Orlando City Stadium adds high-density Wi-Fi for soccer fans

Orlando City Stadium, home of the MLS’s Orlando City SC. Credit all photos: Jenna Cornell (click on any picture for a larger image)

Resilient. Connected. Reliable. Even before its new stadium opened in March of this year, Orlando City SC, the Major League Soccer franchise in central Florida, knew exactly what it wanted from fan-facing Wi-Fi.

Leading that list was networking infrastructure to support the stadium’s 25,500 capacity. The team needed to be able to deliver live streaming video to fans through the team’s LionNation app. And they wanted a way to begin collecting user info and building relationships with fans, according to Renato Reis, CIO for the club.

And with so many professional sports teams having already installed wireless infrastructure, Reis knew there was no reason to reinvent the Wi-Fi wheel. “I had the privilege to travel and interview other organizations,” he said, including the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami where the NFL’s Dolphins and the University of Miami both play football, as well as MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., shared by the NFL’s Jets and Giants. Reis said Orlando City SC’s technology drew heavily on the experience and deployment of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. “I used what I learned,” he laughed.

Paying their own way

Orlando City is barely 3 years old and played its first two seasons in the nearby Citrus Bowl, now called Camping World Stadium.

Under-seat Wi-Fi deployment at Orlando City Stadium.

After some confusion with the City of Orlando, Orange County and the state of Florida over money and budget for a new stadium, Orlando City SC’s ownership abandoned a public-private partnership to go its own way. Orlando City Stadium was built with private funds and opened in time for this year’s opener. Orlando City SC shares the venue with the Orlando Pride, the women’s professional soccer team.

“We had a brand-new stadium and no installed Wi-Fi, two factors that really benefited us,” Reis told Mobile Sports Report. “We planned the position of our antennas and leveraged lessons from other organizations to design something from scratch and build for the future.”

Orlando City SC had some help there. The MLS franchise partnered with managed service provider Spectrum Enterprise, a division of Charter Communications; Spectrum in turn has a longstanding partnership with Orlando City’s equipment vendor, Cisco. Together, they installed networking gear, lots of new fiber-optic cable, and the wireless infrastructure that rides atop the stadium’s 10-Gbps backbone network.

The fan-facing Wi-Fi consists of more than 550 wireless access points around the stadium, or about one AP for every 45 users. The APs are installed under seats, in handrails and on posts. “It was more of a challenge to find the right places, design-wise, for APs to keep them out of people’s line of vision,” Reis said.

Orlando City CIO Renato Reis, posing in front of some cool graffiti and below a Cisco AP.

Supporting streaming video

AP density and processing power were important considerations for Orlando City SC. With such dense coverage, each AP delivers 50-80 Mbps per user, Reis said. That ensures that users of the team’s LionNation app enjoy high performance when using its streaming video capability; users posting to social media or checking email also get faster throughput, he added.

That sort of performance is essential, especially for users of the premium version ($8.99) of the LionNation app. In addition to live-streaming video, premium members get access to behind-the-scenes content, as well as 10 percent discounts off food, drink and merchandise purchases (and points for every dollar spent). They also get priority access to post-season tickets and single-game tickets.

Spectrum helped with the stadium’s engineering and remains active in day-to-day management, said Reis. Spectrum performed three rounds of Wi-Fi tuning and collecting data to see where usage was greatest. No surprise: Entry gates and concession areas, according to Reis. They then made adjustments, repointing APs where needed, thus ensuring bandwidth is available where it’s needed most.

Orlando City SC has also been testing wireless food ordering in one stadium section with 1,500 users since the beginning of the year. “The challenge there isn’t technology but rather logistics,” Reis explained.

Screenshot of the Orlando City app

The team is planning to extend the capability more broadly, but needs more experience to help decide how to proceed. “We’ll probably run the test for the rest of the season and make changes next year,” he said.

Reis’s biggest challenge for the moment is encouraging Wi-Fi usage – and also persuading users to register if they’re not on the app. Even with Orlando City Stadium’s Wi-Fi coverage, most users will stick to cellular (the stadium’s DAS network is serviced by AT&T, Verizon T-Mobile and Sprint), he said.

“The problem I’m trying to solve is who is at the stadium,” Reis explained, adding that the only information he has is that a fan bought four tickets, for example, and when they get scanned at the gates. So how to learn more? “Most landing pages are boring,” he laughed; still, he’s considering offering different incentives for Wi-Fi users to check in.

“Can I loyal-ize you so I can learn what you like, what offers are more appealing, what you enjoy and don’t?” Reis asked. That’s a primary challenge for most sports teams, entertainment companies and ecommerce entities. Luckily for Reis and the Orlando City SC, he’s got the bandwidth, backbone and people resources to learn more about fans and build those relationships going forward.

Red Bull Arena grabs Wi-Fi by the horns

The New York Redbulls take on NYCFC at Red Bull Arena on Sunday night May 9, 2015 in Harrison, NJ.
Ben Solomon/NYRB

The New York Red Bulls have proven themselves very goal-oriented on the soccer pitch, so it was no surprise the team was equally methodical when they began a Wi-Fi upgrade in November 2016.

Teams and stadium owners like to say their technology improvements are intended to improve fan experience. The Red Bulls are no exception, but Peter Katic, senior director, IT and arena systems for the team, said there were other issues driving the Wi-Fi upgrade. Mostly, the team wanted technology that wouldn’t need to be supplemented or gotten rid of in a couple years. “We didn’t want to have to keep changing the cores or access points and doing site surveys,” Katic said. “We wanted something that would evolve with us, and after months of research we found the Cisco Meraki solution really fit the bill.”

Red Bull Arena is relatively new by sporting standards; it opened in 2010 on the banks of the Passaic River in New Jersey and seats 25,000. But the venue has never had fan-facing Wi-Fi. On the corporate side, the organization uses Aruba/Hewlett Packard for its wireless connectivity needs but keeps that network separate from fans.

A close-up look at a Wi-Fi antenna deployment, Credit: Red Bull Arena

In tandem with the new Wi-Fi installation, the Red Bulls bought Cisco switches for the entire venue’s networking requirements, and layered on the Meraki wireless gear. The new network, including 172 APs, went live this past March, Katic added.

The Red Bulls partnered with Safari Telecom for the heavy lifting part of the technology upgrade. “One of our biggest challenges was the I-beams and side beams on the sections of the lower bowl,” Katic said. Safari custom-built clamps and anchors for mounting the APs, since drilling through the beams wasn’t an option. “Safari did a great job working in subzero temperatures during the offseason, mounting this stuff and getting it activated for our first event,” an international mini-tournament, not a Red Bulls game, he said.

All the Meraki APs were mounted overhead, avoiding the extra cost of under-seat APs. “There wasn’t really a business need to mount APs underneath the seats to provide coverage to patrons, not to mention the additional resources and labor,” he explained, adding that Red Bull is a company that values aesthetics. “We’re a premium brand… even the color of the AP really fit into the stadium aesthetic.”

Red Bulls fans like iPhones

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Summer 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at the Atlanta Braves’ new SunTrust Park, the Colorado Rockies’ Coors Field, and even a profile of a new Wi-Fi network for Westfield Century City Mall! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

The Red Bulls are already taking advantage of the Wi-Fi system’s native applications – things like analytics; total data downloads and uploads; identification of device types used by patrons as well as the websites they visit.

Another Wi-Fi AP deployment

“Facebook seems to be the king here, but fans are also on YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter,” Katic said. More than two-thirds of fans — 68% — use iPhones. “That’s an interesting statistic, especially for the app, which will need to be optimized for the iPhone,” he added.

So far, the highest number of connected users for a single game has been 3,200, with a peak rate of 2,400 simultaneous users. The arena’s Wi-Fi system is engineered with a take rate of 40 percent, and fans are getting upload and download speeds ranging from 40 to 80 Mbps during events, according to Katic.

“We’re always tweaking it, but the Wi-Fi performance has been better than we expected,” he said. At a recent match, fans downloaded about 490 GB of data and uploaded approximately 145 GB, according to figures Katic pulled off the Meraki dashboard, which he judged easy to use. “You don’t need to be an IT guru to get into the dashboard or run the analytics.”

There’s also a free API in the Cisco Meraki solution that allows the Red Bulls to add features and capabilities as needed. Though the Red Bulls haven’t tapped the API just yet, they’ve got lots of plans. “We intend to use the API for our splash page, target marketing, wayfinding, in-venue engagement, and loyalty and revenue-driving campaigns,” Katic said. “In this way, we really provide the fans what they want.”

There’s no companion app at the moment, but that’s likely to change. “We’re looking at it, but MLS is going to be launching a league-wide app for all the teams,” Katic added. It’s another smart way to build and deepen connection with Red Bull fans.

A good look at Wi-Fi deployments in the Red Bull Arena upper seating.

IBM lands tech deal for new L.A. soccer stadium

Artist rendering of Banc of California Stadium, slated to open in 2018. Credit: LAFC

Artist rendering of Banc of California Stadium, slated to open in 2018. Credit: LAFC

IBM’s growing sports-venue technology business landed its first soccer-specific client, with the announcement that IBM will lead all technology deployments at the Los Angeles Football Club’s Banc of California Stadium, a venue scheduled to open in 2018.

Like it has at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, IBM will act as a lead general contractor of sorts for technology at the under-construction 22,000-seat Banc of California Stadium, responsible for picking vendors and leading deployment for such features as Wi-Fi and cellular networks, digital signage, and as yet-to-be determined fan experience applications and services.

The MLS expansion team LAFC, which will begin play in 2018, has a star-studded ownership group that includes names like former pro athletes Magic Johnson and Nomar Garciaparra, actor Will Ferrell and Golden State Warriors owner Peter Guber, among others. The new stadium is being built on the space once held by the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, adjacent to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. According to the team website the stadium will have clear-plastic shields overhead to reduce sun glare and reflect heat, made of the same ETFE plastic used in the clear window sides of the Minnesota Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium.

Though IBM was not yet ready to name specific vendors or any specific apps or services that will be available at the new stadium, it did say that its contract with LAFC shows that IBM’s strategy of having a single integrator in charge of all technology deployments isn’t just for huge stadiums or big new projects like Atlanta’s new venue.

Construction-cam shot at home of future Banc of California Stadium. Credit: LAFC

Construction-cam shot at home of future Banc of California Stadium. Credit: LAFC

“As [stadium network] technology evolves, it just becomes more complex, whether it’s a small venue or a large one,” said Jim Rushton, global leader for the sports & entertainment practice for IBM. “Our methodology is the same.”

Just like a lead contractor for plumbing or electricity, Rushton said that IBM’s size and purchasing power gives it an edge that individual venues might not have. Rushton also said that IBM’s ability to oversee all parts of a venue’s technology offerings — from wireless infrastructure to network security and application development — and its ability to integrate technologies from firms other than IBM — can help venues plan more strategically and put together a more complete venue-technology plan than they might be able to do on their own.

Rushton said that IBM’s sports venue practice, which was formally announced a year ago, will be naming more projects underway soon, including some in Europe. IBM is rumored to be the lead technology integrator for the stadium renovation that will be taking place at Notre Dame after this football season, but there has been no announcement of that yet.

Screen Shot 2016-10-13 at 10.57.42 AM

Sporting Innovations’ lawsuit against former co-CEO is dismissed

Asim Pasha

Asim Pasha

The somewhat bizarre lawsuit brought last year by Kansas City-based Sporting Innovations against its former co-CEO Asim Pasha for allegedly conspiring to set up a competing firm using Sporting Innovations assets and intellectual property has been dismissed, with a stipulation that the firm cannot re-file similar charges at a later date.

According to a document dated Feb. 29 provided to us by Pasha’s lawyers from Lathrop & Gage LLP, Kansas City, Sporting Innovations’ claims against Asim and his son Zain Pasha (who also worked for Sporting Innovations) were dismissed with prejudice, meaning they cannot be filed again in the future. As part of the negotiation, Pasha also agreed to dismiss his counterclaims against Sporting Innovations, basically meaning that the legal entanglement between the two parties is over.

Robb Heineman

Robb Heineman

Neither Pasha nor Sporting Innovations (now called FanThreeSixty) or FanThreeSixty CEO Robb Heineman would comment on the lawsuit dismissal, but with this result you have to wonder why exactly the case was brought in its initial fashion with its initial claims, including Sporting Innovations’ claim of $75,000 in damages. Though Pasha seems to have perhaps lost any claim to his 20 percent ownership stake in the company — according to Pasha’s lawyers he no longer owns any part of Sporting Innovations — Pasha also announced that he is taking over as the chief technology officer for the new stadium being designed for the AS Roma club, the Stadio Della Roma, which is scheduled to open in 2017 or 2018. We are trying to schedule some time to speak with Pasha about the new stadium, which seems like a very interesting, advanced project, so stay tuned.

On the Sporting Innovations/FanThreeSixty side, the firm is still apparently continuing with part of its original lawsuit, against other defendants. According to the legal document:

The Stipulation of Dismissal, with prejudice, does not affect Plaintiff Sporting Innovations KC LLC’s claims against Vernalis Group, Inc., Nader Hanafy, Inventory Intel, LLC, and Ubi Technologies, LLC, which parties remain as Defendants.

We have emails in to FanThreeSixty for comment, and we also asked Heineman to comment on the case in an “ask me anything” session he recently held on Twitter, but have not gotten a reply to either query. As we noted previously, Sporting Innovations/FanThreeSixty hasn’t announced any new clients recently for their stadium app program, and several high-profile customers, including the Pac-12 and the Tampa Bay Lightning, are no longer using Sporting Innovations software.

Sporting Innovations changes name to FanThreeSixty, no news on lawsuit

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 9.14.29 PMKansas City-based sports app developer Sporting Innovations has changed its name to FanThreeSixty, a brand change for what the company calls the desire to create “a more direct connection to its award-winning FanThreeSixty platform.”

However, it’s also possible that the name change is part of a strategy to distance the company from an ongoing legal battle between current FanThreeSixty CEO and former Sporting Innovations CEO Robb Heineman and his former co-CEO Asim Pasha, which started when Sporting Innovations and Heineman filed a lawsuit against Pasha for allegedly conspiring to set up a competing firm using Sporting Innovations assets and intellectual property. That move was followed by Pasha filing counterclaims denying the company’s charges against him while also alleging that he was denied promised ownership stakes in the company for providing the technology behind its stadium-application business.

According to legal representatives for Pasha, the “name change has nothing to do with the lawsuit,” which, according to Pasha’s legal team and news reports, the is still ongoing and scheduled to be heard later this year. FanThreeSixty did not respond to requests for information or an interview about the press release.

So whatever the reason behind its name change, the company formerly known as Sporting Innovations is known primarily for being one of the first movers in the still-nascent field of integrated sports stadium apps, where functionality is designed to not only enhance the fan game-day experience but to also help the team or venue better capture marketing information from digital device use. The company was (and still is) joined at the hip with the Sporting Kansas City Major League Soccer franchise, which was one of the first teams to install Wi-Fi in its stadium and to embrace mobile-device usage by fans.

However, Sporting Innovations’ business of late has not provided much in the way of public customer wins, and several previous customers for the company’s Uphoria mobile device app platform have since dropped the product, including the Pac-12 and the Tampa Bay Lightning. While the Sporting Innovations site had until recently still included links to its Pac-12 and other previous customer wins, the new FanThreeSixty site has scrubbed all the old customer news and links from its site.

New Report: Baseball AND Soccer stadium tech updates

MLB_Thumb_2015MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the second issue in our second year of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, which includes a focus on baseball and soccer stadium technology deployments, and team-by-team coverage of technology deployments for all 30 MLS teams — AND all 20 MLS teams.

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We spent a long time getting this longest-ever report ready, but if you want to get an update on MLB’s Wi-Fi everywhere plan, which is almost complete, we have the most information anywhere about the strategy and the results.

Inside the report — our longest ever — our editorial coverage includes:

— Kauffman Stadium profile: The benefits of Wi-Fi installed before the surprise World Series run by the Kansas City Royals.

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— MSR exclusive stadium tech analysis: The report also includes an exclusive interview with MLBAM’s Joe Inzerillo, architect of the “Wi-Fi everywhere” plan MLB is completing this season.

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