Chargers, Mobilitie pump up the DAS at StubHub Center

While the new LA stadium is being built, the soccer-specific StubHub Center is the home to the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers. Credit all photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Mention StubHub Center to your average sports fan in southern California and they’ll likely assume you’re talking about soccer’s LA Galaxy or the Los Angeles Chargers, the recently relocated NFL franchise subletting space while its permanent stadium gets built.

But StubHub Center, built on the campus of California State University/Dominguez Hills, also includes a velodrome, an 8,000-seat tennis stadium (with several adjacent courts), and an outdoor track and field facility. Throw in the far-flung parking lots and it adds up to 125 acres that all need wireless connectivity.

With such wide spaces to cover, StubHub management opted not to spend on fan-facing Wi-Fi and instead focused on distributed antenna system (DAS) technology to keep fans and tailgaters connected. Katie Pandolfo, StubHub’s general manager, looked to the major cellular carriers to invest in and support the connectivity needs of Galaxy and Chargers fans, and other eventgoers at the open-air StubHub.

Carriers help bear the cost of connectivity

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Katie Pandolfo, StubHub’s general manager

“With our DAS-only approach, the investment is 100 percent on the carriers and doesn’t cost us anything,” Pandolfo told Mobile Sports Report. While they got a few complaints about no public Wi-Fi during events in 2017, when the 29-zone DAS system was activated, fans quickly acclimated and now use bandwidth from Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon on the shared network. AT&T isn’t part of the DAS system, but has operated a macro site at StubHub for years, according to Pandolfo.

Mobilitie helped build StubHub’s DAS system and offered its engineering expertise; the turnkey provider also manages the system. The DAS-only approach is common in southern California; in addition to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the Honda Center in Anaheim and Viejas Arena (under construction) at San Diego State University are also DAS-only venues with no fan-facing Wi-Fi.

StubHub Center, located in Carson, Calif., is 17 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, and upwind from a nearby Goodyear blimp mooring station; gusty coastal winds apparently make this a good training ground for new blimp pilots. The 27,000-seat StubHub originally opened in 2003 as Home Depot Center; the new sponsor came onboard in 2013. Anschutz Entertainment Group owns and operates StubHub Center.

StubHub will handle several events when Los Angeles hosts the Summer Olympics in 2028, including bicycle track racing, field hockey, pentathlon, rugby and tennis. Pandolfo expects firmer plans for the venue’s technology needs to emerge sometime in the next couple years. Technology – especially wireless technology – will change a lot in that time, she noted.

As the second soccer-specific stadium built in the U.S., Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy is the venue’s premier tenant. But in 2017 when the National Football League’s Chargers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, the facility underwent some major upgrades. Additions include 1,000 new tip-up seats replacing bleachers on the east side of the stadium; another 330 bleacher seats were added in StubHub’s southeast corner. Luxury suites and the press box were renovated along with two new radio booths; they also added a security office for police and NFL officials, and camera booths at the two 20-yard lines and at the 50-yard line. Locker rooms were enlarged as was the press conference room.

DAS antennas look down from atop a wall

And tempting as it may be to lump all fans of any sport into a single heap, Pandolfo said Galaxy fans and Chargers fans behave very differently at StubHub Center. Chargers fans like to get up and walk around, visit concessions and take advantage of the venue’s amenities during the game. Not so for Galaxy fans, who tend to stay seated and don’t want to miss any of the action, she explained.

California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control also just changed its rules and will now allow beer sales up and down the aisles of stadiums like StubHub Center. Beer hawking, she noted, didn’t used to be digital and required fans to pay cash. “Now it’s a quicker transaction that improves the fan experience,” using mobile pay systems or credit cards, Pandolfo said.

DAS upgrades mean faster speeds

In the meantime, Mobilitie continues to optimize StubHub’s DAS system; based on bandwidth speed tests conducted by Mobile Sports Report, things are moving in the right direction. MSR tested Verizon DAS connectivity right after the system was installed in August 2017, and a year later during a Chargers’ pre-season game against New Orleans. In 2017, Verizon’s DAS struggled in single-digit Mbps uploads and downloads; quite often, the throughput was even less.

What a difference a year makes. Mobilitie engineers’ fine-tuning has paid off; August 2018 tests show dramatic improvement, with the highest throughputs near the stadium’s northwest concessions area — 111.39 Mbps/12.15 Mbps (download/upload). A year previous, things were a lot more sluggish with 0.95 Mbps/0.04 Mbps speeds recorded in the same area.

Overhangs provide good places for equipment mounts

DAS performance has also improved just inside the gates past the ticket scanners at the bottom of the stairs; in 2017, we clocked only 1.87 Mbps/13.42 Mbps, but more recently throughput had jumped to 87.08 Mbps/21.42 Mbps. The concession area on the east side of the stadium checked in most recently at 76.55 Mbps/6.7 Mbps, another sizeable increase from last year when Verizon DAS throughput was a pokey 0.4 Mbps/0.06 Mbps.

Speeds inside the stadium have also improved year-over-year. Section 230 in the northeast corner of StubHub measured 2.83 Mbps/1.96 Mbps a year ago, but were up to 13.48 Mbps/8.71 Mbps in August 2018. Similarly, the sunny northern end of the stadium above the end zone delivered 0.21 Mbps/0.27 Mbps a year ago, but jumped to a more acceptable 16.44 Mbps/18.27 Mbps. The east side of the stadium is also more robust; a year ago, bandwidth tests yielded 3.1 Mbps/0.01 Mbps, but were up to 8.97 Mbps/1.74 Mbps.

Improvements to the DAS network performance can only help improve the fan experience at StubHub Center. Pandolfo wants fans to be able to do everything faster: Get parked faster, enter the stadium, and take advantage of all the food, drink and merchandise options. “We look at the whole package and then at the network we have to provide to make that happen,” she said. “We’re looking at it from the fan experience but also how to optimize revenue for the building.” It’s the right formula for sporting venues compelled to balance technology requirements against dollars and cents.

Cranes, dust dominate Los Angeles venue sites

Three Los Angeles-areas venues are under construction for soccer, football and the 2028 Summer Olympics.

Workers install turf at the Banc of California Stadium (click on any photo for a larger image)

Between the cranes, earthmovers and swarms of fluorescent vests, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Los Angeles basin for a construction zone. Sporting-wise, there are three construction zones, including a new stadium for a Major League Soccer latest expansion franchise, the venerable Coliseum gets a much needed renovation, and a bling-y NFL stadium starts to emerge from the silt of the Angeles alluvial plain.

Construction or renovation plans for all the venues were underway before the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2028 Summer Games to Los Angeles last fall; all three venues are expected to host Olympic events in a decade.

Banc of California Stadium opening this April

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Let’s take them in the order they’re expected to open. In its inaugural season, Major League Soccer’s newest franchise, Los Angeles Football Club, is moving with speed and efficiency to make sure the Banc of California Stadium is ready for LAFC’s first home game April 29.

The 22,000-seat venue features steep stands (35-degree angles), with no seat more than 135 feet from the playing field. IBM was tapped to handle the stadium’s technology requirements in October 2016; Ruckus supplied the access points for the new stadium, according to Christian Lau, LAFC’s VP of information technology. About 500 APs will blanket the stadium with Wi-Fi; Lau told Mobile Sports Report that number could “possibly trend higher.”

Construction at the LA Coliseum

Right next door (literally) is the Los Angeles Coliseum, where demolition began in January after the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams playoff loss to Atlanta. Located on the campus of the University of Southern California, the Coliseum is home field for both the Rams (at least til 2020… more on that in a second), and the USC Trojan football team. The Coliseum has already hosted opening ceremonies for two Olympiads and is poised to do the honors again.

Coliseum upgrade means fewer seats, more Wi-Fi

In the meantime, construction crews are working 16 hours a day, six days a week, according to Derek Thatcher, IT manager at the Coliseum and an employee of USC, which oversees and administers the venue for Los Angeles County. This is the eighth renovation of the 97-year old venue; in addition to making the bowl ADA-compliant, this latest upgrade will add more aisles and larger seats, reducing capacity from 93,607 to 77,500.

New Wi-Fi is also part of the renovation plan; no word yet on which vendor will supply gear, though Mobilitie donated Aruba APs last year for use in the student section and elsewhere in the bowl.

About half the Coliseum’s $270 million renovation will be done during this year’s football offseason; a new field and refurbished seats will be ready for the Rams and Trojans by late summer. Remaining construction and upgrades will be completed in the 2019 offseason, according to Coliseum officials.

Meanwhile, 9 miles southwest of USC in the LA suburb of Inglewood, the arcs of a bowl for the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park
are taking shape. Construction crews broke ground in late 2016 to transform a 300-acre site into a gleaming new sporting destination. The $2.6 billion complex will be shared by the Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers starting in 2020; LA Stadium is scheduled host the Super Bowl in February 2022.

With a capacity of 70,000 (expandable to 100,000), the stadium’s indoor/outdoor design and a two-sided, 120-yard oculus video display are already generating buzz. Site managers haven’t mentioned any network technology or which vendors they’re considering for wireless and other IT requirements. LA’s Olympic planning committee also reserved the option to use the stadium and the Coliseum for dual-venue opening and closing ceremonies in 2028. Using the Coliseum satisfies the Olympic purists; mixing in LA Stadium would provide the glitzy spectacle global audiences have come to expect from Olympics hosts.

‘Right opportunity’ led Rushton from IBM to LA Chargers job

Jim Rushton

Jim Rushton, who held one of the most high-profile jobs in the sports network business market as leader of the stadium-technology group at IBM, said it was a “once in a lifetime chance” at the “right opportunity” that led him to leave Big Blue to become the new chief revenue officer for the Los Angeles Chargers.

Rushton, who started his new job this week, spoke with Mobile Sports Report last week on the phone after what he described was a “whirlwind” of activity, which ended up with him at one of the top-level business spots for the former San Diego Chargers, who are in the midst of a move up the coast.

“The chance to help rebuild and evolve an NFL franchise in a market like Los Angeles doesn’t come up very often,” said Rushton. “It really was a once in a lifetime career opportunity.”

Part of that opportunity will be to help figure out how to remake the Chargers franchise as part of a joint tenant agreement at the yet-to-be-built new Los Angeles NFL stadium, a venue being built by LA Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Rushton said that fan data and anayltics will me a “massive part” of his new purview, and that as a partner in the stadium operations the Chargers will be part of “joint decisions” on technology matters inside the new venue.

Rushton, who held a similar position with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins before moving to IBM, said his post with the Chargers will have more responsibilities.

On his short but productive IBM tenure — during which IBM came from pretty much nowhere to becoming one of the leaders in the stadium-networking integration space — Rushton said he felt he was leaving the operation improved from its initial inception.

With IBM-led deployments at Texas A&M, Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the forthcoming LA Football Club venue leading the way, Rushton said IBM’s tech-integration business now has a “signficiant [deal] pipeline across the world.”

One of the more interesting features of Rushton’s new job is the fact that the Chargers will play home games the next two seasons at the StubHub Center, a 27,000-seat soccer stadium in Carson, Calif., that will become the NFL’s smallest venue starting this fall. Though it’s not clear whether or not the stadium will improve its technology offerings before the Chargers play, Rushton was excited by the prospect of a scaled-down experience.

“It’s going to be terrific — it’s like having only premium seats, because everything will be lower bowl,” Rushton said.