Vikings testing in-seat beverage delivery via app at U.S. Bank Stadium

A runner delivers drinks to fans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Minnesota Vikings (click on any photo for a larger image)

The Minnesota Vikings are currently offering in-seat delivery of beverages ordered through the stadium mobile app, a beta test of sorts that may lead to expanded app-delivery options at U.S. Bank Stadium in the near future.

While it’s just a small pilot operation now, available to approximately 8,000 seats in the venue’s east end zone area, any such service takes on greater importance due to the fact that U.S. Bank Stadium is set to host Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4, 2018. And whether or not the delivery service is available during the Super Bowl, Vikings representatives see it as an important opportunity to see if such services are helpful, profitable and scalable for different areas of the 66,200-seat facility.

“We want to ensure that the user experience [with the deliveries] is good,” said Scott Kegley, the Vikings’ executive director of digital media and innovation, about the go-slow approach. “We want to know all the data pieces, to see if the [current] test can be replicated.”

The Vikings’ small sample size is almost completely opposite of the path taken by the San Francisco 49ers when they opened Levi’s Stadium in 2014. The Niners and their app partner, VenueNext, offered full food and beverage delivery to any seat in the stadium, a service that was recently discontinued. Kegley, who had worked with the Niners during the Levi’s opening, said the Vikings (who also use VenueNext for the stadium app) learned a lot from the Niners’ delivery experiences, such as why just beverages may be a better delivery option than a full menu.

A runner gets ready to deliver drinks. Credit: Minnesota Vikings

Just drinks a lot easier to deliver

Rich Wang, director of analytics and fan engagement for the Vikings, said the Niners’ data showed that approximately 70 percent of all their delivery orders were beverage-only. With space at a premium inside U.S. Bank Stadium, the ability to have runner areas or delivery operations inside the current concession stands was not an option, Wang said. However, by moving some beverage coolers behind a temporary screen, the Vikings were able to create a mini-beverage delivery operations area that could serve a targeted seating area — in this case the 100- and 200-level seats surrounding the east end zone.

After some spot tests of the system last season, this year the Vikings rolled out the east end zone service as an ongoing feature, with delivery of a limited menu of beer, soda and water options. The promotion of the service has been purposely low-key, since as Wang said, the Vikings really don’t want everyone else in the stadium to know the service is available but not to them. Mainly, fans find out about the service through hard-copy promotional material placed in the cupholders, as well as via the app, which makes the delivery service available when fans log in with seat numbers in the service area.

An overhead look at the coolers and runner pickup area in U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Mobile Sports Report was able to view the delivery operation live at the Nov. 19 home game against the Los Angeles Rams, and early in the first quarter it was a busy place, with runners filling orders every time they came back to the small space (a cordoned-off area next to a concession stand and a building entrance). Runners each had insulated bags to carry drinks, and each drink came with a Vikings “Skol” koozie to help keep beverages cold.

According to Wang, the Vikings saw 185 deliveries through the service on Sunday, with half of those orders being for Coors Light, another 25 percent for other alcoholic beverages (Blue Moon and Redd’s ales) and the rest for sodas and water. Unlike Levi’s Stadium, which charged a flat $5 fee for all deliveries, the Vikings instead just add a 15 percent surcharge per product over what fans would pay at a concession stand.

Express pickup and more spaces for delivery

The Vikings also have two concession-stand areas for express pickup orders, one on the main concourse and one on the upper deck. Like the in-seat delivery service, the express pickup areas are another test, to gain data on how fans use the service before attempting expanded offerings. The Niners, which had offered full-stadium express pickup when Levi’s Stadium opened, no longer support the service.

A look at part of the promotional material placed in cupholders in the service area

Should the east end zone test show promise, Kegley and Wang have their eyes on the opposite end zone, where a small unused space exists directly under the lower-level west stands. Backing up to a large concession stand, it looks like a prime area to set up another delivery operation, with the added bonus of having runners walking up to fans instead of from behind, which Wang said would make for easier identification by fans of incoming deliveries. Wang said one of the stats the Vikings are paying attention to is delivery time and steps taken by runners, using a step-tracking app “to make sure the runners aren’t doing half-marathons” during a game, Wang said.

Right now, nobody at the Vikings is saying anything about Super Bowl operations, which are primarily decided upon by the NFL itself. For Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium, the NFL nixed full-menu deliveries, only allowing beverages to be delivered inside the stadium. Fans did respond positively, however, with a record number of deliveries, so the NFL may look on such a service at U.S. Bank with favorable eyes.

On the Vikings’ end, the service is already producing interesting data, including the fact that 60 percent of people using the service had never before used the team app; and the other 40 percent are now using the app more, according to Wang.

“We’re driving people to download the app, or use it more,” said Wang of the delivery service. Whether or not it will catch on depends on whether or not fans see it as a worthy alternative to just going to a concession stand. But, as Wang said, “nobody wants to wait in lines!”

A runner delivers drinks to fans in the east end zone. Credit: Minnesota Vikings

A look at the lower-level concourse express pickup area. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

NFS wins $8 M judgement against SignalShare, and $5.7 M judgement against former SignalShare exec

Screen shot of nGage Fan Feed. Credit: SignalShare

UPDATE: Information added to original draft, since MSR now has copies of the actual court documents.

The drama surrounding the fraud charges leveled early last year against former Wi-Fi provider firm SignalShare seems to be reaching a conclusion, with court documents showing that NFS Leasing has been awarded $8 million in damages from SignalShare, and $5.7 million in damages from an ex-SignalShare exec.

To quickly recall the case, SignalShare, a company involved in bringing Wi-Fi networks and associated fan-experience apps to stadiums, was sued by NFS, an equipment leasing company, over a dispute involving allegedly fraudulent leases by SignalShare, and SignalShare’s default on an agreement to pay back money obtained through those leases. Originally NFS sought $7.8 million in damages.

According court documents that are also quoted in a Law 360 report, a judge in Massachussetts federal court granted summary judgement in NFS’ favor Wednesday, with an $8 million judgement against Signal Point Holdings Corp., a SignalShare subsidiary, and a $5.7 million judgement against former SignalShare exec Christopher Barnes. According to court documents, the judge also voided an attempt by SignalShare to move assets between other companies owned by the same owners as SignalShare.

To recap the original story — SignalShare had originally partnered with Wi-Fi gear vendor Extreme Networks on deployments for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the University of Maryland and the Detroit Red Wings, all apparently legitimate deals. SignalShare later touted its Live-Fi nGage suite, a system that was meant to combine content, analytics and advertising links to give venue owners and operators a turnkey method to improve fan engagement and perhaps increase revenue opportunities for large-venue Wi-Fi networks.

According to a previous Law360 story, the lawsuit from NFS Leasing claimed that SignalShare “began requesting financing from NFS for purchasing equipment for fictitious contracts,” using forged, altered and falsified documents for deals that didn’t exist. From that Law360 report, which quotes from the legal complaint:

“[SignalShare] would represent to NFS that it had entered into an agreement with a sports arena or team and would induce NFS to provide funding for the acquisition of the allegedly-needed equipment,” the complaint said.

SignalShare would provide fake or forged invoices for the equipment it allegedly ordered, or provide fictitious serial numbers for items allegedly purchased and installed in the fraudulent contracts, the complaint said.

Between May 20, 2014 and May 21, 2015, SignalShare conned NFS into advancing funds on 10 fraudulent lease transactions to the tune of $4.9 million, the complaint said.

Costanzo charged, then cleared

The case had several twists and turns along the way, including the charging and then exoneration of former SignalShare chief technical officer Joe Costanzo, who was one of the SignalShare execs personally named in the first lawsuit. Costanzo, who ran the technical operations of SignalShare, claimed he was misled by his own company and had filed counter-claims against NFS.

This past August court documents said that NFS Leasing had dismissed all of its claims against Costanzo “without costs to either party.” Costanzo, who had filed a counter-claim against NFS, also dismissed his action.

In the summer of 2016, NFS had announced an auction of SignalShare assets, including such entities as the network lease for providing Wi-Fi to the Golden State Warriors. However, that planned auction was cancelled when SignalShare filed for bankruptcy. Along the way, executives from Extreme Networks have continually refused to comment on any details of their partnership with SignalShare.

Wi-Fi, new app features a welcome addition at historic Saratoga Race Course

Horses round the turn at Saratoga Race Course. Credit all photos: Saratoga Race Course.

Just because a sporting venue is old and historic doesn’t mean it has to stay behind the times. The welcome arrival this year at the famed Saratoga Race Course of a high-density Wi-Fi network and a new mobile app with services including live video, express food ordering and mobile betting was a winner for all fans, according to racetrack executives.

“I’m pretty proud of Saratoga — we’ve got history, tradition, and now the 21st Century,” said Bob Hughes, vice president and chief information officer for the New York Racing Association, which runs thoroughbred racing at the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based Saratoga as well as at Aqueduct Racetrack and Belmont Park. The new Wi-Fi network, which was fully installed for Saratoga’s 2017 season, “was a wild success for us,” Hughes said. “The fans were engaged, and the media noticed.”

Saratoga’s summer schedule — a tradition in upstate New York since racing first happened there in 1863 — is one of the more revered happenings on the horse-racing schedule, and the Race Course grounds are widely admired as one of the best experiences in sports. But up until a few years ago, that experience didn’t have much in the way of wireless connectivity, an issue Hughes said the NYRA started working on to correct after the 2015 season.

More mobility for race fans

With an executive direction to bring more mobility, access and convenience to fans, Saratoga started down the path that ended with a network using 220 Ruckus access points, Kezar scanners and a new app designed by VenueNext, and 1,000 bluetooth beacons from Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, to support wayfinding and other services. With more than 48,000 client user sessions on one of the summer’s busiest days — the Aug. 26 Travers Day — and an average of more than 1 terabyte of traffic each day, the new network at Saratoga was an instant hit, and something likely to keep the old venue even more relevant to a new generation of racing fans.

“The New York Racing Association was pleased this year to introduce cutting edge technology to Saratoga Race Course, the oldest active sporting venue in America,” said NYRA CEO and president Chris Kay in a prepared statement. “Given our ever growing reliance on mobile devices, these improvements are critical to the long-term success and sustainability of Saratoga.”

The unique schedule of Saratoga — 40 days of racing in the summer — also means some long days of races, with fans at the track from before noon until 7 p.m. some days, Hughes said. With the new network and app in place, those fans can not only stay connected to their outside lives, but they can also watch live and archived racing videos, pre-order concessions for express pickup, and even place bets from their mobile device.

“With 25 or 30 minutes between races, you now see a lot of people watching replays of former races” to gain betting insights, Hughes said. And that connectivity even extends from the racetrack seating areas out to the track’s famed picnic grounds, where Hughes said Saratoga deployed “mushroom” looking AP enclosures that put antennas at waist level, to bring connectivity close to the seating areas.

From the more than 1 million fans who attended races this season, Hughes said the Wi-Fi network saw pretty consistent take rates of 25 percent of fans present on the network at any given time. Having that wireless connectivity to outside lives as well as to tap into venue amenities, Hughes said, “takes any stress away.”

Verizon says it is ‘improving the data crediting process’ to address NFL Mobile data-charge snafus

Verizon said it is “improving the data crediting process” for its popular NFL Mobile app, which has apparently caused many headaches this season with users who claimed the cell provider wasn’t following through with its promise to make watching live NFL action free from any data charges.

If comments on Mobile Sports Report blog posts are any indication of wider unrest, there are many NFL Mobile users who have been erreneously charged for wireless data used while watching the live NFL games provided by the NFL Mobile app. In our blog post announcing Verizon’s claim that all NFL Mobile live action this season would be free of data charges, we guessed that Verizon’s unclear answers about so-called “unlimited” versus metered plans meant that the provider hadn’t fully figured out how to correctly bill users of the app. Seems like we were more right than we wanted to be.

A quick scroll through any of the 20-plus comments our blog post received from frustrated users seems to show that on many levels, Verizon’s billing and customer service reps were on different pages when it came to NFL Mobile data use. After more than a month of inquiries to Verizon about the claims by our commenters, this week we finally received an official reply from a Verizon spokesperson. Here it is:

Verizon is committed to providing live games on NFL Mobile data free to our customers and resolving any related billing disputes. We have made recent adjustments improving the data crediting process to reduce usage alerts and to ensure our customers receive consistent answers when they contact our support organization.

Without actually admitting to any problems, Verizon’s statement about “improving the data crediting process” and other issues seems to be a tacit admission that not all was well, an issue that seems to affect NFL Mobile just about every year.

Football fans, however, may have another choice next season when it comes to watching live games on phones, with recent reports claiming that Verizon’s 4-year, $1 billion deal for exclusive rights won’t be renewed.

AT&T sees 9 TB of wireless data use at World Series

The latest statistic showing that wireless data use at sports venues continues to grow comes from AT&T, which said that it saw 9 terabytes of wireless data use on its networks at this year’s World Series games, an 80 percent increase from last year’s total of 5 TB.

According to AT&T, the biggest single-game use of this year’s series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros came during Game 2 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, where fans on AT&T networks used 1.5 TB of data. An AT&T blog post about the series has some interesting statistics about when data use surged, mainly right after dramatic events took place on the field.

Last year, AT&T said it saw 5 TB of data used on its networks at Wrigley Field and Progressive Field during the seven-game series between the Cubs and the Indians. We don’t have any Wi-Fi data yet from either park this year but it will be interesting to see what happened on the network at Minute Maid Park in Houston during the phenomenal Game 5, a contest that kept many baseball fans up late at night.

Verizon Wireless said it didn’t keep track of DAS statistics for this year’s World Series games.

Notre Dame hits 7 TB Wi-Fi mark for USC game

A good look at the railing AP enclosures in the east stands of Notre Dame Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

As we sort of expected, Notre Dame’s Oct. 21 home game versus the University of Southern California produced another new high-water mark for the new Wi-Fi network at Notre Dame Stadium, with 7 terabytes of Wi-Fi traffic seen during the event, according to Notre Dame network officials.

The new network, part of the Campus Crossing remodel of the classic on-campus venue, has been humming all season, starting with a 6.2 TB night on Sept. 9, when the Fighting Irish hosted Georgia. With historical rival USC in the house, however, Notre Dame fans set new records across the board for Wi-Fi use, including most unique clients (27,399), most concurrently connected clients (21,008) and most peak throughput, 5 Gbps. It probably didn’t hurt that Notre Dame crushed the Trojans that day by a 49-14 score, which probably made it into many selfies with the scoreboard in the background.

The 7.0 TB mark puts the Notre Dame-USC game into the No. 5 spot on our unofficial all-time list of single-day Wi-Fi data usage totals, behind just Super Bowls and some recent big-game NFL events. It also gives Notre Dame the No. 1 and No. 2 marks when it comes to collegiate events, at least for now (we’ll be on the lookout for the College Football Playoff championship game this season at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium).

NOTRE DAME 2017 SEASON WI-FI NETWORK STATS

THE LATEST TOP 10 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
2. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
3. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
4. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
5. Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
6. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
7. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB
8. Georgia vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 9, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.2 TB
9. Alabama vs. Texas A&M, Kyle Field, College Station, Texas, Oct. 17, 2015: Wi-Fi: 5.7 TB
10. Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 22, 2017: Wi-Fi: 5.11 TB