Stadium Tech Report: Boingo brings Wi-Fi, DAS to Air Force Academy stadiums

Falcon Stadium, Air Force Academy

Falcon Stadium, Air Force Academy

Perched dramatically in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the architectural gem known as Falcon Stadium is a great place to watch Air Force Academy football games. As a place to install a new wireless network, however, it’s not quite a beautiful site.

“It looks beautiful from the highway, but it’s not modern,” said Dermot “Derm” Coll, CEO of the Air Force Academy Athletic Corporation, in a recent phone interview. Though its many of its 46,692 seats offer soaring views across the field and across the plains and foothills just north of Colorado Springs, Coll said the stadium, which was built in 1962, was something of a black hole when it came to cellular or wireless communications.

Over the past few years as smartphones have become popular, Coll said fans were frustrated by their inability to make calls or connect to the Internet, and even staffers on site couldn’t communicate wirelessly. “Fans wanted to do what they do at home, so we saw a great need” for better connectivity, Coll said. And thanks to a new deal with Boingo Wireless, fans and cadets and any other visitors to Air Force Academy sports facilities will soon have both high-speed Wi-Fi and cellular DAS connectivity, which should make communications as pleasing as the mile-high views. In addition to Falcon Field, the deal also calls for Wi-Fi and DAS networks inside the AFA’s Cadet Field House, a cavernous 1960s-era building that hosts a basketball arena, a hockey arena and an indoor track.

Historic landmark status a challenge

Coll, who runs the organization that deals with all the business activities for Air Force athletics, said that signing the deal was the easy part of the long-planned installation. What proved tougher was bringing new wireless technology to facilities that were not only built in the ’60s, but also had historical landmark status.

“It was really challenging just to do things like run cable,” said Coll. “We had to be a little bit creative.”

Clune Arena, Air Force Academy

Clune Arena, Air Force Academy

Doug Lodder, vice president of business development at Boingo Wireless, said installers had to hide some Wi-Fi antennas behind specially designed shielding that sported the Air Force Academy lightning-bolt logo, so as to blend in with Falcon Stadium’s distinctive architecture. “There were not a lot of places to hang stuff,” Lodder said.

For the 5,900-seat Clune Arena for basketball and the 2,500-seat Cadet Ice Arena, there were similar challenges. “The Fieldhouse is pretty old and dated, a real Cold War building,” Coll said. “It was not great for tech to prosper there.”

Yet to show how tech-savvy fans have become, Coll said that a small Wi-Fi network installed for internal use was seen by fans who were looking for SSIDs they could connect to.

“We got beat up because people could see the SSID and wanted access to the [internal] Wi-Fi,” Coll said. “So we knew fans had the desire to connect.”

Boingo’s airport rep helps land the deal

When it came to finding a provider for the DAS, Coll said the Academy wanted a neutral third-party host and Boingo fit that bill.

“Boingo gave us a great opportunity without having to go with one carrier over another,” Coll said. Though carrier hosts will often pledge that all their competitors will be welcome to join a carrier-built DAS, Coll didn’t want to have to worry about whether negotiations might keep one provider or another from joining the enhanced cellular network.

“You don’t want to [have to] hope your carrier is on the tower,” Coll said.

Boingo, which provides Wi-Fi service to Denver International Airport, was no stranger to Coll and the Academy.

Cadet Field House, Air Force Academy

Cadet Field House, Air Force Academy

“We knew their reputation, and they brought a lot to the table,” Coll said. The network at the Academy facilities will be free of charge, unlike some other Boingo public Wi-Fi deployments (such as at Chicago’s Soldier Field) where fans are charged a small amount for network access. The network inside Falcon Stadium is scheduled to be live in time for this year’s spring graduation ceremonies; Coll said the Academy is also looking into the possibility of having Boingo provide more wireless services to the rest of the campus, which is widely spread out through the hillsides just north of Colorado Springs.

Though the Academy has a game-day app, according to Coll you couldn’t really do much with it at the stadium because of the connectivity problems. In the near future, Coll said the idea is to bring more live info to the app, including updated stats and video replays.

“In the past you could sit in Falcon Stadium and launch the app, and not much would happen,” Coll said. “Now we’re looking forward to seeing it perform on game day.”

Friday Grab Bag: Apple’s big iPad? And NCAA football changes thru history

Rumors are that Apple is now looking at a large format iPad, one that would be in the 13-inch screen size territory, at least according to a recent piece in Forbes that is relaying news from the Korean Times.

It would be interesting to see as the current trend in tablets has been strong growth in the 7- to 8-inch format, but as tablets start to increasingly replace notebooks and desktop PCs a larger tablet might meet this segment’s needs.

PC sales lag as tablets fill their place

Speaking of tablets as PC replacements eWeek reports that according to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker shipments of PCs are expected to fall 10.1% this year in the consumer market and 5% in the business space.

PCs are still used more that smartphones and tablets, but mainly for computational and work exercises while the use of more mobile platforms has seen a dramatic increase as they fill many of the needs that a PC used to perform.

A history of NCAA football conferences

For casual fans, and even some of the more than casual college football fans the changing face of the different conferences, with teams coming and going, can be confusing. The New York Times has a very interesting interactive page that shows the changes since 1965.

It highlights the moves and you can trace teams and conferences over that span as the morph and in some cases dissolve. Also interesting is the huge decline of unaffiliated schools.

Amazon to develop drones for delivery?
One of the funnier news articles from last weekend was the proclamation of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that the company was developing drones that would deliver packages in 30 minutes. It was widely reported and commented on, and yet no one, at least initially put any thought into this.

Really? Drones? Aside from getting FAA approval, the logistics would be a nightmare and they would have to have thousands of warehouses and airports across the nation to support the effort. Who would be controlling them, Sidd Finch?

The perfect holiday gift from the NFL
Teams sell all sorts of swag for their fans and as it is the holiday season many are looking for the perfect gift for both the NFL fanatic as well as the more casual fan who follows the local team but thinks a quarterback that retired 5 years ago is still at the helm.

Mike Tanier of Sportsonearth kindly went to all of the trouble of tracking down the proper gift for all types of fans. Want a toaster that embeds your team’s logo? Got it! A Cleveland Browns thong-uh yeah about that.

Fanatic App Tells Out of Town Fans Where to Go

tN_133400_Fanatic social logo

Have you ever traveled to a distant city and been forced to miss watching your favorite team play because you did not want to watch the game in a sports bar filled with hostile fans? Well Fanatic has developed an app that helps like minded fans find each other and enjoy a game together.

The company is actually delivering its second iteration of the app, it first hit the market with a version that only supported iOS digital mobile devices late last January and now has expanded into the Android space as well.

The concept is very simply. A fan of a team, or league, can search for the top venues to watch that team in a specific city. So a Bears fan in Charlotte could seek out a bar that caters to fans that root for the team. Rankings will rise and fall as Fanatic users recommend sites for other fans. It recommends specific venues nearby based on a user’s location, sports interests and the team ranking of those venues.

It feature top venues for a wide range of leagues including NCAA football and basketball, the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS, along with the top European soccer leagues, including the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the UEFA Champions League.

The company is currently developing a system that will have specific rewards for users. You will earn points for usage for such things as checking in and at some future time they will be redeemable for specific prizes.

This seems like a very good mixture of social media and sports, and as any fan that has been in a different city and wanted to watch their home team knows, some bars are hostile to out of town fans and some cater to them, the difficulty is finding them.

New College Sports Program Launches on Hulu

Total College Sports

If you get most of your sports information from the Internet and not from broadcast television then this is good news for you, digital sports media developer Perform and the Chicago White Sox’s Silver Chalice have launched another Total College Sports program.

The latest effort is called TCS 5th Quarter and it will consist of an initial run of 18 episodes, with a new one premiering every Saturday night from now until Jan. 12. Each episode will be 22 minutes long and will be distributed via Hulu and Hulu Plus service, ad-free.

The program is part of a growing number of offerings from Total College Sports, which includes both original programming and game highlights from a variety of college sports conferences including The ACC, Pac-12, SEC and the Big Ten.

This is really good news for fans of using second screens, either using their tablets or their smartphones they can watch the programming there as well as online and via a channel on ePlayer, Perform’s sports VOD broadcast platform that is distributed to over 350 media properties in the U.S.

Total College Sports was founded last year and is still finding its way in some respects. It currently carries NCAA football and basketball, so it falls a bit short of total sports. However it does carry a good set of highlights and has a team in place to provide analysis and news as well as the highlights.

BCS Playoff Gains Approval while ESPN Extends its Rose Bowl Relationship

Earlier this week the second round of approvals needed for the creation of a playoff to decide the BCS Championship made it with flying colors as conference commissioners and university presidents and chancellors came to an agreement on the topic.

There are still a number of issues that need to be decided, but most of these are simply housekeeping issues. Among the topics are: Ink a new TV deal and work out how the revenue sharing will work, and of course what is the new name for the playoffs. The composition and election of the selection committee that will determine the playoff teams is also a topic that needs to be worked out. I wonder if they will also create a new trophy?

The move will end the reign of the BCS Championship Series after next year, when the four team playoff is scheduled to begin. There are a number of people that have called for a larger number of teams to be allowed in the playoffs, but that seems unlikely at least in the near term and the current playoff plan is slated to run for 12 years starting in 2014.

The semifinals will rotate between six bowl games and the final game will be put out to bid for host cities just like the NFL’s Super Bowl. It had appeared earlier that the bowl games had already been decided but it now looks like that is not true. The marketing activity to be included should be tremendous in the upcoming year.

At the WWL ESPN the news is that it has reached an agreement for a 12 year extension of its broadcasting the Pasadena Tournament of Roses with the Pas-12 and the Big Ten Conferences. Starting in 2015, after the current deal expires, the deal will continue ESPN’s broadcasting of the Rose Bowl.

ESPN could, and most likely will, get a nice bonus from the deal if the BCS Playoff system selects the Rose Bowl as a playoff site, as the agreement is expected to cover that opportunity as well. The Rose Bowl is the site of the 2014 BCS Championship already.

All of the games will be played on Jan 1 at 5 pm ET except for the years that the 1st is on a Sunday. The broadcasts will span much more that television and will include, ESPN Radio, ESPN Mobile TV and can be seen on smartphones, tablets, online and on Xbox LIVE via WatchESPN and will be available on ESPN 3D .

BCS Playoffs Coming-Will Anybody be Happy?

The drumbeat for a playoff in the Bowl Championship Series in college football has been growing over the past few years and talks have been ongoing recently to establish a playoff system appear to be in the final stages of planning.

According to ESPN and numerous other outlets the BCS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director have ironed out a plan that would create a four seeded team playoff for the BCS that would begin in 2014. There is still more approvals needed before that becomes a reality. The proposal goes to the BCS presidential oversight committee, meeting next week in Washington D.C.

The model would have the four teams picked by a committee that would use the usual criteria such as strength of schedule and how the teams performed in their respective championships. The playoff format would put the two semifinal games into existing bowl games on a rotating basis between the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowls. The championship would be treated like the Super Bowl is currently and have cities bid on the game to determine where it is played.

One big benefit to college football is the huge extra income that is expected to come from the playoffs, which have been estimated at anywhere from $300 to $500 million annually. With a number of the bowl teams losing money when they play in lesser bowls and the probably elimination of some of the poorer performing bowls, this is a nice way for schools to bolster their bottom line.

I like the idea of a playoff but with so few teams involved I am worried about who will get in. You already see the favoritism in the voting system and voters blatantly leaving teams off the top 20 or pushing teams higher than they seem to deserve.

I heard one of ESPN’s commentators already saying that the playoffs would be no good unless it put two SEC teams in the playoffs. I guess he did not watch last year’s BCS Championship game. Yet that is what the SEC has been pushing, along with the Big 12, according to Sports Illustrated. It also reported that Pac-12, ACC and others are very much against that stance.

Since nothing has been finalized it is still too early for the various partisan groups to start their campaigns but I imagine that who gets on the selection committee will be very interesting and very heavily examined for bias for or against select conferences.