of Eagles’ stadium app

“Prior to the 2013 season, there were real issues trying to connect mobile devices in the stadium,” Gordon said. “You might get a signal, but then walk 20 steps and lose it. When we talked to fans, improving the wireless network [in the stadium] was high on their list.”

Working with partner Extreme Networks, which now runs Wi-Fi networks in four other NFL stadiums, the Eagles had stadium-wide coverage ready to go before the 2013 season kicked off. But unlike some venues, which do little to promote their in-stadium networks, the Eagles and Extreme brought some more NFL flavor to their wireless experience in the form of “Wi-Fi coaches,” network-savvy people who roamed the stands in readily identifiable clothing, offering personal assistance to fans trying to connect.

“We put notes in the cup holders the first few games of last season, and then had the coaches with jackets that said ‘ask me’ on them,” Gordon said. That little bit of assistance, she said, spreads quickly.

“If you connect one person, that fan shows six more people in the row [how to connect],” Gordon said. “Our fans took to the network immediately.”

And just in case fans need a refresher, the team’s website has perhaps the league’s best help pages, with simple screen shots showing how to install, open and use the most popular features on the team app.

Out front with app features

As we found out in our recent report on NFL stadium technology deployments, there are many teams with stadium Wi-Fi networks, but the level of application and content delivery varies from team to team. With a feature lineup that includes in-stadium access to the NFL’s popular RedZone channel alongside a live feed from the stadium’s large video boards, the Eagles’ app was clearly among the league leaders when it launched last year. And soon, Gordon said the Eagles will add more live camera views and replay choices to the menu, developments made possible in part by the team’s close relationship with app designer YinzCam Inc.

“We have a unique relationship with YinzCam, and work hand in hand with them [on new developments],” Gordon said. “We’re blessed in that we get a lot of things in our app first.” The Pittsburgh-based YinzCam, which has designed team and stadium apps for a long list of sports-team customers, is a preferred team-app partner of the NFL, which was an early investor in the company.

Can you find the Wi-Fi access point?

Can you find the Wi-Fi access point?

With a long history of full houses, Gordon said the team doesn’t need to use its network or app strategy to try to put people in seats.

“We are continuously sold out, so thankfully we don’t have to sell tickets [with the app],” said Gordon, noting that some fans have had season tickets in their families for several generations. That fact allows the Eagles’ tech team to make their digital strategy “100 percent about improving the game experience,” Gordon said. “We’re giving them a reason to download and consume.”

Not possible without the network

With more than 700,000 downloads of the stadium app so far, it appears as if the Eagles have a winning digital strategy to match the team’s recent on-field successes. Now the biggest challenge may be finding enough Internet bandwidth to keep the fans supplied with the in-game content.

“We are definitely bumping up against our [bandwidth] pipe threshold,” Gordon said. So far, it looks like the campaign to use content to improve the experience at the Linc is working — along with the network that links it all.

“If the [Wi-Fi] network doesn’t work, people get frustrated and don’t use the app,” Gordon said. “The network is what had to happen to make this vision possible.”

Philadelphia Eagles will test CrowdOptic’s Google Glass tech at Lincoln Financial Field

Indiana Pacers cheerleaders wearing Google Glass. Credit: Indiana Pacers.

Indiana Pacers cheerleaders wearing Google Glass. Credit: Indiana Pacers.

After successfully convincing several NBA teams to use its Google Glass infrastructure technology, San Francisco startup CrowdOptic has scored an NFL deal, with the Philadelphia Eagles agreeing to test the company’s wearable-device apps at their home stadium, Lincoln Financial Field.

According to a press release out today, CrowdOptic will work with the Eagles’ infrastructure provider, Extreme Networks, which brought high-quality Wi-Fi to the stadium last year.

So far, the CrowdOptic technology has been used by the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic to provide Google Glass views to stadium jumbotrons. While having such an intimate, new point of view is interesting, CrowdOptic’s technology actually goes much deeper than simple broadcast enhancement; it can also provide a “heat map” of what an aggregate of Google Glass wearers are looking at, a feature that has many possible future applications. However, it’s unclear how stadiums and arenas might eventually regulate or administer Google Glass wearing by fans, and whether or not fans will ever be able to “broadcast” their own Google Glass video views.

“We are looking forward to testing this technology and finding ways to incorporate it into our gameday presentation,” said Brian Papson, Eagles Vice President of Marketing, in a prepared statement. “Our goal is always to provide our fans with unique and behind-the-scenes perspectives through a variety of different sources and we’re excited about the potential of using Google Glass technology through CrowdOptic.”

Extreme Networks, NFL announce deal for Wi-Fi analytics

Extreme Networks and the NFL today announced a deal that makes Extreme the league’s official provider of Wi-Fi analytics, a non-binding agreement that simply makes Extreme’s diagnostics technology available to teams with Wi-Fi networks in their stadiums.

Extreme will also be the official provider of Wi-Fi analytics for the upcoming Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, one of four NFL facilities currently using Extreme’s analytics technology. Two of those stadiums, the New England Patriots’ Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, use Extreme equipment for their entire Wi-Fi installation.

While the deal does not mean that the NFL will be paying for any team to install full Wi-Fi networks using Extreme technology and equipment, it does give Extreme a bit of a leg up and some league-approved exposure as teams continue to look for suppliers to help them build out their internal wireless infrastructures. Wi-Fi analytics technology, typically housed in back-end networking gear, helps provide real-time looks into network performance, along with detailed statistics about how customers are using the networks, from what types of content they are uploading or downloading, to how long they are staying engaged. Operators can use such performance statistics to fine-tune networks as well as to figure out strategies for providing compelling, engaging content and a better overall fan experience with wireless.

“Enhancing the fan experience is one the NFL’s top priorities and the decision to team up with Extreme for Wi-Fi analytics is a great step forward in achieving our goals,” said NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle, in a prepared statement. “We were impressed with Extreme’s implementations with the Patriots and the Eagles and we believe this agreement will help our clubs deliver on the high standards we have put in place to give our fans the type of experience they deserve.”

In addition to its own deployments for the Eagles and Patriots, Extreme is also providing Wi-Fi analytics at MetLife Stadium and at Ford Field in Detroit, even though the overall Wi-Fi infrastructure at those fields uses equipment from different providers. John Brams, director of sports and entertainment at Extreme, said analytics provide a key component of stadium networks, giving operators valuable insight into performance metrics and into how and what users are using the network do to.

“When you ask questions like how do you measure the return on investment for the network, to answer those questions you need the stats,” Brams said in a phone interview. “One of the biggest things teams can leverage is visibility into their environment.”