Top-down approach brings Wi-Fi to OKC Thunder’s Chesapeake Energy Arena

Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the NBA’s Thunder. Credit all photos: Oklahoma City Thunder

If there’s one sure thing about stadium Wi-Fi deployments, it’s that pretty much no two networks are ever exactly the same. So even as there is a growing large-venue trend for putting Wi-Fi access points under seats or in handrails, sometimes the traditional top-down method is still the one that works best.

Such was the case for the first full fan-facing Wi-Fi network at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, home of the NBA’s Thunder. With a large amount of retractable seating in the 18,000-seat venue, an under-seat approach to Wi-Fi would prove too costly and disruptive, leading the team to look for connectivity from above.

While a solid in-building cellular distributed antenna system (DAS) had done a good job of keeping fans connected the last few years, the team’s desire to have more mobile insight to fan activity as well as a switch to a Wi-Fi-centric point of sale system led Oklahoma City to finally install fan-facing Wi-Fi throughout the venue.

Chris Nelson, manager of information technology for venue manager SMG, and Tyler Lane, director of technology for the Thunder, spoke with Mobile Sports Report about the recent Wi-Fi deployment at Chesapeake Energy Arena, which went live during the most recent NBA season.

An AP placement in the rafters

Though the venue looked at all options, Nelson said that going under-seat with APs would have been “very costly” to do, given the large number of retractable seats in the arena.

“We wanted to hang them [APs] from the top if we could,” Nelson said.

After testing the top equipment brands available, the Thunder settled on Ruckus gear, for what they said was a simple reason, one involving the 96 feet in air space from the catwalk to the arena floor.

“Ruckus was the only one whose gear could reach down all the way,” Nelson said.

Adding to the fan experience

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 Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn., and an in-depth research report on the new Wi-Fi 6 standard! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

According to the team the deployment saw 410 total APs used, with 350 in the arena proper and another 60 deployed across the street at the Cox Convention Center. According to the Thunder’s Lane, the team rolled out the service slowly at first, with some targeted testing and feedback from season ticket holders.

Close-up of an AP placement

“We got some good feedback and then when we went to a full rollout we had signage in the concourses, communications via ticketing services and announcements over the PA and on the scoreboard,” to tell fans about the system, said Lane.

According to statistics provided by the team, the Wi-Fi was getting good traction as the season went on, with a March 16 game vs. the Golden State Warriors seeing 589.3 gigabytes of traffic, from 2,738 clients that connected to the network. Lane said the team employed Jeremy Roach and his Rectitude 369 firm to assist with the network design; Roach in the past helped design networks at Levi’s Stadium and Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center.

Now that the Wi-Fi network is in place, Lane said the Thunder is starting to increase the ways it can add to the fan experience via digital means, including app-based features like showing press conferences live and by having an artificial intelligence chatbot to help provide fans with arena information.

“It’s really all about enhancing the fan experience,” Lane said, with an emphasis on driving digital ticketing use in the YinzCam-developed team app. Lane said that the system also drives a lot of mobile concessions traffic, and added that “Ruckus did a fantastic job of asking all the right questions for our food and beverage partners.”

New Report: Wi-Fi 6 research report, record Wi-Fi at the Final Four, and more!

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Summer 2019 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Our latest issue contains a research report on the new Wi-Fi 6 standard and what it means to stadium networks, as well as three separate profiles of Wi-Fi network deployments, including a look at how a temporary network helped fans use record data totals at the Final Four! Download your FREE copy today!

Inside the report our editorial coverage includes:

— A Wi-Fi 6 research report that looks into the new standard’s technology improvements that make it a great bet for in-venue networks;
— An in-person report from the NCAA Men’s 2019 Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium, where the weekend saw a record 31+ terabytes of Wi-Fi data used;
— How Minnesota United’s new home, Allianz Field, got a big Wi-Fi network from a small company, Atomic Data;
— A look at the new Wi-Fi network at Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

Download your free copy today!

We’d like to take a moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Boingo, MatSing, Cox Business/Hospitality Network, ExteNet, Neutral Connect Networks, Atomic Data, Oberon, and America Tower. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

Little Caesars Arena revs the engine on wireless

Little Caesars Arena in Detroit is revving its engine with wireless deployments of Wi-Fi and DAS. Credit all photos: Terry Sweeney, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Detroit has made an ambitious bet on the sports entertainment model with its 50-block District Detroit development – which embraces Ford Field (where the NFL’s Lions play), Comerica Park (MLB’s Tigers) and most recently, Little Caesars Arena (NBA’s Pistons and NHL’s Red Wings).

In fact, Motor City might just as easily be renamed Stadium City as Detroit looks to professional sports as one cornerstone of economic re-development.

The city has all four major pro sports teams competing within a few blocks of each other, noted John King, vice president of IT and innovation for Olympia Entertainment and the Detroit Red Wings. District Detroit plays host to more than 200 events, welcoming some 3 million visitors annually – not bad for an area that’s barely 18 months old.

Detroit’s hardly alone in riding this development wave. Sports entertainment districts are a proven engine to boost local economies and are popping up all over the country:
–Los Angeles’s LA Live complex uses the Staples Center as its hub but includes restaurants, hotels and plenty of retail;
–Houston Avenida gangs together Minute Maid Park, BBVA Compass Stadium and NRG Stadium, along with a convention center and hotels;
–Battery Atlanta houses the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park and a Coca-Cola entertainment facility, along with retail, residences and hotels;
— Westgate Entertainment District in the greater Phoenix area houses State Farm Stadium (NFL’s Cardinals) and Gila River Arena (NHL’s Coyotes), plus the obligatory retail, restaurants and hotels.

San Francisco, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Sacramento and other cities are all building out similar sports entertainment developments in their downtown areas that encourage sports fans to make a night of it, or even a weekend. Even venerable venues like Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and Chicago’s Wrigley Field are also getting in the act of trying to build areas outside the parks to keep fans engaged (and spending) before and after events, or even when there’s no games being played.

Robust DAS, Wi-Fi in LCA

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 and DAS networks being planned for the University of Colorado, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

John King oversees the IT operations at Little Caesars Arena

King is pleased with the performance of the IT infrastructure at Little Caesars Arena since the $863 million venue opened in the fall of 2017. With a backbone of two 100-Gbps fiber connections, the arena counts more than 700 Cisco Wi-Fi access points. There are 364 APs in the bowl itself; the bulk of those – 300 APs – have been installed under seats to get the signals closer to where the users are.

Mobile Sports Report put LCA’s Wi-Fi network and DAS system to the test this season during a Red Wings home game against the New York Rangers. Due to personal technical constraints, we were only able to test Verizon’s portion of the DAS deployment; the Wi-Fi network tested was the District Detroit Xfinity SSID.

The good news is that both network types performed admirably. No surprise that bandwidth was most plentiful and speeds were fastest on concourses near concessions, as well as in the private clubs parceled around LCA. Fastest measured speeds: 139.68 Mbps download/33.24 Mbps on the DAS network outside the MotorCity Casino Club. The Wi-Fi was also well engineered there – 51.89 Mbps download and 72.34 Mbps upload were plenty fast for hockey’s power users.

We measured comparable speeds by the Rehmann Club with 134.4 Mbps/36.25 Mbps on the DAS, and 21.56 Mbps/120.8 Mbps on Wi-Fi. Similarly, connectivity was not an issue while standing in front of the impossible-to-miss Gordie Howe statue in LCA’s main concourse, where we clocked DAS at 102.95 Mbps/22 Mbps, and Wi-Fi at 43.34 Mbps/43.72 Mbps.

Speeds around the arena were generally in double-digit megabits, both for Wi-Fi and DAS. The Wi-Fi signal got a little sluggish in Section M7 (0.79 Mbps/3.03 Mbps) and Section M33 (1.68 Mbps/29 Mbps). Lowest measured throughput on the DAS network was in Suite 17 with 16.18 Mbps/17.41 Mbps, still plenty fast to handle most fan requirements.

Lighting Things Up in District Detroit

In tandem to LCA, there are approximately 1,000 APs also attached to the network that either handle District Detroit’s public Wi-Fi or connect to 34 parking lots and garages.

Wireless gear painted to blend in

“Our goal is to bring life and excitement throughout the District and not just focus on Little Caesars Arena,” King said. Video and digital signage are essential to that effort, both inside and outside LCA. The network enables more than 1,500 IPTV connections distributed across the arena, but also externally to LED boards and electronic parking signs. “We want to take the excitement from the event and run it out to the city – ‘5 minutes to puck drop’, on all those signs as one example,” King explained. “We can leverage [signage] for more than just the price of parking.”

The network uses the Cisco Vision IPTV digital display management system to control display programming, including advertising that appears on video screens in LCA’s many hospitality suites. With five TV screens per suite, LCA deploys an L-shaped “wrapper” around the main video image used for advertising. “We rotate that content in the suites and run loops in concourse before and after events,” King said. “It allows us to put scripting in different zones or post menus and dynamically update prices and items for sale.” LCA’s concessionaires can change the price or location of food and beverage items, all through the networked point-of-sale system.

Tune-able Wi-Fi

The District Detroit app is divided into three “buckets,” according to King: Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Pistons and 313 Presents — all the events and entertainment outside of sporting events (313 is Detroit’s area code). When configured for hockey, LCA can accommodate up to 19,515 Red Wings fans; as a basketball arena for the Pistons, LCA holds 20,491. But some events may draw fewer people and King and his team adjust accordingly.

“We’re an arena for 20,000 fans and as we looked at that density, we found that 10,000 fans behave differently and we’ve had to tune the arena differently based on traffic flows,” he said. When completely full, Wi-Fi signals must pass through so many “bags of water,” as RF engineers sometimes describe human spectators. Half as many fans means that Wi-Fi signals behave differently, consequently, a fan may connect to an AP that’s less than ideal, which can affect both user experience and system performance.

An under-seat Wi-Fi enclosure

“We’ve looked at some power tweaks and tuning; we also have the ability to tune [the arena] on the fly,” King said, but emphasized that the venue’s Wi-Fi doesn’t get re-tuned for every event. “We try to find the sweet spot and not do that too much. On an event day, we try not to touch anything that isn’t broken,” he said.

Previews of coming attractions

Like any sports and entertainment IT exec, King is looking at ways to improve the fan experience and derive more performance and revenue from Olympia’s IT investment. Buoyed by the success of mobile ticketing at LCA, King said he’d like to find some way to use biometrics to help speed up transactions at counters and pedestals throughout the arena. And he’s excited about 5G cellular deployment, which he believes could compete with Wi-Fi if 5G delivers on all that’s been promised by carriers.

LCA’s app uses Bluetooth for navigation, letting fans input their seat information for directions. “Right now, we have pre-order pickup, but in-seat service is something we’re looking at. What other line-busting technologies can we do?” King said.

And while fans can pre-order food and beverages at LCA, King also wonders if pre-ordering of team merchandise (“merch”) is something that would appeal to fans and be easy to execute. “We’re looking at a Cincinnati venue where they have compartments for food, hot or cold, that’s been pre-ordered,” he said, wondering if a similar compartmentalized pickup system be used for merch.

King sees plenty of room for improvement in overall management reporting across IT systems at LCA and the 12,000 active ports that keep systems humming.

“Everything is connected and our electricians can use their iPads to dim or turn on lights anywhere in the building,” he said, adding that everything’s monitored — every switch, every port. “It would be nice to see more information around traffic flow and performance patterns. We’re seeing a little bit of that. But I’d like to see network information on people tracking and doors, and correlate visual information with management data.”

Another set of metrics King can’t get at the moment: Performance data from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon about LCA’s 8-zone DAS system. King said he’s talking with Verizon, the lead DAS operator at the venue, about getting autonomous reports in the future, but for the time being King and his team don’t have much visibility there. The DAS uses the Corning ONE system.

New Report: Record Wi-Fi at Super Bowl 53, and Wi-Fi and DAS for Colorado’s Folsom Field

MOBILE SPORTS REPORT is pleased to announce the Spring 2019 issue of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series, the ONLY in-depth publication created specifically for the stadium technology professional and the stadium technology marketplace.

Our string of historical in-depth profiles of successful stadium technology deployments continues with reports from the record-setting Wi-Fi day at Super Bowl 53, a look at the network performance at Little Caesars Arena, plans for Wi-Fi and DAS at the University of Colorado and more! Download your FREE copy today!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Boingo, MatSing, and Cox Business/Hospitality Network. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

Impressive renovation makes Atlanta Hawks’ State Farm Arena feel ‘new’ again

Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena, feels like a new NBA arena thanks to an extensive remodel. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to tell what has changed besides the name on the building that is the Atlanta Hawks’ home.

But once inside the doors, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena has pretty much disappeared, with full-scale knockdown remodels, finishing touches and high-definition Wi-Fi making the newly named State Farm Arena feel like something just-built from the ground up.

“If you’re just driving by, you don’t see any changes,” said Marcus Wasdin, chief information officer for the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena. Even the subway signage and a map in the attached CNN Center still call the basketball arena by its old name, not adequately preparing visitors (especially media in town for this Sunday’s Super Bowl) for the $200 million makeover that’s now finished inside.

While those who’d been there previously might have a hard time believing their eyes, even first-time visitors to the hoops venue in downtown Atlanta can be suitably impressed, as the fan-facing structural improvements — including a number of different premium seating and club spaces, as well as open-air concourses surrounding main seating areas — put the newly named arena on a service par with any brand-new facilities that have opened recently.

Throw in a high-definition Wi-Fi network added by Comcast Business’ emerging sports-arena division, using Cisco gear and design and deployment by AmpThink, as well as a solid DAS operated by Boingo, and you have a complete modern fan-experience setting for Hawks followers to enjoy as they await to see if new stars like rookie Trae Young can lift the Hawks into NBA title contention.

Ripping out the concrete

Editor’s note: This profile 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 game-day digital fan engagement strategy at Texas A&M, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at Merceds-Benz Stadium, home of this week’s Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

New trusses were needed to support the new Samsung center-hung video board.

“We call it a new arena under the old roof,” said Wasdin, our host for a stadium tour as well as full-area access to a packed-arena game against the defending world champion Golden State Warriors on Dec. 3. Since Mobile Sports Report had never been to a live event in the venue when it was known as Philips Arena (State Farm agreed to take over as sponsor this summer, with the name change in time for the new season and the stadium re-opening), we didn’t have any old memories to compare it to. But photos from the past show a much different arena, with one side an entire flat wall of suites, a construction strategy popular back in 1999, when the arena opened.

Fast forward to 2018, and visitors to the 17,600-seat arena will find all the cool new things that are popular with today’s fans, like expanded club areas and open spaces where fans can mingle with a view of the court. The renovation also added a wide mixture of premium seating and club spaces above and beyond the old staple of the corporate suite.

Following preliminary activities to get set for the renovation the previous two years, the arena fully closed this past April, with heavy construction machinery in as soon as the fans left. According to Wasdin, some 300 tons of concrete were taken out of the building, opening up spaces for the new, creative architectural ideas.

Why didn’t the Hawks just knock the building down and start anew, like their NFL neighbors next door did? According to Wasdin, the estimated cost at knocking down and building a new structure was in the neighborhood of $550 million — but by keeping the foundations and outside structure and only renovating the insides (including adding a new support truss overhead for the distinctive center-hung video board from Samsung’s Prismview), the Hawks got the equivalent of a new venue for less than half the cost, in the neighborhood of $200 million.

“We call it a new arena under the same roof,” Wasdin said.

Fast wireless and multiple hospitality options

We started our pregame tour at one of the stadium’s innovative club spaces, a stand-up Altanta Hawks logo bar at court level, just behind one of the backboards. Fans who have courtside seats as well as some of the lower-bowl seats can wander there during the game, as well as to a hospitality area just under the stands where amenities like a pizza oven are part of the all-inclusive charge.

A lower-bowl Wi-Fi enclosure

During pregame shootarounds we sat in the lower-bowl seating area, which is covered by Wi-Fi APs in an under-seat deployment. According to AmpThink, there are approximately 480 total APs in the new Wi-Fi network. As the seats were filling up to watch Golden State’s Stephen Curry in his mesmerizing pregame shooting routine, we got a Wi-Fi speedtest of 31.3 Mbps on the download and 41.6 Mbps on the upload. A cellular speedtest on the Verizon network in the same place checked in at 33.7 Mbps / 6.43 Mbps; the DAS antennas for the lower bowl seats are inside railing enclosures. In the upper seating sections, both Wi-Fi and DAS use overhead mounts for antennas.

Other premium-seat options include access to clubs under the stands on both long sides of the court. On one side, a sports-bar theme has touches like tables made from the hardwood used for last year’s court; that club also includes a seating area that opens to the hallway used by players getting from the locker room to the court, an amenity that lets fans high-five the players as they pass by (Sacramento and Milwaukee have similar premium club spaces with the same interactive idea).

As you might guess, the premium club areas are well-covered by wireless. In the sports-bar “Players Club” we got a Wi-Fi test of 59.6 Mbps / 69.1 Mbps and a cellular test of 67.1 Mbps / 32.9 Mbps at just about 45 minutes before tipoff, as fans watched other basketball action on a humongous two-panel flat-screen display behind the bar, more screens from PrismView installed by display integrator Vitec.

Up in the main level concourse, which Wasdin said used to feel more like a concrete tunnel, the open-air concessions area (with stands along the wall as well as in the middle of the space) saw a Wi-Fi test of 20.4 Mbps / 61.4 Mbps, even as thick crowds of fans streamed by. On an escalator up to the second level and the “Atlanta Social Club” premium area, we got a Wi-Fi mark of 30.8 Mbps / 46.9 Mbps.

A very Atlanta feel to premium spaces and suites

We spent part of the game watching from some comfy-chair seats that are one of the options in the “Social Club” premium area, which is backstopped by a large all-inclusive food and drink area with several dining and bar options. Other premium seating choices include “cabana” suites, where couches and tables in the back of an open-air area lead through a passage to courtside seating. Just below that level are four-top tables with high bar-chair seating, an arrangement popular at new venues like Atlanta’s SunTrust Park. A bit lower down are the comfy-chair seats, a range of choices that gives the Hawks the ability to reach a wider audience of smaller groups who are still looking for an above-average experience.

A DAS railing enclosure

And yes, the wireless in this area is solid as well, with a Wi-Fi test of 46.4 Mbps / 60.2 Mbps, back in the bar area just before tipoff. On the other side of the court are the more traditional suites, with the lower-level “veranda” suites offering a back room as well as a courtside seating area that is unique in that it’s open on top. Above that level is the loft-suite row, smaller spaces with a shared all-inclusive food and beverage area in the back.

In and around the suite level there are other premium finish touches, like acoustic wood paneling to help make State Farm Arena a more friendly venue for music acts. AmpThink’s commitment to aesthetics was visible (or invisible, unless you were looking for it) in places like the veranda suites, where a custom enclosure that fit flush to the outside wall allowed a two-radio Cisco AP to broadcast one way out to the seats, and on the other side, back into the enclosed area.

“Food and connectivity were two of the things we really wanted to fix,” said Wasdin about the renovation. On the food side, local dining choices are available throughout the arena, with artisan pizza, barbecue and even a bar/grill area run by local recording star Zac Brown.

On the connectivity side, Wasdin said the Hawks were impressed by the integration work previously done by the fairly new sports-arena division inside Comcast Business, especially at nearby SunTrust Park and at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, experience that led the Hawks to pick Comcast as their lead technology integrator.

“Comcast brought in AmpThink and there could not be better partnering,” Wasdin said. As always in construction projects, the tech deployment had to work around the unforeseen but inevitable hurdles and delays, but the networks were ready to go when the building re-opened in late October. (The networks will likely get a good stress test this week as State Farm Arena serves as the media headquarters for Super Bowl LIII, taking place on Feb. 3 next door at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.)

“We’re pretty pleased with how well the networks are working,” said Wasdin. Both Comcast and AmpThink, he said, “lived up to their track records.”

A look from above at the new courtside club space

And here’s what the court looks like from that same club space

Stephen Curry doesn’t miss many shots. This was a swish

Samsung video walls in one club space

Fried chicken and a Wi-Fi enclosure

Wi-Fi antennas covering the upper seating deck

New Report: Texas A&M scores with new digital fan-engagement strategy

In the short history of in-stadium mobile fan engagement, a team or stadium app has been the go-to strategy for many venue owners and operators. But what if that strategy is wrong?

That question gets an interesting answer with the lead profile in our most recent STADIUM TECH REPORT, the Winter 2018-19 issue! These quarterly long-form reports are designed to give stadium and large public venue owners and operators, and digital sports business executives a way to dig deep into the topic of stadium technology, via exclusive research and profiles of successful stadium technology deployments, as well as news and analysis of topics important to this growing market.

Leading off for this issue is an in-depth report on a new browser-based digital game day program effort launched this football season at Texas A&M, where some longtime assumptions about mobile apps and fan engagement were blown apart by the performance of the Aggies’ new project. A must read for all venue operations professionals! We also have in-person visits to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the renovated State Farm Arena, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena. A Q&A with NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle and a report on a CBRS network test by the PGA round out this informative issue! DOWNLOAD YOUR REPORT today!

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, Boingo, Oberon, MatSing, Neutral Connect Networks, Everest Networks, and ExteNet Systems. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers. We’d also like to welcome readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our ongoing partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers. We’d also like to thank the SEAT community for your continued interest and support.

As always, we are here to hear what you have to say: Send me an email to kaps@mobilesportsreport.com and let us know what you think of our STADIUM TECH REPORT series.