Technology central to Target Center renovations

The new scoreboard is one of the highlights of the Target Center renovation. Credit: Target Center (click on any photo for a larger image)

For Minneapolis residents who passed by every day, the renovation of the Target Center might have seemed like a mining project, chipping away at a somewhat blank slate until a sparkling gem was revealed.

Now complete, the 2-year, $145 million project to update the 28-year-old downtown venue has brought the 19,356-seat arena to the forefront of advanced fan experiences, with its main tenants, the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Lynx, now able to offer fans amenities like open club spaces, high-density Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity, and a new mobile app as well as a huge new center-hung video scoreboard.

All those features are located inside the arena’s shiny new exterior, which includes a multi-level atrium with glass windows facing the streets, replacing the old concrete walls. According to Ted Johnson, chief strategy officer for the Timberwolves, the renovation “touched every surface,” with new seats, bathrooms and other hard-to-notice items like a real loading dock to make it easier to move equipment (like concert staging) in and out of the arena.

Technology to the forefront

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT issue for Spring 2018, which includes a look at Wi-Fi performance during the Final Four, a recap of wireless performance at Super Bowl 52, a profile of new venue construction in Los Angeles and more! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY right now from our site!

Target Center’s new entryways use lots of glass. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

On top of the physical changes came the technology layer, with obvious improvements including the center scoreboard, which Johnson said is “the largest in the Midwest,” and four new large video boards in each of the stadium’s upper corners. New LED ribbon boards circle the stadium bowl as well, with one lower one and another series of ribbons above higher entryways that create what Johnson calls an “optical illusion” of a second continuous ribbon.

A new fiber-based network backbone was also installed, to support a cellular DAS deployment as well as a new Wi-Fi network designed and deployed by AmpThink, a company extending its mark in Minneapolis after previous Wi-Fi deployments at U.S. Bank Stadium and the Mall of America.

According to AmpThink, the Wi-Fi network inside the Target Center has approximately 400 access points, but since many of those are the newer Cisco 3800 versions with two radios in each AP, there are actually about 550 radios serving the stadium.

During a visit to the arena during a game in November, Mobile Sports Report found solid Wi-Fi speed results in all parts of the venue, including the upper seating areas and the concourses. Walking around the upper concourse by section 240 we got a Wi-Fi speed test of 34.42 Mbps on the download side and 45.20 on the upload; in the same location, a test of the DAS network for a Verizon Wireless client saw speeds of 22.88 Mbps / 22.66 Mbps.

Moving into the upper stands, at the top rows of section 239 we still got Wi-Fi speeds of 33.73 Mbps / 61.56 Mbps; looking up, we could see multiple Gillaroo antennas mounted up in the catwalks, along with the glowing blue lights of the APs.

Lots of light is a hallmark of the new Target Center. Credit: Target Center

Down in the open gathering area near the brewpub (located in the stands behind one of the baskets) we got Wi-Fi marks of 21.26 Mbps / 67.07 Mbps. Then in one of the stadium’s club suites we got a test of 42.27 Mbps / 68.83 Mbps, with all tests taken during game-action times. We did not get any lower-bowl seating area tests, where AmpThink said it has deployed APs under seats.

Linking digital displays and Wi-Fi

In addition to its Wi-Fi design and deployment, AmpThink is also assisting the Timberwolves in using the digital displays to drive fan engagement with the app and the Wi-Fi network. The AmpThink tests, Johnson said, along with the decision to switch to VenueNext for a new app (which supports more fan services than the previous, content-focused team app), are part of a deliberate strategy to build a next-generation “seamless fan experience” that starts long before fans get to the arena.

“We’ve used Flash Seats for some time now — we were one of the first [teams] to disable paper printing [for tickets],” Johnson said. “We had already educated fans to use a mobile device, so we decided to use that advantage as much as we could.”

A big part of the physical renovation, Johnson said, included improvements to the intersections between the arena and downtown Minneapolis’ famed Skyway, the connected maze of in-building public walkways and skybridges that links much of downtown together.

“Right now 12,000 to 15,000 people a day come through our building via the Skyways, and about 66 percent of our fans come into the building through there [the Skyway],” Johnson said. As part of the renovation the Target Center added digital displays to its Skyway territory, and the team is part of a city-wide plan to bring beacon technology to the Skyway system so that a wayfinding app could be used to help visitors, residents and anyone else better find their way around.

New video boards on the concourses relay messages to fans walking by

New report: U.S. Bank Stadium Wi-Fi network is ready for Super Bowl LII

There is nothing like hosting a Super Bowl to give your stadium network the ultimate stress test. But with Super Bowl LII (aka Super Bowl 52) on the near horizon, the Wi-Fi and cellular networks at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis seem more than ready to handle the demand, as we found out on a recent game-day visit. Our full in-depth report on the stadium’s networks is the lead profile in our new STADIUM TECH REPORT, now available for free download from our site!

Inside the report our editorial coverage includes:

— U.S. Bank Stadium Wi-Fi and DAS networks: An in-depth look at the wireless networks that will host crowds at Super Bowl 52 in February, complete with on-site network tests from a game day visit;

— Little Caesars Arena and District Detroit: A first look at the Wi-Fi network inside the new home of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, with analysis of its reach into the surrounding city area;

— Orlando City Stadium profile: A look at the new wireless connectivity in the MLS stadium in Orlando;

— Las Vegas Convention Center: A look at the new DAS and relatively new Wi-Fi networks at the building that hosts major conventions, such as the yearly CES show.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, CommScope, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, American Tower, 5 Bars, Cox Business, and Boingo. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers.

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY TODAY and get up to speed on the latest developments in the stadium networking market!

Verizon: U.S. Bank Stadium DAS already seeing more traffic than Super Bowl 51

A new Verizon DAS antenna handrail enclosure (right) at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (The enclosure lower left is for Wi-Fi). Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The trend of fans continuing to use more and more wireless data at big sporting events shows no sign of slowing down, especially after Verizon Wireless said that it’s already seeing more cellular traffic at Vikings home games this year than it saw at Super Bowl 51.

Verizon, which built the neutral-host distributed antenna system (DAS) for cellular carriers at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, also said it increased the DAS antenna count by 48 percent at the venue this past offseason, in order to better support the expected surge coming at Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4, 2018. At a press event at the stadium today, Verizon said it now has approximately 1,200 DAS antennas of its own at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“We’re very confident” that both the DAS and Verizon’s networks will be more than ready to handle the Super Bowl when it comes to Minneapolis at the end of this current NFL season, said Diana Scudder, executive director for network assurance at Verizon, in a phone interview earlier this week. Though the stadium opened in 2016 with a fully functional DAS, Scudder said Verizon spent the past offseason adding more capacity for its customers with additional DAS antennas in a variety of deployment methods, including antennas in enclosures both under-seat and in handrails, as well as in pole-mounted deployments along standing-room drink railings in both end zone concourses.

It’s selfie time on the drink-rail concourse area, where a DAS antenna looms on a pole behind

Though Scudder declined to say exactly how many DAS antennas there are in the building, with the new “48 percent” additional antennas Verizon said it now has 100 DAS zones throughout the venue, including the seating bowl, concourses, suites, and outdoor DAS coverage surrounding the stadium. But perhaps the most surprising reveal was that in-stadium DAS traffic at Vikings home games this season have already produced single-game numbers that Scudder said were greater than those seen inside the stadium at Super Bowl 51, held Feb. 5 at NRG Stadium in Houston. Pay attention here, because the italicized distinction is important.

Under-seat, handrail and drink-railing DAS

Given Verizon’s historic coyness on numbers, it’s no surprise that Scudder did not provide an exact number for the Vikings in-stadium DAS traffic that she said surpassed Super Bowl 51’s mark. She also didn’t disclose what the in-stadium only DAS number was for Verizon at NRG Stadium. The only reported Verizon number for DAS traffic at Super Bowl 51, 11 terabytes of traffic, includes data not just from the stadium, but also from macro network connections within a 2-mile radius of the stadium on game day, Scudder said. So far, Verizon hasn’t provided a Vikings regular-season game-day measurement for traffic outside the stadium as well. So if it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison yet, if the in-stadium marks are already higher, the bet is that whatever total number Verizon sees at Super Bowl LII, it will be greater than the 11 TB seen at Super Bowl LI.

It’s also not surprising that the DAS installation at U.S. Bank Stadium is already looking like it will surpass NRG Stadium’s marks, simply because with the advantage of greenfield construction, all networks at U.S. Bank Stadium were designed with some of the latest deployment knowledge available. At NRG Stadium, where networks were added well after construction, Verizon deployed DAS antennas under the concrete floors, an easier deployment method but one that typically produces lower throughput than other methods. And for Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Verizon added under-seat DAS antennas in what was believed to be the first such deployment for cellular DAS.

Two DAS antennas hang from a pole above the main concourse

AmpThink, which built the Wi-Fi network in U.S. Bank Stadium relying on handrail-mounted AP enclosures, seems to have played a hand in part of Verizon’s DAS upgrade, as some of the new DAS enclosures seem to mimic the Wi-Fi ones. Scudder did say that Verizon used contractors to assist with the new antenna deployment enclosures and mounts, but did not cite AmpThink by name. The new under-seat DAS deployments and the handrail DAS deployments are Verizon-specific, meaning they are not part of the neutral host DAS that provides service for other cellular carriers.

In addition to overhead DAS antennas mounted pretty much everywhere it would make sense — below overhangs, and even in twin-antenna mounts on poles hanging down over concourse walkways — there are now a series of DAS antennas mounted on poles just above the main-concourse end-zone standing areas, where fans can lean against drink rails while watching the game. In a pregame test on Nov. 19 for a Vikings home game against the Los Angeles Rams, MSR tests saw DAS speeds of 77.35 Mpbs download and 32.40 Mbps upload on one of the end-zone concourse areas.

Even up in the most nosebleed of seats — in U.S. Bank Stadium’s case, section 345, which has seats almost touching the roof in the southwest corner, we got a DAS speedtest on the Verizon network of 60.87 Mbps / 44.22 Mbps, most likely from some antennas we could see mounted just above the seats on ventilation pipes a bit toward the field. And hanging from the middle of U.S. Bank Stadium’s roof are a pair of Matsing Ball antennas, which point down to provide cellular service for media and photographers on the sidelines, as well as for floor seating for concerts and other events.

Demand for bandwidth is ‘insatiable’

According to Scudder, any and all antennas are all needed, both for Vikings home games at the 66,200-seat venue, but also for the Super Bowl, where additional seating will host more fans, media and other attendees for the NFL’s championship game.

“The consumer appetite [for wireless data] is insatiable,” Scudder said, noting that these days Verizon pretty much plans to see double whatever the last Super Bowl saw for each following big game. Verizon’s deployments don’t end at U.S. Bank Stadium’s walls, either. According to Scudder over the past 2 years Verizon engineers have been busy adding capacity all over Minneapolis, including in downtown areas, at the Minneapolis airport, and at the nearby Mall of America.

“We’ve been partnering with the Twin Cities for 2 years now and they are very receptive and want to have the latest technology here,” Scudder said. Scudder also said that all the improvements, in DAS, small cell deployments and macro towers, will remain as permanent solutions, helping keep Minneapolis a Super-connected city even after the big game is over.

DAS antennas hang down from the overhang above a suite area

Even at the highest elevation seats in the venue, DAS coverage is excellent, provided in this case by antennas mounted on the ventilation pipes above (see next photo for close-up)

DAS antennas seen mounted below ventilation pipes


Two ‘Matsing Ball’ antennas hanging from center roof beams (this photo courtesy Verizon)

Under-seat DAS antenna (this photo courtesy Verizon)

Wi-Fi network powers rich data collection at Mall of America

Fans greet One Direction at Mall of America. Credit: Tony Nelson (click on any photo for a larger image)

Fans greet One Direction at Mall of America. Credit: Tony Nelson (click on any photo for a larger image)

If you’re shopping for mobile customer data, why not just go to the mall?

That’s what Minnesota’s Mall of America did, not by finding a service that sells such information, but by investing in a massive and complex Wi-Fi network, designed and deployed by AmpThink using Cisco gear. And the service is free for Mall visitors. While being an attractive guest feature, the service simultaneously provides the Mall with enough data to fill digital warehouses with information about what people do both online and in the real world while on the property.

According to Janette Smrcka, IT director for Mall of America, though the Mall is only at the start of its data analysis program, it is already seeing interesting results that will likely help the Mall better connect with its visitors and, in all likelihood, improve business results for Mall tenants. A recent month-long sampling of customer behavior data gave the Mall a tremendous amount of insight on how activities such as promotions and events affect visitor behavior, information the Mall wouldn’t have had without its Wi-Fi network.

“We’re just at the beginning of being able to use all of this valuable data and translate it into actionable information,” said Smrcka in an interview at Mall of America, located in Bloomington, nine miles south of Minneapolis.

Almost a Super Bowl of data every week

How much data are we talking about? In the world of stadium networks, the most recent Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. set a single-day record with 26 terabytes of wireless data used – 15.9 TB on cellular networks and 10.1 TB on the stadium Wi-Fi. At Mall of America, from the launch of their Wi-Fi network during Thanksgiving weekend last year until May 2016, nearly 320,000 unique Mall visitors connected to the network, using a total of 486 TB of traffic – almost a Super Bowl of data per week.

Wi-Fi AP visible below Mall of America sign. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

Wi-Fi AP visible below Mall of America sign. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

While the Mall might not match the single-day crush of a Super Bowl, the steady stream of visitors (Mall officials estimate that the six million square-foot facility sees an average of 109,000 visitors on weekdays and 160,000 on weekends) produces some staggering numbers. According to a recent public presentation about the network, Mall of America claimed that one month of Wi-Fi usage on its network equaled a full year of Wi-Fi activity on an NBA-sized stadium network.

According to Smrcka, the Mall knew it needed Wi-Fi connectivity as a table stakes amenity, but it was mindful of fitting performance to price, while achieving return on investment justification in the process.

“We knew we needed something but the challenge was the cost,” Smrcka said. “We knew we couldn’t charge for the service.” Smrcka also said the Mall has seen other malls try and fail with initial Wi-Fi deployments due to subpar service, prompting guest disdain.

“We’ve seen some of our peers put Wi-Fi in, and not do it very well, and get lots of complaints,” Smrcka said. “It’s like airport Wi-Fi. Sure it’s there, but just try using it.”

With AmpThink, Mall of America found a partner who knew the need for high-quality deployments. The design and install company has been behind the Wi-Fi networks at several Super Bowls, as well as recent networks built in stadiums like Kyle Field at Texas A&M and US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Wi-Fi 'ball' visible in middle of theme park area. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

Wi-Fi ‘ball’ visible in middle of theme park area. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

However, this massive Wi-Fi network, along with the unique challenges of implementing it at the Mall, also needed the elusive component of return on investment.

Not easy to build inside a mall

On a recent early morning tour of the Mall, AmpThink president Bill Anderson showed Mobile Sports Report some of the challenges inherent to one of the world’s biggest shopping venues. For starters, there was the need for custom enclosures that fit with the facility’s overall aesthetics as well as cutting through double firewalls (the real kind of firewalls, not the software kind) to keep safety codes intact.

To cover one of the Mall’s more unique spaces, the 7-acre theme park in the center of the facility, AmpThink had to design and build enclosures that look like big lollipops. This “Wi-Fi ball on a stick” design fit the park’s design aesthetics while providing coverage in and around the various rides and amusement spaces. AmpThink also figured out how to fit a Wi-Fi AP inside digital sign kiosks, so the kiosks could connect to the network and therefore the Cisco StadiumVision system for digital display management. In many places, the APs included beacons inside, setting up the network for device proximity capabilities.

From an RF perspective, Anderson said one of the toughest challenges was keeping interference to a minimum between APs on different floors of the multi-level mall. Another large challenge was simply the logistics of construction, with separate scheduling needed for the many hundreds of Mall tenants.

The mall's many levels make it a tough place to tune RF. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

The mall’s many levels make it a tough place to tune RF. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

“We own the space above their ceilings, and would need to get in the stores to run cable through,” said Smrcka. Coordinating construction was a challenge at times, like when teenage clerks didn’t relay scheduling messages to their store managers, further complicated by the need to have security officers present to keep an eye on inventory.

Anderson said that AmpThink deployment teams also needed to make sure they cleaned up after putting in APs, as any drywall dust found on store facades could result in complaints from store owners. Despite the extra hurdles, deployment of the network, composed of more than 600 APs, started in July of last year and launched just before Thanksgiving. Then the data started pouring in. Now, what to do with all that information?

Putting students to work

To help figure out how to best use the stream of information coming its way, the Mall conducted a study of its data in a partnership with graduate students at the Carlson Analytics Lab at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. By mapping visitor behavior using Wi-Fi and beacon activity – tracking where shoppers arrived, where they walked and how long they spent in different areas of the Mall – Mall of America and the student researchers were able to uncover interesting stats on things like in-mall promotions, events and store appeal.

Mall kiosk with Wi-Fi inside to drive the Cisco StadiumVision software. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

Mall kiosk with Wi-Fi inside to drive the Cisco StadiumVision software. Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

According to the Mall’s presentation at the recent SEAT Conference in Las Vegas, one analysis showed that if visitors were offered free admission to the amusement park, they actually spent 40 percent of their time at the Mall somewhere other than the amusement park — a sign that free amusement park entry could spur more shopping. The analysis also showed that during events at the Mall – according to the Mall, it hosts more than 400 special events a year – visitors stayed at the Mall on average 1.4 times longer than visitors who did not attend an event. The Mall also found out that 39 percent of event attendees visited the Mall’s food courts, compared to 25 percent of non-event visitors.

During its presentation, the Mall also showed screenshots of interactive “heat maps” showing exactly where visitors entered, where they walked, and how long they stayed. This information was gathered by the Wi-Fi AP beacons, which allowed for accurate device location tracking. With such information at their fingertips, the Mall sees a future where the network helps initiate new features for assisted shopping and custom experiences for visitors without resorting to historic feedback systems like surveys or focus groups.

Data driving the future

“This data is golden when it comes to describing shopper behavior,” said Smrcka, who also talked about the deployment at the SEAT Conference in Las Vegas. Shopper surveys, she said, have proven to sometimes not be reliable, and “who has the time to sit in a focus group for hours?”

How many malls do you know that have a One Direction tribute photo? Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

How many malls do you know that have a One Direction tribute photo? Credit: Paul Kapustka / MSR

This information enhances other Mall guest behavior and experience initiatives. “We already have a social media command team watching geo-located social media posts,” Smrcka said. They also employ a text messaging system, which visitors use to send messages to customized numbers to communicate if a bathroom needs servicing, set a reminder for their parking spot, or to find out where the closest gelato stand is.

And while Mall of America, like other bricks and mortar retailers, competes every day against online shopping, Smrcka said there are plenty of people who still want to see and feel the goods they are purchasing. Mall of America plans to use their Wi-Fi network’s data to make the guest experience even better and study the feasibility of possible future services like personal shopping, valet parking, curbside pickup and home delivery.

Moreover, Smrcka and her team can better segment and target its visitors and their entertainment, dining and shopping needs.

“What we’re able to do [from analytics] is still changing from month to month,” Smrcka said. “But the data really empowers a team like ours.”

US Bank Stadium opens with packed house for soccer game, packed lines for trains

US Bank Stadium during its opening event, Aug. 3. Credit all photos: Pat Coyle, AmpThink (click on any photo for a larger image)

US Bank Stadium during its opening event, Aug. 3. Credit all photos: Pat Coyle, AmpThink (click on any photo for a larger image)

The grand opening event for US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis was futbol, not football, but the friendly between legendary clubs AC Milan and Chelsea still provided a packed house as 64,101 fans filled the Vikings’ new home Wednesday in what local media reports called a generally successful debut.

With any new stadium — and especially with flashy new stadiums like US Bank — there are always unexpected issues that arise when you finally fill the place with ticket buyers. Though we weren’t there, a good amount of reporting from the local paper and scans of social media found generally favorable reviews of the building itself, especially the natural-light atmosphere fostered by the large glass roof (OK, it’s actually an advanced plastic roof).

Among scattered reports of food shortages at concession stands, and foot-traffic issues probably caused by many fans taking just-in-the-door selfies, there were visual confirmations that the Vikings’ plan to have fans use light rail to get to the stadium suffered from some of the issues that plagued Levi’s Stadium early on: Not enough trains or cars on trains to handle the big post-game crush.

Apparently plans we heard to offer overflow bus service haven’t yet materialized, but now the stadium operators have some real data to use to prepare for the first Vikings game, an Aug. 28 preseason tilt, followed on Sept. 18 with the first regular-season game at US Bank Stadium, versus the Vikings’ main rivals, the Green Bay Packers.

The new app built for US Bank Stadium by VenueNext was available for download, but it didn’t include any ability for fans to order food from the app either for express pickup or in-seat delivery during Wednesday’s game. According to VenueNext, express pickup and in-seat delivery services will start during the Vikings preseason games, starting first in small select areas and later expanding to more parts of the stadium.

We also didn’t get any speed tests of the Wi-Fi or cellular networks in the building, so if you were there, let us know how the wireless worked (or didn’t). We would like to thank Pat Coyle from AmpThink for the on-the-scene photos below.

Giant video board shows the packed house

Giant video board shows the packed house

Can you spot the railing-mounted Wi-Fi APs?

Can you spot the railing-mounted Wi-Fi APs?

Good view of the glass (OK, advanced plastic) roof

Good view of the glass (OK, advanced plastic) roof

VenueNext's 'Kezar' scanners in operation at US Bank Stadium

VenueNext’s ‘Kezar’ scanners in operation at US Bank Stadium

Mobile device use was heavy as expected

Mobile device use was heavy as expected

How many selfies? Answer: A lot

How many selfies? Answer: A lot

Commentary: Venues need to think of connectivity beyond the stadium walls

MSR editor Paul Kapustka via selfie from the field-level suites at US Bank Stadium.

MSR editor Paul Kapustka via selfie from the field-level suites at US Bank Stadium.

Last month, if you wanted a seat inside US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis you needed a getup like the one I’m wearing in the picture – including what you can’t see, the steel-toed shoes and the gloves that kept me from scratching any of the already-finished surfaces. Almost ready to open its doors, I can tell you that US Bank Stadium is a beauty, and that we’ll have a full report soon. For now enjoy the “sneak peek” photo essay we posted earlier.

Outside the architecturally angled walls of the stadium, what really impressed me during a recent quick visit to Minneapolis was how well the stadium operators are working with entities like the city, state and other large public gathering places, to ensure that the large streams of humanity traveling to and from the 67,000-seat facility have the best experience possible, both before and after events.

Like most travelers, my experience with Minneapolis’ integrated infrastructures started at the airport, where I took the simple and easy to understand light rail directly into downtown. I noticed that the train already stops directly at one of the US Bank Stadium doors, unlike some other stadiums where mass transit connections are a sometimes-lengthy walk away. That the stadium already has its own stop even before it opens shows that at the very least, people were thinking and talking even before the concrete was poured.

Light rail stop at the front door of US Bank Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Light rail stop at the front door of US Bank Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Mass transit a priority for US Bank Stadium

Editor’s note: This editorial is from our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Q2 issue which contains a feature story on Wi-Fi analytics, and a sneak peek of the Minnesota Vikings’ new US Bank Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY today!
With no large parking lots right next to the stadium and only some scattered lots (as far as I could tell) downtown, the light rail is clearly going to be an integral part of getting fans to and from the venue, both for regular-season Minnesota Vikings games as well as for Super Bowl 52 a couple Februarys from now. To make that trip easier, the light rail also extends past the airport to the Mall of America, a key link in the integrated civic infrastructure.

Why is the mall a part of this? Mainly because it is also a transit center (it has a large space where buses, trains and car parking are all together) and because it offers free parking – meaning that fans can simply park at the mall and spend a couple bucks taking the half-hour train to US Bank Stadium (or also to Target Field, which is just a few stops farther through downtown). Courtesy of a recent deployment there is now high-quality Wi-Fi in the mall itself, and at many places in Minnesota proper there is free civic Wi-Fi. There are also plans afoot to bring Wi-Fi to the light rail trains themselves. While it might not seem like much, the idea of being able to be highly connected all the way from parking at the mall to your seat in the stadium is a fan’s dream come true, enabling all the connectivity wants or needs that can happen during a game or event day.

Having witnessed some other stadiums opening without much coordination, it’s impressive and great to hear that the Vikings and Minneapolis are already planning for things like overcrowded trains after games (since more people leave at the same time than arrive at the same time), with plans to close off one of the stadium’s bordering streets and to have dozens of buses on hand to handle the overflow. There’s also plans to have stadium TVs show mass transit schedules as fans depart, and also options to remain downtown for post-game eating or celebrations.

VTA line following Levi's Stadium hockey game in 2015.

VTA line following Levi’s Stadium hockey game in 2015.

How else are the Vikings, the city and the state planning to work together? In our interviews we heard about plans to use real-time traffic mapping to close off crowded exits and to direct fans to faster paths to and from the stadium, and to perhaps be able to communicate such directions to fans via the team’s new mobile app. While it all still needs to be done in real time on a real game day, just the thinking about the fact that a “game day” doesn’t start or stop at the stadium premises is a refreshing one, especially for a venue that will host a Super Bowl in just over a year and a half.

While we’ve heard of other, similar plans to extend connectivity beyond the stadium walls – here we are thinking of the downtown plan around Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and new plans for “fan plazas” outside such venues as Wrigley Field and Lambeau Field – the Vikings seem to have looked even farther out, to try to ensure that the connected fan experience goes as far as it possibly can. Again, the proof will be in the execution, but like the view from outside US Bank Stadium, the ideas hatching in Minnesota look pretty good.