Pac-12 suspends all sports through end of 2020

Following closely on the heels of the Big Ten, the Pac-12 conference Tuesday suspended all sports through the end of 2020, due to the ongoing complications of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“All of the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors understand the importance of this decision, and the disappointment it will create for our student-athletes, the coaches, support staff and all of our fans,” said Michael H. Schill, president of the University of Oregon, in a statement on the conference website. “Ultimately, our decision was guided by science and a deep commitment to the health and welfare of student-athletes. We certainly hope that the Pac-12 will be able to return to competition in the New Year.”

Mountain West, Mid-American conferences postpone fall sports; are Big Ten and Pac-12 next?

The Mountain West conference on Monday postponed all fall sports, including football, joining the Mid-American conference as the first FBS conferences to rule out games this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic. And even as foobtall insiders and some politicians called for college football to be played even in the face of rising numbers of Americans testing positive for the disease, rumors surfaced that two of the biggest conferences, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, were ready to announce their own fall sports postponements soon.

Though other sports, including the NBA and the NHL, have staged successful re-openings in the midst of the pandemic, their expensive “bubble” implementations — where teams are basically sequestered in a locale without need to travel — is simply not possible for college sports, especially college football with its large rosters and the need for teams to travel to play a conference schedule while students also attend school. Major League Baseball, which is in the middle of a shortened 2020 season without a bubble, is in danger of having its season scrapped due to continued outbreaks of the virus among teams.

Big Ten, Pac-12 move to conference-only schedules for fall sports

In what may eventually be just an interim step before outright cancellations, the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences both announced this week plans to move to conference-only schedules for fall sports, which in immediate news meant that a significant number of non-conference football games are now canceled.

Both the Big Ten statement from Thursday and the Pac-12 statement from Friday contained language that acknowledged that the 2020-21 sports seasons may not take place at all, due to ongoing concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. The Power-5 conference moves come on the same week as the Division 1 Ivy League announced its outright cancellation of all fall sports.

“As we continue to focus on how to play this season in a safe and responsible way, based on the best advice of medical experts, we are also prepared not to play in order to ensure the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes should the circumstances so dictate,” said closing line in the Big Ten’s statement.

“The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports continues to be our number one priority,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott in the conference’s statement. “Our decisions have and will be guided by science and data, and based upon the trends and indicators over the past days, it has become clear that we need to provide ourselves with maximum flexibility to schedule, and to delay any movement to the next phase of return-to-play activities.”

Colorado brings Wi-Fi and DAS to Folsom Field

Folsom Field at night. Credit: University of Colorado (click on any picture for a larger image)

There will be a change in the air at Folsom Field this fall, and not just from the team that new head coach Mel Tucker will lead onto the gridiron. For the first time, the mile-high atmosphere inside the University of Colorado’s historic venue will be filled with fan-facing Wi-Fi and cellular signals, thanks to new networks being installed this offseason by third-party host Neutral Connect Networks (NCN).

In a deal that will also bring Wi-Fi and a cellular DAS to the school’s basketball arena, NCN will use Cisco gear for the Wi-Fi network and JMA Wireless gear for the cellular networks. A centrally located head-end will serve both venues via fiber connections, some run through existing tunnels from the campus’ old steam-heating infrastructure.

Due to be live (UPDATE: Now CU says the networks will not be operational until later this fall) before the 2019 football season begins on Sept. 7 when CU hosts Nebraska, later this fall, the Wi-Fi network will use 550 APs in a mostly under-seat deployment at Folsom Field, where there are no overhangs over any of the seating areas. DAS deployment in Colorado’s historic football stadium — which first hosted games in 1924 — will use antennas pointing down from the stadium’s top edges, with some new flagpoles scheduled to help provide antenna-mounting locations.

While its incredibly picturesque location at the edge of the Rocky Mountains has historically made Folsom Field a fan-favorite place to visit (at least for photos), the lack of any comprehensive wireless coverage of any sort has produced some grumbling from Buffs fans in recent years. According to Matt Biggers, CU’s chief marketing officer and associate athletic director for external affairs, wireless coverage inside the sports venues has been a topic of internal research for more than 6 years.

“It was all about finding a partner and a financial model that works for us,” said Biggers. “It finally got to a point where it made sense to pull the trigger.”

Neutral host model appealing to schools

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 Wi-Fi records set at Super Bowl 53, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

The CU Events Center, home of Colorado hoops teams. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

The model brought to CU is a classic neutral-host operation, where a provider like NCN (which bought the former sports-stadium practice from 5 Bars) will build a school’s Wi-Fi and DAS networks under a revenue-sharing deal with the school where the carriers help some with upfront payments and then provide payments over a long-term lease to operate on the DAS.

The neutral-host option is one good way for schools or teams with smaller budgets or lightly used facilities to bring connectivity to arenas. CU’s Folsom Field, for example, doesn’t see much use other than the six home games per football season. This year, the stadium will see big crowds beyond football only at a few events, including the Memorial Day Bolder Boulder 10K footrace (which ends inside the stadium), a Fourth of July fireworks celebration, and a couple of July concerts featuring the Dead & Company tour.

According to James Smith, vice president of carrier services for NCN, AT&T will be the anchor tenant on the DAS, and will be first to be operational. Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, Smith said, are still negotiating long-term agreements but are expected to be on the DAS by 2020.

NCN [then under its old name of 5 Bars] negotiated a similar neutral-host deal with CU’s neighbor to the north, Colorado State University, for CSU’s new football stadium which opened in 2017. Now known as Canvas Stadium, the 41,000-seat venue had 419 total Wi-Fi access points when it opened, with approximately 250 of those used in the bowl seating area. Like CSU’s deployment, the Wi-Fi network at Folsom Field will use primarily under-seat AP deployments, mainly because the stadium’s horseshoe layout has no overhangs.

DAS gear already installed in the CU Events Center

According to NCN’s Smith, the current plan sees a deployment of 550 APs in Folsom Field, with another 70 APs in the basketball arena, the CU Events Center. Both venues’ networks will be served by a central head-end room located in an old telephone PBX space near the center of campus. Fiber links will run from there to both Folsom Field and the Events Center.

At Folsom, the NCN team will have a long list of deployment challenges, mainly having to navigate the construction particulars of a stadium that has been gradually expanded and added onto over the years.

“Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s behind a brick,” said NCN director of program management Bryan Courtney, speaking of existing infrastructure that has been around for decades. Smith said the Folsom Field DAS will make use of overhead antennas, including some that will require new flagpole-type structures that will need to match Folsom Field’s architectural heritage.

Basketball arena is all top-down

At the 11,064-seat CU Events Center, formerly known as the Coors Events Center, deployment of both Wi-Fi and DAS will be somewhat easier, as all the gear servicing the seating area will be suspended from the catwalks. With the main concourse at stadium entry level and all the seats in a single rectangular bowl flowing down from there, the ceiling is close enough for good top-down coverage for both Wi-Fi and celluar, NCN’s Smith said.

The Golden Buffalo Marching Band on a CU game day. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

Though deployment of both networks in the Events Center is currently underway, neither will be active until after the current college basketball season is completed. However, the Events Center stays somewhat more busy than the football stadium, with events like local high school graduations and other special events (like a Republican Party debate in 2015) making use of the space. Both networks should be fully up and running by the next basketball season, according to NCN.

Unlike some other universities that are aggressively pursuing digital fan-connection strategies, CU’s Biggers said the school will start slowly with its fan-facing networks, making sure the experience is a solid one before trying too hard.

“We’re pretty conservative, and this is a complicated project and we want to make sure we get it right,” said Biggers. Though Biggers said CU fans haven’t been extremely vocal about connectivity issues inside the sports venues, he does admit to hearing about “some frustration” about signals in some areas of the stadium (which until now has only been served by a couple of dedicated macro antennas from the outside).

“There’s definitely a hunger [for wireless service],” Biggers said.

On the business side, Biggers said CU will also be taking more time to evaluate any additions to its game-day digital operations. Though CU recently introduced a mobile-only “buzzer beater” basketball ticket package that offered discounted passes that would deliver an assigned seat to a device 24 hours before game time, Biggers said that for football, a longtime paper-ticket tradition for season ticket holders would likely stay in place.

Colorado will also “re-evaluate” its game-day mobile application strategy, Biggers said, with the new networks in mind. “But the real game-changer for us is data collection,” he said. “We’re most excited about having data to better serve the fans.”

Former co-CEO files counterclaims against Sporting Innovations, denies ‘conspiracy’

Asim Pasha

Asim Pasha

The second shoe has dropped in the lawsuit filed by Kansas City’s Sporting Innovations against its former co-CEO Asim Pasha, with Pasha filing counterclaims denying the company’s charges against him while also alleging that he was denied promised ownership stakes in the company for providing the technology behind its stadium-application business.

In case you missed the first episode, that came in June when Sporting Innovations fired its former co-CEO, alleging basically that he used company resources, trade secrets and relationships in a plot to build a competing entity. In his first response to those claims, Pasha denied the company’s allegations and replied with some legal fire of his own, claiming basically that Sporting Innovations’ other co-CEO, Robb Heineman, was jealous of Pasha’s public recognition for Sporting Innovations’ stadium app work, and refused to provide legal documents that would confirm Pasha’s promised ownership stake in the company.

While the Sporting Innovations lawsuit sought $75,000 in retribution from Pasha, Pasha’s counterclaims want his ownership stake — which is either 20 percent or more — confirmed, while having himself cleared of all the conspiracy charges, which his legal filing claims were trumped up mainly to try to get him to give up his ownership stake in the company and a key patent. Pasha’s filing also seeks “actual and punitive damages” for harm caused to Pasha and his son Zain by the lawsuit.

As Pasha’s filing claims:

Sporting Innovations’ use of legal process is not for the purpose of recovering on the claims stated in the Complaint, but for the illegal, improper and perverted purpose of intimidating and coercing Asim into surrendering his 20% interest in Sporting Innovations, along with his interest in U.S. Patent Application No. 13/789,372.

The next planned step in the proceedings, according to Pasha’s lawyers, is a hearing scheduled for Sept. 2, to talk about the schedule for the case going forward. Sporting Innovations refused to comment on the case. The lawsuit and the counterclaims have been filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Western District.

Will fallout cripple Sporting Innovations?

There’s lots of conflicting drama in the two legal sides of this case, and eventually we are guessing a judge or jury will hear all the details. As we said before, we’re not lawyers, but it seems from reading through Pasha’s filings that he has documented answers to refute many of the company’s original claims, including what looks like a personal note from Heineman under which the claimed intent was to transfer more of an ownership stake to Pasha.

However the case ends up, what seems to be clear is that Sporting Innovations is going to have a tough time drumming up new business in the meantime. Sporting Innovations was a business that grew out of technology developments for the Sporting KC professional soccer team and its home stadium, which was one of the first to have full fan-facing Wi-Fi and a specialized fan app. But the company’s vision to provide similar technology to other teams and stadiums may have hit a roadblock with the legal entanglements.

As we already reported, the company’s deal to provide a stadium app for the Pac-12 is dead, and one of the other clients still highlighted on the Sporting Innovations website, the Tampa Bay Lightning, said they are currently moving to a different app platform after using Sporting Innovations technology for their app through last season.

KC’s Sporting Innovations sues former co-CEO, loses Pac-12 app deal

App promo at Stanford football game last fall. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

App promo at Stanford football game last fall. All photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR

From the outside looking in, it’s a bit of strange days going on at the Kansas City-based sports technology developer Sporting Innovations, which recently filed a lawsuit against its former co-CEO for allegedly conspiring to set up a competing firm using Sporting Innovations assets and intellectual property. It was also recently learned that Sporting Innovations’ project to help the Pac-12 develop a game-day app for sports teams is no longer active, after a year-long test with the Stanford University football team that didn’t produce any visible or public results.

Since Sporting Innovations isn’t offering any insight — a company contact replied “no comment” to an email asking for more information on both subjects — we can only guess as to what the business mood is at the company right now. But if you read the detailed report on the lawsuit by Kansas City Star reporter Kasia Kovacs it seems like Sporting Innovations has been plagued by some serious internal strife over the past year.

According to the lawsuit, Sporting Innovations alleges that former co-CEO Asim Pasha and his son Zain (also a Sporting Innovations employee) “began secretly plotting the formation of a competing company” sometime around September of 2014. From the introduction of the lawsuit, more details about the alleged conspiracy, which also allegedly involved a company named Vernalis, which was a contractor to Sporting Innovations:

To do so, they exploited SI’s resources, confidential information and trade secrets, business opportunities, and relationships with commercial partners, including Vernalis Group, Inc. (“Vernalis”), and Nader “Nate” Hanafy (“Hanafy”), Managing Director at Vernalis. Asim and Zain also misused SI’s corporate credit card to incur tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses. Asim and Zain have refused to provide documentation and receipts related to their improper and extravagant spending.

The lawsuit, which seeks $75,000 in damages and the return of Sporting Innovations assets — including laptops for both Asim Pasha and Zain Pasha, which the company contends were not returned — was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on June 17, a day after the company fired Asim Pasha. According to the copy of the lawsuit, Sporting Innovations is seeking a jury trial.

Pac-12 app trial is over, no role for Sporting Innovations going forward

Stanford app splash screen showing Uphoria branding

Stanford app splash screen showing Uphoria branding

Last fall, Sporting Innovations seemed to get a boost for its sports-app technology when the Pac-12 and Stanford chose Sporting Innovations’ FAN360 software as the base for a game-day stadium app that was tested in various forms of completion at Stanford home football games. Asim Pasha, then still co-CEO, was quoted in the press release announcing the deal. Sporting Innovations highlighted the deal in interviews last fall, and Sporting Innovations execs were part of a sports innovation conference at Levi’s Stadium that was hosted in part by the Pac-12.

But that deal is now dead after one season, with a Pac-12 representative confirming that the conference is no longer working with Sporting Innovations following last year’s pilot program. At its recent meetings, the conference decided to create its own multimedia rights sales arm, which will lead fan engagement technology projects going forward, though no details of such projects have yet been revealed. However, the GoStanford app, which has a splash screen saying it is powered by Sporting Innovations’ Uphoria platform, is still active, with news updates as recent as last month.

On the Sporting Innovations website, the company has claimed app deals for its technology with several other schools and teams, including Oklahoma State University and the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL, among others.