Friday links: NASCAR ready to roll, MLS considers Orlando-based tourney

In bits and pieces, sports across the country is trying to come back, mostly without any fans in attendance. At the very least, fans will at least have something to watch on TV besides a recap of Michael Jordan’s last title run.

NASCAR returns at Darlington, with no fans in attendance: This Sunday one of the bigger sports will return as NASCAR stages a race in Darlington, S.C. This ESPN post has a good breakdown of all the rules in place to keep drivers and staff safe from the coronavirus. What will be interesting will be to see how the announcers do, calling the race remotely. Here is an FAQ about the return to racing from the NASCAR web site.

MLS considering full-league tournament in Orlando: It sounds like a very strange summer vacation, but according to this Washington Post report, Major League Soccer is considering a plan to bring all 26 teams to Walt Disney World in Orlando for a full-league tournament. No official comments yet but it sounds like a fairly ambitious quarantine plan.

Golf gets going with a mini-tour event: With professional golf planning to hold events soon without fans, a mini-tour event in Arizona gave a glimpse of what it might look like to have players compete under safety conditions, which were followed by some but not all in this great report from Golf.com’s Alan Shipnuck from earlier this week. Now all we need is a self-sanitizing bunker rake and pin pole.

What will happen if and when the NFL season starts up? A couple interesting takes on what might happen (or not happen) if and when the NFL starts its season. In Carolina, the owner doesn’t see fans packing the venues at the start. And a good Washington Post piece about the challenges of coping with different situations in different states.

NCAA cancels March Madness; MLB, NHL, MLS susupend schedules

In another somewhat inevitable decision, the NCAA on Thursday announced it was canceling the men’s and women’s Division I basketball tournaments, “as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships.” After the NBA suspended its season Wednesday night and most conferences canceled their year-end tournaments in progress, it was quickly apparent that the NCAA’s Wednesday decision to hold games without fans was not going to be a good enough measure given the seriousness of the growing coronavirus pandemic.

Also on Thursday all of the other top professional sports with active schedules announced postponements to games, including Major League Baseball’s decision to postpone opening day by at least two weeks and to cancel spring training; the NHL’s decision to postpone its current season; and Major League Soccer’s decision to suspend its season for 30 days.

Statement tweets below.

Sharks, Earthquakes may see games without fans due to coronavirus event ban

UPDATE, 3/11/20: Sharks say upcoming games will be played without fans.

SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Credit: SanJoseSharks.com.

There’s no official word yet from the teams, but the San Jose Sharks and the San Jose Earthquakes could be among the first U.S. sports teams to have games take place without fans due to a ban on large events instituted by Santa Clara County in its efforts to fight the coronavirus.

The ban, which takes effect Wednesday in the county at the south end of the San Francisco Bay, will ban gatherings of more than 1,000 people for three weeks to help prevent the spread of the disease. It follows Santa Clara County’s first reported death from coronavirus.

The NHL’s Sharks, who are scheduled to play at home at the SAP Center against the Montreal Canadiens on March 19, have two other games that could be affected, a game against Boston on March 21 and a game against Arizona on March 29. According to a page on the Sharks website that the team says will be constantly updated, the team made the following statement Monday night:

SAP Center at San Jose is aware of the County of Santa Clara’s Public Health Department order to prohibit public and private mass gatherings through the end of March. We will adhere to the mandated guidelines. No events are scheduled at SAP Center until Tues., March 17. We will be reviewing each scheduled event due to take place for the rest of the month and provide an update in the coming days. We appreciate the understanding and patience of our fans, guests and partners during this unprecedented time.

Major League Soccer’s Earthquakes, who have a home game at Earthquakes Stadium scheduled for March 21, have not yet posted any information regarding the event ban. Prior to last weekend’s home game, the Earthquakes did take precautionary measures to limit any chances of the disease spreading but still hosted a game against Minnesota.

The BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament was the first large U.S. sports event to be canceled due to coronavirus concerns. In Europe, soccer games have taken place in front of empty stands because of coronavirus concerns, a practice also employed by other countries hit hard by the disease.

UPDATE: The Earthquakes tweeted that there will be more information soon:

Houston’s BBVA Stadium gets Wi-Fi 6 network from Extreme

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP enclosure at BBVA Stadium in Houston. Credit all photos: Extreme Networks (click on any picture for a larger image)

Chalk up another venue going with the new Wi-Fi 6 standard for its new network deployment: BBVA Stadium in Houston, home of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo and the National Women’s Soccer League’s Houston Dash, now has a new Wi-Fi network using gear from Extreme Networks, according to a release from Extreme.

The 282-AP deployment uses a mix of overhead APs for seating areas with overhangs, and under-seat enclosures for open-bowl seats. The enclosures in the photos provided to us are some of Extreme’s new designs specifically built for stadium deployment, with (especially for the under-seat enclosures) fan-friendly angles and easy access to get to the equipment inside. (Extreme showed some of the new enclosures to MSR during a visit at the SEAT Conference this summer.)

Any readers out there been to the 22,000-seat BBVA Stadium recently, give us a holler or send us some speed test results. More photos of the deployment below.

An overhead AP covers the top seating area


An under-seat enclosure and its conduit


Note the angled pitch of the enclosure

More APs up top taking advantage of the overhang location

A good look at the overall architecture of BBVA Stadium

Small company delivers big Wi-Fi for Minnesota United at Allianz Field

The standing section at Allianz Field for the opening game this spring. Credit: Minnesota United (click on any picture for a larger image)

Fans at the new Allianz Field in St. Paul are the beneficiaries of a big project done by a small company to bring solid fan-facing Wi-Fi to the new 19,400-seat home arena for the Minnesota United FC MLS team.

The striking new $250 million facility, opened in April just off the highway that connects Minneapolis to St. Paul, is a looker from first sight, especially at night if the multi-colored lights in its cursive outside shell are lit. Inside, the clean sight lines and close-to-the-pitch seating that seems a hallmark of every new soccer-specific facility are accompanied by something that’s not as easy to detect: A solid fan-facing Wi-Fi network with approximately 480 Cisco access points, in a professional deployment that wouldn’t seem out of place at any larger facility, like an NFL stadium.

Actually, the Wi-Fi network inside Allianz Field is somewhat more conspicuous than many other deployments, mainly because instead of hiding or camouflaging the APs, most have very visible branding, letting visitors know that the Wi-Fi is “powered by” Atomic Data.

Who is Atomic Data? Though perhaps better known for their data center and enterprise business managed-services prowess, the 215-person Minneapolis-based firm also has a developing track record in stadium technology deployments, including a role as part of the IT support team for the launch of U.S. Bank Stadium two years ago. In what is undeniably a unique arrangement, Atomic Data paid for and owns the network infrastructure at Allianz Field, providing fan-facing Wi-Fi as well as back-of-house connectivity as a managed service to the team as well as to internal venue vendors like concessionaires.

LOCAL PARTNER EARNS TEAM’S TRUST

Editor’s note: This report is from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, an in-depth look at successful deployments of stadium technology. Included with this report is a profile of the new Wi-Fi network at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, and an in-depth research report on the new Wi-Fi 6 standard! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

While most new stadium builds often look for network and technology firms with a bigger name or longer history, Atomic Data was well known to the Minnesota team, having been a sponsor even before the club moved up to MLS.

One of the Cisco Wi-Fi APs installed by Atomic Data inside the new Allianz Field in Minneapolis. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Chris Wright, CEO of the MNUFC, credited a longtime relationship with Atomic CEO Jim Wolford, a company Wright had known from his days with the NBA Timberwolves and WNBA’s Lynx.

“They [Atomic Data] are a very strong local company and we knew of their work, including at U.S. Bank Stadium,” Wright said. “Jim has also been a huge advocate of the [soccer] club, even before they moved to MLS. Their history is solid, and they [Atomic Data] have an incredible reputation.”

As the team prepared to move into its under-construction home, Wright said that originally having a high-definition wireless network wasn’t in the cards.

“The original plan was not to have a robust Wi-Fi network,” Wright said, citing overall budget concerns as part of the issue. But when he was brought in as CEO he was looking for a way to change the direction and have a more digital-focused fan experience – and he said by increasing Atomic Data’s partnership, the company and the team found a way to make it happen.

As described by both Wright and Atomic Data, the deal includes having Atomic Data pay for and own the Wi-Fi network components, and also to act as the complete IT outsourcer for the team, providing wired and wireless connectivity as a managed service.

“When you look at the demographic of our fans, they’re mostly millenials and we wanted to have robust connectivity to connect with them,” Wright said. “Over time we were able to negotiate a deal [with Atomic Data] to build what I think is the most capable Wi-Fi network ever for a soccer-specific venue. I think we’ve turned some heads.”

UNDER SEAT AND OUTSIDE THE DOORS

Just before the stadium hosted its first league game, Mobile Sports Report got a tour of the facility from Yagya Mahadevan, enterprise project manager for Atomic Data and sort of the live-in maestro for the network at Allianz Field. Mahadevan, who worked on the U.S. Bank Stadium network deployment before joining Atomic Data full-time, was clearly proud of the company’s deployment work, which fit in well with the sleek designs of the new facility.

An under-seat AP deployment at Allianz Field. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

For the 250 APs in the main seating bowl, Atomic Data used a good amount of under-seat AP deployments, since many of the seats have no overhang. A mix of overhead APs covers the seating areas that do have structures overhead, and more APs – which are clearly noticable, including some APs painted white to pop out against black walls and vice versa – are mounted along concourse walkways as well as on the outside of the main entry gates. Since MNUFC is a paperless ticketing facility, Mahadevan said Atomic Data paid special attention to entry gates to make sure fans could connect to Wi-Fi to access their digital tickets.

Wright, who called Atomic Data’s devotion to service “second to none,” noted that before the first three games at the new stadium, Atomic Data had staff positioned in a ring around the outside of the field, making sure fans knew how to access their tickets via the team app and the Wi-Fi network.

“The lines to get in were really minimized, and that level of desire to deliver a high-end experience is just the way they think,” Wright said of Atomic Data.

According to Atomic Data the network is backed by two redundant 10-Gbps backbone pipes (from CenturyLink and Consolidated Communications) and is set up to also provide secure Wi-Fi connectivity to the wide number of independent retail and concession partners. Mahadevan also said that the network has a number of redundant cable drops already built in, in case more APs need to be added in the future. The stadium also has a cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) built by Mobilitie, but as of early this spring none of the carriers had yet been able to deploy gear.

Even the chilly temperatures at the team’s April 13 home opener didn’t keep fans from trying out the new network, as Atomic Data said it saw 85 gigabytes of Wi-Fi data used that day, with 6,968 unique Wi-Fi device connections, a 35 percent take rate from the sellout 19,796 fans on hand. According to the Atomic Data figures, the stadium’s Wi-Fi network saw peak Wi-Fi bandwidth usage of 1.9 Gbps on that opening day; of the 85 GB Wi-Fi data total, download traffic was 38.7 GB and upload traffic was 46.3 GB.

According to Wright, the stadium has already had several visits from representatives from other clubs, who are all interested in the networking technology. Wright’s advice to other clubs who are in the process of thinking about or building new stadiums: You should get on the horn with Atomic Data.

“I tell them if you’re from Austin or New England, you should be talking to Atomic,” Wright said. “They should try to replicate the relationship we have with them.”

Minnesota United MLS home opener at Allianz Field sees 85 GB of Wi-Fi

One of the Cisco Wi-Fi APs installed by Atomic Data inside the new Allianz Field in Minneapolis. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

A chilly home opener for the Minnesota United soccer team in their brand-new Allianz Field saw 85 gigabytes of data used on the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, according to statistics provided by Atomic Data, the stadium’s technology provider.

With 19,796 fans on hand on April 13 to pack the $250 million venue, Atomic Data said it saw 6,968 unique Wi-Fi device connections, a 35 percent take rate. The Allianz Field Wi-Fi network uses Cisco gear with 480 Wi-Fi APs installed throughout the venue. Approximately 250 of those are located in the seating bowl, with many installed under-seat. The stadium also has a neutral-host DAS built by Mobilitie, though none of the wireless carriers are currently online yet. (Look for an in-depth profile of the Allianz Field network in our upcoming Summer STADIUM TECH REPORT issue!)

According to the Atomic Data figures, the stadium’s Wi-Fi network saw peak Wi-Fi bandwidth usage of 1.9 Gbps; of the 85 GB Wi-Fi data total, download traffic was 38.7 GB and upload traffic was 46.3 GB. Enjoy some photos from the opening game (courtesy of MNUFC) and a couple from our pre-opening stadium tour!

The game was opened with a helicopter fly-by


A look at the standing-area supporter end zone topped by the big Daktronics display

The traditional soccer scarves were handy for the 40-degree temperatures

A view toward the field through the brew house window

The main pitch gets its opening salute

Entry ways were well covered with Wi-Fi to power the all-digital ticketing

The Loons have a roost!

The view as you approach the stadium crossing I-94

One of the under-seat Wi-Fi AP deployments

Message boards let fans know how to connect