Amalie Arena’s MatSing-powered DAS ready for Women’s Final Four

MatSing ball antennas seen behind championship banners at Amalie Arena. Credit all photos: MatSing (click on any photo for a larger image)

The new DAS at Amalie Arena in Tampa, which uses 52 MatSing ball antennas, is fully operational and ready for this weekend’s NCAA Women’s Final Four, which starts on Friday.

According to AT&T, which is running and operating the new DAS, the new network “is officially on-air,” after going through some test runs during Tampa Bay Lightning NHL games. According to one informer, AT&T CEO John Donovan (an old friend of MSR) attended a recent hockey game at Amalie and gave a big thumbs-up to the new DAS, which is the biggest known installation of the unique MatSing antennas, which are basically huge spheres with lots of directional cellular antennas inside.

A press release from AT&T about the new DAS claims that has boosted cellular capacity inside Amalie Arena by 400 percent from last year. The new DAS also uses Corning ONE gear on the back end.

MSR will be in Minneapolis this weekend at the other Final Four, so if you are in Tampa for the women’s tourney take a speedtest or two on cellular and let us know what you see. We are watching the DAS deployment at Amalie Arena carefully since it is our guess that it won’t be the last you hear of MatSing deployments this year. Some more photos from the Amalie Arena MatSing deployment below.

Venue Display Report: Sharks bring ‘excitement’ to SAP Center concourses with new digital display technology from Daktronics and Cisco

A long LED board lights up the main concourse at the San Jose Sharks’ home, SAP Center. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

If you’re an ice hockey fan, you are no doubt somewhat addicted to the excitement of seeing games live, in person. Yet one historical drawback to going to games has always been fearing those moments when you need or want to leave your seat, when missing out on the unpredictable action makes waiting in lines excruciating.

While many teams in all kinds of sports have been busy installing television screens in concourses and concession areas to help keep fans connected to the live action, at SAP Center in San Jose the NHL’s Sharks have taken concourse display technology to a new level: With cutting-edge LED displays from Daktronics and the Cisco Vision IPTV display management system from Cisco, the Sharks have turned what used to be basically a dark concrete tunnel into a well-lit, display-laden walkway that can bring live game action and exciting, engaging marketing messages to fans while they are outside the bowl, keeping the excitement level high no matter where in the building a fan might be.

The most visible part of the new display deployment, one installed in phases over the last two seasons, are the concourse LED boards from Daktronics, displays that were custom designed for the stadium’s walkways. Robin Hall, a regional manager for the Brookings, S.D.-based Daktronics, said there were a total of 17 displays added to the main concourse at SAP Center, all 3 1/2-feet tall but in many different widths, with one measuring almost 66 feet wide.

Narrow Pixel Pitch LEDs make a difference

Editor’s note: This profile is from our new VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series, a vertical-specific offering of MSR’s existing STADIUM TECH REPORT series. The VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series will focus on telling the stories of successful venue display technology deployments and the business opportunities these deployments enable. No registration or email address required — just click on this link and start reading!

John Castro, vice president of corporate partnerships for the Sharks, said the concourse displays are just the latest step in an ongoing process to “keep the venue updated and modernized.” Now celebrating its 25th year in existence, SAP Center recently hosted the NHL’s All-Star Game and is a regular stop for such big-ticket events as NCAA basketball regionals and U.S. Figure Skating championships.

In 2010, Castro said the arena added a new Daktronics center-hung video board, which has distinctive circular ribbon boards above and below that synchronize with the ribbon board that circles the arena in the middle of the seating areas. A few years ago, the arena put out an RFP to bring Wi-Fi to the stadium, and when it picked Cisco for the gear supplier, it also decided to use Cisco Vision to synchronize a new display strategy for the building’s main concourse.

“The idea was, let’s emulate what people see in the seats and bring it to the concourse,” Castro said.

A new LED screen above an entryway

What was eventually installed over the past two seasons were the new wall-mounted displays, which joined the 240 TV screens and the 16 hanging pendant displays (with six screens each) that were already in the concourses. According to Castro the Sharks took down eight static signs to make room for the new, interactive displays.

All the new displays make use of Daktronic’s new Narrow Pixel Pitch (NPP) technology, which feature 2.5-millimeter line spacing. The close alignment of the LED lights in the displays makes them sharp even from close distances, with a look and feel more like a traditional TV screen than an LED ribbon board.

By using LED technology, not only are the boards more flexible in what kind of content they can carry, but they are also cheaper and more resilient than TV screens, something Hall said matters a lot to venues like SAP Center that may see up to 300 live events a year.

“If you have TVs, you have to replace them often, and over a lot of hours [the expense] is hard to justify,” said Hall. With its LED technology, Daktronics was able to create custom size boards to fit different areas in the concourse (like above the entry and exit doorways, or above the main entry openings to the seating bowl), giving the Sharks lots of flexibility to build their new concourse viewing experience.

Bringing Cisco Vision to control displays

To make fans take notice of the new displays, the Sharks turned to Cisco and its Cisco Vision IPTV display management system, which allows teams and venues to program and run multiple displays from a single management system. Cisco also brings to the table years of experience in designing, deploying and selling display systems and system content, which can help teams like the Sharks not only keep fans more engaged but also help the team improve its digital ad sales.

Cisco, which supplied the Wi-Fi gear when SAP Center got its new wireless networks a couple years ago, teamed up with network deployment partner AmpThink to deploy a new display system at the same time, often doubling up on infrastructure. At many points inside the arena, a display screen is mounted in the same space as a Wi-Fi access point, an efficient design that combines aesthetics (the APs are hidden behind the screens) with cost savings.

Menu screens and live action are side-by-side to keep fans engaged

According to Ken Martin, executive director of digital transformation for the consumer industries in the Americas and for the sports and entertainment industry globally at Cisco, the Sharks’ previous display system was limited in its capabilities, especially in the ability to change things like menu boards easily between events. Martin also said the Sharks had four different signage solutions for the various boards and displays throughout the stadium, making it hard to coordinate programming across screens.

Now with Cisco Vision in place, the Sharks can build “shows” of content and advertising that flow from screen to screen, or arrive simultaneously on multiple screens to increase the visual effect. Inside the SAP Center concourses, the new Daktronics panels combine with an previously existing infrastructure of screen displays hanging over the walkways to create a visual “wall” that draws the eye.

“The way [the screens] are positioned, you cannot stand in the SAP Center concourses without being hit by something,” Cisco’s Martin said.

The Sharks’ Castro said there “was a lot of discussion and research” about the placement of the signs.

“Whether you turn left or right, you’re always going to see an LED,” Castro said.

How to use digital displays to entertain and inform

Through its professional services that are part of the Cisco Vision deal, Cisco also helps the Sharks brainstorm with potential sponsors to create digital display advertising ideas, and then also helps create, produce and run the “show” of ads that streams across all the stadium’s displays. A current campaign with BMW is an example of using all concourse screens simultaneously to create an immersive feel to the advertising.

A look at the hanging pendant screens in sync with the LED wall boards

“Part of what we do is show customers the art of the possible,” said Martin, who said many demonstrations of digital-display potential can happen in his team’s extensive demo room at Cisco, where they have 27 different types of screens to model just about any possible stadium deployment. Though much of the digital advertising industry in venues is still in an adolescent stage, Martin said that sponsors are “way more educated than they have ever been,” and know now that they can ask for particulars like having ads shown at certain times, or to have advertising content “wrapped” around live action on partial screen real estate, like an “L-wrap.”

With Cisco Vision, the Sharks are able to not just coordinate a “show” of ads and other content during the game, but they can also break in and trigger special screen content when something happens live, like a goal being scored. Such “takeover” moments are just another new asset that can be added to the ROI for a smart digital display solution, something not possible with static display systems. Such timely messages can really catch the fans’ eye, especially so at hockey games where people pay attention when they aren’t in their seats.

“If you’re a true hockey fan, you have your concourse timing down to a science,” said Daktronic’s Hall. “You never want to go to the game and feel like you’re missing something.”

To help those fans, one of the live action content pieces run across most of the concourse boards at SAP Center is a live clock that counts down the time until live action starts again.

“It can really be a showstopper, to use the screens and video walls, especially when they are all synchronized to the same message,” Cisco’s Martin said. “You’re going to get people to stop and pay attention.”

For the Sharks, the new system is already returning dividends; according to Castro, some 80 percent of all new digital display sponsorship business includes Cisco Vision integration as part of the opportunity.

“It helps [ads] rise above the clutter,” Castro said of the new display system. “You can see the impact on the brands as well as on the fans.”

“It’s like putting on a show in the concourse,” Daktronic’s Hall said of the new system. “It really extends the in-bowl experience through the whole venue.”

Editor’s note: This profile is from our new VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series, a vertical-specific offering of MSR’s existing STADIUM TECH REPORT series. The VENUE DISPLAY REPORT series will focus on telling the stories of successful venue display technology deployments and the business opportunities these deployments enable. No registration or email address required — just click on this link and start reading!

Notre Dame Stadium sees 4 TB of Wi-Fi used at NHL Winter Classic

It wasn’t a record-setting day for the Wi-Fi network at Notre Dame Stadium, but the 4 terabytes of data used by fans at Tuesday’s NHL Winter Classic continued a string of healthy wireless data use by attendees at the recently renovated venue.

With 76,126 in attendance to watch the Boston Bruins beat the Chicago Blackhawks in the latest of the NHL’s outdoor-arena games, some 17,000 unique devices connected to the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, according to statistics provided by the university. The peak concurrent Wi-Fi connections were 14,355, and peak throughput was 5.81 Gbps, according to the school. Given the winter weather and the fact that many fans were no doubt visiting Notre Dame for the first time, it’s no surprise that the data usage trailed all the other events at Notre Dame Stadium this fall and winter (see chart below). Still, a 4 TB day is still a big number, and again perhaps more impressive considering the conditions. Earlier this fall, Notre Dame Stadium saw 7.19 TB used for a game against Stanford.

According to some reports, including this story from CBS News, the second-largest ever Winter Classic crowd saw some issues arise on the concessions side, with some fans reporting that the stadium had run out of food and beer and that many concession lines were extremely long. Another report quoted a Notre Dame spokesperson as saying the reports of being out of food or beer were untrue.

More Wi-Fi stats from Notre Dame’s fall and winter events below. Thanks again to Notre Dame’s IT crew for providing the figures.

Philadelphia Flyers pick Venuetize for new stadium app

Screen shot of Venuetize’s new app for the Philadelphia Flyers and Wells Fargo Center.

The NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers have tapped app builder Venuetize for the team’s new stadium app for Wells Fargo Center, an app that includes digital ticketing support for now with other features planned for a later arrival.

According to a press release from the Flyers and Venuetize, the new app will allow fans to completely manage, transfer and scan tickets for all events at Wells Fargo Center, eliminating the need to print paper tickets at home. While the release did not specify which additional features would be available soon, screen shots of the app showed support for digital parking tickets and the ability to order concessions through the device.

The win with the Flyers is the second NHL deal for Venuetize this year, following being picked to develop the Tampa Bay Lightning’s new app earlier this year. Venuetize also counts the Detroit Red Wings and the Buffalo Sabres among its team-app clients.

More MatSing antennas for Amalie Arena

MatSing ball antennas seen behind championship banners at Amalie Arena. Credit all photos: MatSing (click on any photo for a larger image)

You may remember our profile from our current STADIUM TECH REPORT issue where we talked about MatSing antennas being deployed at Amalie Arena? Time for a quick update — instead of using just 20 of the big ball-shaped antennas for the new DAS, Amalie will instead have 52 MatSing antennas installed when all is said and done — a deployment that will be interesting to watch when it goes live later this fall.

Thanks to MatSing folks for the accompanying photos here of the MatSing antennas being deployed in Amalie, painted a nice shade of gray to blend in with the rooftop infrastructure. Fans may not know what the big ball shaped things are, but their cellular coverage should be good in the new AT&T-installed DAS.

Where else will we see MatSings being deployed? Independently Mobile Sports Report has learned that one integrator plans to purchase and use MatSing antennas in two arenas, one an NBA venue and the other a small-college stadium. Since the deals aren’t done we can’t name names yet but it will be interesting to watch where else MatSings end up.

Why use MatSing antennas? What sets MatSing ball antennas (also called “Luneberg Lens” antennas) apart from other wireless gear is the MatSing ball’s ability to provide a signal that can stretch across greater distances while also being highly concentrated or focused. According to MatSing its antennas can reach client devices up to 240 feet away; for music festivals, that means a MatSing antenna could be placed at the rear or sides of large crowd areas to reach customer devices where it’s unpractical to locate permanent or other portable gear. By being able to focus its communications beams tightly, a MatSing ball antenna can concentrate its energy on serving a very precise swath of real estate, as opposed to regular antennas which typically offer much less precise ways of concentrating or focusing where antenna signals go.

Lots of MatSings up in the rafters at Amalie Arena

MatSings are ready for their close-up

Lots of coverage coming from up above

Paint job helps MatSings blend in

MatSing ball antennas to power new DAS at Amalie Arena

Artist rendering of MatSing ball deployment in rafters of Amalie Arena. Credit: MatSing

Can the curiousity become commonplace?

That’s the question that will be answered when the new DAS network at Amalie Arena in Tampa comes online — powered by 20 MatSing “eyeball” antennas, the big, white, spherical systems mostly previously seen as quirkily conspicuous portable cellular equipment for large gatherings like outdoor concerts.

Over the past year, however, the MatSing balls have been creeping inside sports venues, most notably making a permanent appearance at U.S. Bank Stadium for Super Bowl 52, when Verizon wireless hung two MatSing antennas from the rafters to provide cellular coverage for sideline-located media photographers.

Now in what is believed to be the largest single installation of MatSing balls at one time, AT&T is rebuilding the distributed antenna system at Amalie Arena (home of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning) with 20 MatSing balls, which house a combined 362-plus antennas due to come online before the next hockey season begins. According to AT&T, the new system will boost LTE capacity by “nearly 400 percent” compared to the previous system installed at the arena.

MatSing balls in the rafters at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Verizon

The new system is also sort of a coming-out event for MatSing the company, which has largely remained in the background the past few years as AT&T and Verizon Wireless have used its unique “lens” antennas to bring cellular coverage to events as diverse as the Coachella Music Festival, the presidential inauguration and the Indy 500. But as cellular carriers and venue owners and operators look for ways to increase density or granularity of coverage, MatSing’s unique gear may find its way into more permanent deployments, especially if the Amalie Arena network proves successful.

Longer reach, tighter concentration

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 a new MatSing ball DAS deployment at Amalie Arena, a new DAS for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, and a look at the networks inside the new Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

What sets MatSing ball antennas (also called “Luneberg Lens” antennas) apart from other wireless gear is the MatSing ball’s ability to provide a signal that can stretch across greater distances while also being highly concentrated or focused. According to MatSing its antennas can reach client devices up to 240 feet away; for music festivals, that means a MatSing antenna could be placed at the rear or sides of large crowd areas to reach customer devices where it’s unpractical to locate permanent or other portable gear. By being able to focus its communications beams tightly, a MatSing ball antenna can concentrate its energy on serving a very precise swath of real estate, as opposed to regular antennas which typically offer much less precise ways of concentrating or focusing where antenna signals go.

And while the “giant eyeball” or “golfball” antennas are often very easy to spot in outside deployments, for indoor arenas or domed venues the MatSing balls can be tucked up against rooftop beams and catwalks, where they can go unnoticed alongside the other structural attachments like heating ducts, speakers and lighting. For venues concerned about the number of antenna placements growing near seating areas, a ceiling-mounted MatSing ball network could be an elegant way to add capacity without compromising aesthetics.

MatSing balls deployed at an outdoor event. Credit: MatSing

The MatSing balls can also be used at outdoor arenas, as long as there is someplace to mount them; at the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, the antennas already have a nickname of the “dingle balls,” and are a key part of an aggressive wireless coverage strategy for the 33,000-seat home of the CFL’s Roughriders.

‘Like a contact lens’

Without getting too deep into the technology behind the antennas, MatSing chief product officer Tony DeMarco suggested comparing the focusing ability to that of a contact lens. For the Amalie Arena deployment, AT&T is using a version of the MatSing antenna that can provide up to 18 different beams of radio frequency, far more than most standard antennas. (Other larger versions of the ball antennas can support even more connections.) According to DeMarco, the beams can then be easily focused by using a laser to point down to seating areas, a much more precise configuration than other antenna technologies.

Unlike other deployement methods, like under-seat antenna enclosures, the MatSing balls typically have a clear line-of-sight path to potential users, which DeMarco claims can offer faster, better connections.

Since there haven’t been any full-stadium MatSing deployments before, there’s not enough evidence yet to fully compare whether or not going all-in on the ball design will offer greater performance or budgetary savings over other methods. The confident DeMarco, however, has a couple predictions he’s willing to bet on — that in 3 years’ time, “every operator will be using a lens antenna, and every venue will be using a lens antenna. It’s a graceful use of physics with a lot of potential.”