Stadium- and team-app builder Hopscotch adds $5 M in Series B funding

Screen shot of new Notre Dame app built by Hopscotch.

Hopscotch, one of the newer entrants in the team- and stadium-app development space, announced a $5 million Series B round of funding earlier this month, which the company said would be used to help support the rapid growth Hopscotch has seen over the past year.

Founded in 2014 after a project with Madison Square Garden led CEO Laurence Sotsky to build a business around team and stadium apps, Hopscotch had previously raised $12.5 million in Series A funding, according to the company. According to Sotsky, a beta customer relationship with the University of Mississippi in 2016 gave Hopscotch an entree to the large-college market, and since then the company has signed app deals with a who’s-who list of top universities with prominent athletic programs, including Notre Dame, Oregon, Ohio State, Auburn, UCLA, Washington, Baylor, Penn State, Michigan State and Arizona, among others. Hopscotch also signed a deal with T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

While the list of customers is impressive, there is a bit of a caveat to Hopscotch’s sudden rise. According to Sotsky, Hopscotch gained many of its new customers this summer by taking over app development deals previously held by CBS Interactive and IMG College. As the rights holder for many universities, CBS Interactive’s apps have historically been centered around media, including streaming video and other team content. According to Sotsky, Hopscotch is replacing code in those previous apps from the inside out, bringing the company’s “Fan Engagement Platform” to add services like ticket purchasing and advertising services. However, in many cases the apps are still identified by previous developers in places like the Apple App Store, a tactic Sotsky said was done deliberately so that previous users of the apps could just update to get the new app instead of having to install a new app.

Hopscotch CEO and founder Laurence Sotsky

Duplicate deals at schools?

But what Hopscotch doesn’t tell you is that some of these deals may not be exclusive, as in the case of Baylor University, which is listed under “customers” on both the Hopscotch website as well as the YinzCam website. YinzCam, which developed a game-day app for Baylor when the school built its new football stadium in 2014, remains the “official” app, according to Becky King, associate vice president for information technology services and interim CIO at the Waco, Texas, school.

However complete or incomplete they may be, Hopscotch’s college deals will at least give the company another fighting place to take on other providers in the team/stadium app marketplace like YinzCam, VenueNext, Venuetize and Built.io. With $17.5 million in total funding now, the El Segundo, Calif.-based Hopscotch may add to its current total of 40 employees, while building out its product roadmap to include more services for game days, like wait-time apps or traffic and parking services.

In a phone interview Sotsky said Hopscotch is already trying beta tests of interactive advertisements, like one last basketball season at Auburn where fans using the app would get a message good for a free breakfast sandwich at a nearby Hardee’s if the opposing team missed two consecutive free throws late in a game. Though most stadium and team apps have been challenged so far just to get fans to download and use the apps — never mind generating revenue — Sotsky is betting that Hopscotch will find a way to help venues, teams and advertisers work together to build something that benefits fans while also delivering some ROI.

“If you deliver the right kind of ads you can get great revenue traction,” said Sotsky.

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

Technology and Tradition: How Notre Dame Stadium got its Wi-Fi network

Notre Dame logo on Wi-Fi railing enclosure at Notre Dame Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

How do you bring new technology into a building and institution that embraces history as an integral part of its brand? There may be many answers but in the sports stadium world, Notre Dame’s renovation of its hallowed football stadium and the addition of high-speed Wi-Fi look like a good example for any other venues trying to solve the same issues.

As part of its $400 million “Campus Crossing” stadium renovation, the University of Notre Dame made adding a high-definition stadium Wi-Fi network a priority, according to Rob Kelly, associate athletics director of ticketing, premium and technology for the school. Though such big projects often face budget trimming en route to completion, Kelly said the network was never on the chopping block.

“I’m pleased to say, Wi-FI was a priority,” said Kelly during an MSR visit in August. “It will power what we want to do for the future. Our vision is greater, and the things we want to do won’t work without the network.”

Future is now for Wi-Fi, video boards, premium seating

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Fall 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

An outside look at the new construction surrounding the ‘old’ stadium bowl

Future aside, the new technology reality at Notre Dame Stadium is a huge step forward for a facility that first appeared in 1930, when the legendary coach Knute Rockne led the Fighting Irish football team. Since then the old concrete oval underwent only one significant upgrade, a 1997 enhancement that added another ring to the top of the stadium, boosting capacity from 59,075 to 80,795.

The Campus Crossing project, however, takes Notre Dame Stadium into a new era completely. By basically building three new buildings onto the back of the east, west and south sides of the stadium, Notre Dame added the ability to now have expanded premium club areas and seating sections, added classroom and other office space, and the ability to finally have a huge TV screen to show replays, a big upgrade to the experience from the Notre Dame games of the past.

Thanks to the video board, “we won’t have to text family or friends not at the game to find out if a player was in or out of bounds,” said Kelly. Though the tradition of attending a game in the same facility where legends like Rockne, Ara Parseghian and Joe Montana roamed the field is part of the game-day attraction, Kelly said that Notre Dame fans’ visits to away games made them well aware of amenities that were becoming commonplace elsewhere.

A good look at the railing AP enclosures in the east stands

“That old saying about ‘you don’t know what you don’t have’ just wasn’t true anymore,” said Kelly, who notes that currently most Notre Dame seasons will see the team playing in one or two NFL venues for prime-time contests. Brought in right at the start of the Crossroads project, Kelly said he had to become an “instant expert” on premium seating and on technology, especially on the Wi-Fi front. That wasn’t all bad, since it meant multiple visits to other stadiums to evaluate their technology deployments and seating options.

On the Wi-Fi front, Notre Dame paid special attention to Wi-Fi deployments in Green Bay (since Lambeau Field is similar to Notre Dame Stadium in construction and layout) and in Minnesota, where the new U.S. Bank Stadium had opened. The biggest question for Notre Dame’s Wi-Fi deployment in its no-overhang exposed bowl was about which method would be used — with the early leaders being under-seat or top-down placement of Wi-Fi APs. According to Kelly, a railing-mounted solution like the one used at U.S. Bank Stadium was not originally given much thought, mainly because the lower bowl seating area at Notre Dame Stadium didn’t have any handrails.

Shake down the Wi-Fi … from the railings

Though the new top part of the bowl required handrails for safety regulations when it was added in 1997, the lower bowl was historically exempt from those considerations, Kelly said. Notre Dame information architect John Buysse, one of the leads on the school’s network team, said the first reactions during network planning meetings rejected the idea of Wi-Fi on railings, with debate suggesting that the lower-bowl aisles weren’t wide enough.

Wi-Fi enclosures blend well in the concourse area

Under-seat deployment AP would be a challenge as well, for both the extra cost of drilling more holes through the concrete — many at locations “below grade,” or in the dirt, since the playing field is well below ground level — as well as a lack of space between the floor and the bench seats.

“Whoever had an AP [under the bench] would be miserable,” Buysse said.

Somewhere during the process, however, a survey of alumni found that the lack of railings in the lower bowl was a serious safety concern, especially during the rainy and snowy parts of the season.

“The alumni complained about how difficult it was” to negotiate getting to their lower-bowl seats without any handrails, Buysse said. With the ability to score a double positive with one move — adding handrails for safety and for Wi-Fi — the railing-mounted AP plan moved in for the win.

“It also really helped that Minnesota had done it [handrail deployments] and had success,” said Buysse, who got good performance statistics from the Vikings to back up the railing-mount idea. After seeing those numbers, he said, “any potential concerns went away.”

So far this season, the network has already performed like a winner. For Notre Dame’s Sept. 9 home game against Georgia, the network saw 6.2 terabytes of data used, the highest total ever recorded for a college football game.

Handrail AP mounts, Kelly said, “were better than the alternative of under-seat — it costs less, and there are fewer holes in the concrete.”

It also didn’t hurt, Kelly said, to make a double positive from a single move.

“Adding handrails [for safety] was a positive, and better connectivity was another positive,” Kelly said. And the fact that the enclosures look cool — with a snappy ND logo embossed into each cover — also probably doesn’t hurt.

AmpThink steps up to lead Wi-Fi deployment

The custom AP enclosures with the ND logo embossed into the molded plastic were courtesy of AmpThink, a Dallas-area firm that in most of its previous history had provided its Wi-Fi skills in a specialist or subcontractor role where it had full responsibility for network deployments. But with an increasing amount of experience in its resume — including doing designs for several of the recent Super Bowl networks, as well as new network installs at Texas A&M University and U.S. Bank Stadium, among others — AmpThink bid and won the lead on the Notre Dame Wi-Fi project, another football-size stadium project on a list that also includes the renovated Wi-Fi network at the Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., and the ongoing renovation at the Alamodome in San Antonio, which will host the 2018 NCAA Men’s Final Four.

Fans at a summer scrimmage enjoy the new premium seats

In AmpThink, Notre Dame found a partner not just with technical skills but also with the appreciation with how making things that look good as well as perform well matters. One look at the custom Wi-Fi AP handrail enclosures tells you a lot about this commitment, when you see the sharp, widely recognizable yet understated “ND” logo stamped into each ABS plastic casing.

AmpThink execs showing off the gear during a recent tour pointed out details like the slightly roughened surface, finished that way to keep any scratches from showing. AmpThink also made sure all the logos were horizontal when installed, no small feat with numerous different angles of slope on various railings.

“There are different [railing] angles all over, and only one of the ones AmpThink delivered didn’t match — and they had a spare to fix it on hand,” Buysse said.

“AmpThink has been a tremendous partner,” said Kelly, noting the early help AmpThink provided by bringing in demo units to mock up what the deployment would look like.

Of the 1,096 total Wi-Fi APs in the new network, a full 685 serve the seating bowl, Buysse said. For the below-grade APs located near the bottom of the seating bowl, AmpThink and Notre Dame brought bandwidth to the railings by drilling a trench down the sides of stairways and covering the cables with rubber gaskets afterward. The APs in the bowl are mainly Cisco 3800 units, which have two radios each. Buysse said the bowl network will be exclusively on 5 GHz channels, like many other stadiums these days.

AmpThink’s engineering ingenuity is apparent in other places as well — for flat-ceiling AP locations like those in suites, the firm developed an AP enclosure that can be installed by one person, instead of having to have electricians and other construction specialists teaming up to get all the work done. It might not sound particularly interesting, but when you are installing hundreds of APs in far-flung locations, finding a way to save time on each one ends up being a big benefit in the end.

Even with all the new construction the main concourses of Notre Dame stadium have successfully combined the old hallowed-ground feel with modern amentities like new and more concessions stands, as well as Wi-Fi and DAS antennas painted and mounted in ways to keep them out of direct sight. Our speedtest in the concourse area showed a connection of 70 Mbps on the download and 52 Mbps up. Crown Castle built and operates the neutral-host DAS, which already has AT&T and Verizon Wireless working with T-Mobile set to join in soon.

Though there weren’t any fans on hand yet, our speedtests taken in late August were impressive, with Wi-Fi readings of 69 Mbps on the download and 70 Mbps on the upload in the upper deck benches on the stadium’s east side; we also got a reading of 67.56 / 68.68 inside the new premium club area on the west side; and a test of Verizon DAS connections at 46.68 / 11.39, also on the west side of the stadium.

TV production, mobile app plans ready for the future

The next tale to tell from Notre Dame Stadium may be on the content and application side, where the Fighting Irish are just getting ready to play with their new toys. At the SEAT Conference in Atlanta this summer, Notre Dame execs talked about starting slow with the stadium mobile app, not trying to do too much so that fans wouldn’t be turned off by the approach if features failed. For this season the app will focus mainly on digital ticketing, allowing fans to show tickets, transfer tickets via email, or donate unused tickets back to the university. Kelly said the school will explore using a portal for Wi-Fi login in the future, to “reinforce” the value of the app.

A look at the cabling path drilled alongside stairways for the lower bowl seats

On the video production end, the building on the stadium’s west side provided the space to create a multi-headed content production facility that hosts the new “Notre Dame Studios,” an internal startup of sorts that will centralize all kinds of video and streaming production not just for sports but for all the content being created all over the South Bend, Ind., campus and beyond. For football game days, the production facilities can be used by network crews, who no longer will need to bring a separate production truck to the venue.

For Notre Dame fans, the improvements bring the facility well to the forefront of the connected-stadium world, as well as for premium seating, especially for those with access to the rooftop club areas, where fans can relax on outside couches with an excellent view of the field, a commanding view of the greater South Bend landscape, and excellent connectivity for their mobile devices. All in the old stadium with its sturdy brick-and-concrete foundations, and the statue of Rockne out front, ready to shake down the thunder and then share that experience on Facebook or Snapchat.

“There’s a fine line in finding the balance between aesthetics and performance,” Kelly said. “Leadership understood that we couldn’t compromise the aesthetics of Notre Dame Stadium.”

But, Kelly added, he’s also “never heard that people don’t want better cell coverage.” While the changes may be startling to veteran Notre Dame fans — especially the video board — Kelly thinks the end result will be another positive, as the practice of combining technology and tradition with a commitment to quality becomes apparent.

“I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised,” he said.

Editor’s note: This profile is an excerpt from our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, our Fall 2017 issue that has in-depth profiles of network deployments at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Colorado State’s new stadium, and the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY of the report today!

Notre Dame’s new Wi-Fi, Mercedes-Benz Stadium first look — all in our new Stadium Tech Report!

We always get excited here at Mobile Sports Report when we have a new quarterly report out, but the stories, profiles and analysis in our Fall 2017 issue just may be our best-ever effort. With a detailed look at the new Wi-Fi network at Notre Dame Stadium, and a first look at the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, our Fall 2017 issue starts off with a doubleheader of deep information profiles and it doesn’t stop there!

In addition to Notre Dame and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, this issue also has a detailed look at the new football stadium at Colorado State University, which also has high-performing Wi-Fi and a neutral-host DAS deployment. We also take a look at the Wi-Fi renovation taking place at the Denver Broncos’ Sports Authority Field at Mile High, a network upgrade that should lift the Broncos’ home to the top of the list of NFL stadium networks. And we’re still not done!

Also in this issue is a well timed, deeply informed essay from Chuck Lukaszewski about unlicensed LTE and what it means to venues. Chuck, the top wireless guru at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, digs into this developing cellular/Wi-Fi issue and delivers some heads-up knowledge that all venue tech professionals should absorb. We also have one more profle in the issue, a look at a temporary Wi-Fi network being installed at the Los Angeles Coliseum. That’s a lot of reading, so get started by downloading your free copy today!

Part of the reason we’re able to bring you so much good content is the support we get from our industry sponsors. In this issue we also have a record number of sponsors, including Mobilitie, Crown Castle, CommScope, JMA Wireless, Corning, Huber+Suhner, American Tower, Extreme Networks, Oberon, Cox Business, 5 Bars, Boingo Wireless and Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. The support of our sponsors allows Mobile Sports Report to not only do all the work necessary to bring you these great stories, but it also allows us to offer our reports to readers free of charge! We’d also like to welcome new readers from the Inside Towers community, who may have found their way here via our new partnership with the excellent publication Inside Towers.

Download the Fall 2017 Stadium Tech Report today!

Notre Dame sees 6.2 TB of Wi-Fi traffic for Georgia game

Notre Dame logo on Wi-Fi railing enclosure at Notre Dame Stadium. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The final score on the football field may not have made Fighting Irish fans happy, but on the connectivity side of things the new Wi-Fi network at Notre Dame Stadium scored a big win with 6.2 terabytes of traffic used during Notre Dame’s Sept. 9 home game against Georgia.

Deployed by AmpThink, the new Wi-Fi network is part of a $400 stadium renovation called Campus Crossroads that debuted in time for this year’s college football season. Mobile Sports Report got a look at the new stadium renovations, which include new premium seating areas and a large video board, during an August football scrimmage event that was open to fans.

On Sept. 3, the Irish formally opened the stadium with a home game against Temple, which Notre Dame won 49-16. According to Notre Dame, the new Wi-Fi network saw 4.8 TB of traffic for the season opener, with 21,395 unique client connections and a peak concurrent connection number of 15,800. For the Sept. 9 game against Georgia, a prime-time night game that saw the Irish just fall on the short end of a 20-19 score, the network saw 6.2 TB of traffic, with 25,856 uniques and 19,475 peak concurrent connections.

By our unofficial records, the 6.2 TB mark is the highest Wi-Fi traffic number recorded for a single-day college event. The previous high mark was a 5.7 TB total reported by Texas A&M for a 2015 season game against Alabama. (Any other big marks out there that we don’t know about, please let us know!)

Total attendance for both Notre Dame games this season was 77,622, which sounds like the new sellout capacity for the stadium, a number not previously reported since the renovation. Notre Dame can probably expect another big network experience on Oct. 21, when the Irish host Pac-12 rival USC.

First Look: Shining start for Notre Dame’s stadium renovations, new Wi-Fi network

Notre Dame logo on Wi-Fi railing enclosure at Notre Dame Stadium. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

How do you bring new technology into a building and institution that embraces history as an integral part of its brand? There may be many answers but in the sports stadium world, Notre Dame’s renovation of its hallowed football field and the addition of high-speed Wi-Fi look like a good example for any other venues trying to solve the same issues.

At this past Sunday’s “New and Gold” game, a sort of glorified scrimmage, the public (including Mobile Sports Report) got its first look at the University of Notre Dame’s Campus Crossroads project, a $400-million plus effort to bring premium seating, a large video board and high-density Wi-Fi to a venue that came to life in 1930, according to university history.

While we will have a full report on our visit to Notre Dame Stadium in our upcoming Fall STADIUM TECH REPORT issue, we wanted to give you a “first look” at the new facilities, which basically include three new large buildings built into the sides of the existing structure, to provide support for the video board as well as two expanded premium-seating and press box areas on either side of the field.

Wi-Fi AP overlooks a concession stand

One of the coolest parts we saw were the new rooftop premium seating areas, where you can sit on a couch and see the full field while also peering out over the edge of the stadium to see Touchdown Jesus, the Golden Dome, and the rest of the world (well, OK, mostly South Bend, Indiana) while enjoying your favorite beverage and speedy Wi-Fi.

The new Wi-Fi network design using Cisco gear was led by AmpThink, and includes custom-designed enclosures for railing-mounted APs that feature a sharp version of the “ND” logo known to any football fan. Though the network hasn’t yet been optimized or tested with a full house of fans, we were still getting solid up/down signals in the 60-70 Mbps range throughout the building, even in low and high bowl seating areas. There is also a new neutral-host DAS in the stadium, built by Crown Castle. According to Notre Dame, Verizon Wireless and AT&T will be live on the cellular network by the start of the season, with T-Mobile to follow soon.

Like we said, look for more details in our upcoming report… but for now enjoy some scenes from Sunday’s game!

A good look across the main east seating section, with Wi-Fi handrail enclosures visible

DAS in the grass: A DAS antenna finds a home in the grassy strip separating seats from the field

The new big screen video board now dominates the south end zone

A good look at how the new structures bookend up to the stadium on its sides

Now that’s a premium suite: Rooftop couch area provides full view of field, plus scenic views over campus and beyond

Additional seating Wi-Fi coverage from small antennas over VOMs

Painted Wi-Fi AP blends in to column in main concourse outside seating area

The view of ‘Touchdown Jesus’ remains unobstructed

Inside look at the swanky, wood-paneled club for premium seatholders in west building

Scoreboard plug for the Wi-Fi

Notre Dame fans already figuring out how to use social media to get on the big screen

Smart fans at Notre Dame — early arrivers went right for the new, padded premium seats

How do you get bandwidth to APs located below grade level? By being clever and using routing down the side of stairways… more details on this trick coming soon!