Paying for beer with a fingerprint gets thumbs-up at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field

A fan at a Seattle Seahawks game pays for concessions using his fingerprint, via the Clear system. Credit all photos: David Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

Seattle football and soccer fans are giving a big thumbs-up to a new concessions system at CenturyLink Field that lets them buy a beer or other items simply by tapping their fingerprint at payment time.

Clear, the same firm that gives travelers a way to pay for access to faster security lines at airports, is now moving into sports venues with a free version of its plan to let fans enter stadiums via special “Clear” lines. In Seattle, Clear and the Seahawks and Sounders are also testing a point-of-sale system where registered Clear users can pay for concessions and be age-verified by simply tapping their finger on a special concession-stand device. Currently, the system is only in use at four concession stands at CenturyLink but Seattle network executives said there are plans to expand the offering as the seasons progress. The system was also used earlier this season at the Seattle Mariners’ home, Safeco Field.

With more than 1,500 football and soccer fans having signed up for Clear at the stadium through the first week of October, Clear and CenturyLink are now seeing an average of around 1,000 fans using Clear to enter the stadium per football game and 200-plus similar verifications at Seattle Sounders games, according to statistics provided to MSR by Chip Suttles, vice president of technology for the Seahawks. The stadium started offering the service this preseason for both the NFL and MLS events. Fans who had previously signed up for Clear either at airports or online can use that same membership to enter the stadium.

The workings of the concession system are pretty simple: Once a user signs up for Clear — which requires personal data including age and a valid credit card — the user orders food and drink at the concession stand window, then completes the transaction with a fingertip tap in a special counter device. The biometrics confirm both that a user is old enough to purchase alcohol, and has a valid credit card to bill, eliminating the need for personal eyewitness verification of I.D. and the time needed to transact via credit card or cash.

At the Seahawks’ Oct. 7 home game against the Los Angeles Rams, another 199 fans enrolled for the Clear system on-site, and 911 fans used Clear to get into the venue, according to Suttles. The Clear system was used for 239 concession transactions at the game.

Speeding up the concessions lines

Fans could sign up for Clear inside and outside CenturyLink Field.


While the numbers may seem small right now, the promise of using technology to produce much faster concessions transactions are a welcome beginning to an area of stadium operations that in many places seems stuck in the far past, with cash transactions and counter staffers who take orders, fulfill them and then take payments.

“We are always looking for new, innovative ways to enhance the fan experience,” said Suttles, who said feedback so far from Seahawks and Sounders fans has been overwhelmingly positive. David Kapustka, Seattle Bureau Chief for Mobile Sports Report, attended the Seahawks’ Sept. 23 home game against the Dallas Cowboys and did an on-site test of the Clear system, and not just for the free beer Clear was offering as a sign-up promotion.

Once signed up for the system, Kapustka reported that the concession-stand finger-scan interaction “took less than a minute,” though there was some waiting beforehand to order since the Clear payment lanes share space with regular ordering and payment lanes at the two stands where the Clear service was offered that day.

The only drawbacks Kapustka saw for the Clear operation had mainly to do with its popularity, as a long line of fans queued up before the game to sign up at a Clear kiosk, ironically causing some delay for fans getting into the stadium. Once inside, one request Kapustka heard from fans was to have more Clear-enabled lines, feedback that Clear and the network folks are probably glad to hear. (More photos from our visit below)

Like many venues, CenturyLink Field has long lines for entry security measures

The Clear sign-up kiosk outside the stadium

A long line before the game started to sign up for Clear

One of the Clear-enabled concession stands at CenturyLink Field. Note the non-existent line at the Clear lane

Another fan taps a fingertip to pay

Good promotion

There’s good Wi-Fi at CenturyLink too

Cubs adding Wi-Fi to Wrigley Field wireless mix

Wi-Fi APs can be seen on the overhang above Wrigley Field’s upper deck seating. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

After waiting 108 years for a championship, Cubs fans are getting much more from their team these days, especially when it comes to technology upgrades at Wrigley Field. Recent years have seen a complete renovation of the venerable bleachers, including big video screens in both left and right field, as well as a full-stadium distributed antenna system (DAS) for enhanced celluar connectivity that went live at the start of this year.

And while the Cubs were eliminated from the playoffs this week in a Wild Card loss to the Colorado Rockies, the Cubs in the offseason will continue this summer’s process of adding Wi-Fi everywhere they can inside the Friendly Confines, after more planned offseason stadium construction will force the club to move some equipment installed earlier this year.

While some Wi-Fi APs were live in the upper deck seating section as well as mounted on overhangs covering the stadium’s terrace-level seats this season, a planned installation of under-seat Wi-Fi AP locations is currently on hold, as the Cubs continue to evaluate how best to proceed for some of the tougher-to-cover seating areas. Wi-Fi coverage is already operative, however, for back-of-house operations, as well as in fan-facing areas on the outdoor Gallagher Plaza and the Zachary Hotel next door.

Continuing challenges with construction

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 Wi-Fi at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, a sneak peek at Milwaukee’s new Fiserv Forum, and a profile of the new DAS at StubHub Center! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

First announced in 2015, the plan to bring both DAS and Wi-Fi to Wrigley has been challenged almost since its inception by the team’s ambitious plan to renovate many parts of a stadium that was originally constructed in 1914. The multi-phase physical construction project included the bleacher expansion, the creation of a hotel, office building and park on the stadium’s west side, new club spaces and (still to come) expanded suites and an upper-deck concourse. Of course the entire plan got immediately sidetracked by the team’s historic run to the 2016 World Series title.

Wi-Fi antennas pointed forward and back to cover upper seating areas

While having construction delayed by winning your first crown in over 100 years is not a bad problem to have, the team’s string of extended seasons (the Cubs have made it to the NLCS the past three years, meaning baseball deep into October) has played continual havoc with the renovation plans, since winter in Chicago isn’t often friendly to construction activities. Originally scheduled to appear in 2017, the DAS wasn’t built until this past offseason, and even though it is running well now (our most recent visit saw speedtests in many locations well into the 20+ Mbps range for both download and upload) a good portion of the DAS antennas will also have to be relocated this offseason because of more construction plans.

The Wi-Fi network, which the Cubs are building with gear from Extreme Networks, felt even more of the pain from this past year’s main construction project, which saw the entire lower bowl of Wrigley get removed so crews could dig about 60 feet deep to build under-stand club areas, one of which opened for this season. Those clubs, including more that are scheduled to open for the 2019 season, sit directly below the seating area that was scheduled to get under-seat Wi-Fi deployments, further complicating and delaying the installation.

For the lower main seating bowl and for the bleachers, the problem for Wi-Fi in those seating areas is the complete lack of overhead structures, or of any aisles with railings, to mount antennas. While DAS antennas are able to cover those regions from above and behind, a good Wi-Fi design would need an under-seat deployment, which is what the Cubs and Extreme had planned for.

Andrew McIntyre, vice president of technology for the Chicago Cubs, talked with MSR during a late-August visit and said that while he thinks the club will eventually have to do some amount of under-seat antenna locations — if not for Wi-Fi, then eventually for 5G cellular support — the plan from earlier this year to put Wi-Fi under-seat during this summer is shelved for the time being.

“We just have to make sure the structural integrity [of the lower seating slab] is not challenged,” said McIntyre. Since a good part of any under-seat Wi-Fi deployment in the lower bowl would require work above the club-space ceilings, it would take extra time that’s simply not available between baseball games and other events like concerts.

Having to move gear one more time

In the upper deck seating sections at Wrigley there are no such impediments to Wi-Fi AP location, with many easy mounting points up in the roof infrastructure. With a wide concourse in the middle of the upper and lower sections, many APs required only a scissor lift for installation, McIntyre said.

Wi-Fi AP covering an entry gate

The easily viewable APs have their accompanying antennas tilted either forward or backward to cover the two separate seating sections. Even though McIntyre and the Cubs are purposely throttling the unannounced Wi-Fi network’s speeds to a top mark of around 7.5 Mbps for both download and upload until the network is complete, MSR was able to get strong Wi-Fi responses everywhere we walked in the upper deck, as well as in the lower terrace seating areas, which are below the upper deck sections.

On the terrace level there are basically three rows of DAS and Wi-Fi gear, one in the back along the rear concourse, one in the middle of the roof to cover most of the seating and another out at the edge toward the field, to cover seats below there. Unfortunately, many of the devices in this area for both networks will need to be removed and replaced this upcoming offseason when the final phase of Wrigley’s renovation will see the premium suite areas extended further back, which will require construction work on their floors, where the antennas are currently mounted.

Tradeoffs part of playing in an icon

Like any networking pro, McIntyre would prefer to see his projects completed as thought out, but he is also a realist who knows that trying to do anything architecturally inside a beloved historical icon will eventually involve tradeoffs.

Take the center part of the right-field bleachers, which right now is somewhat less covered by the DAS simply because there’s no place on the back wall to mount antennas. Since anything placed there would be in view of passers-by on Sheffield Avenue, McIntyre said due to historic-building regulations the Cubs would need to ask for permission to build any new structures.

“It’s a never-ending challenge, and we fight as hard as we can [to get technology deployed],” McIntyre said. On the topic of incomplete Wi-Fi coverage, he noted that the DAS was designed to cover “100 percent” of fan connectivity needs, with the Wi-Fi being a complementary service.

At the very least, the new network means that more fans will have an easier time connecting in whatever way they need to, while enjoying baseball at one of the world’s most beloved venues.

“In the end, it’s all about delivering the best possible experience for fans,” said McIntyre.

Night game at the world’s best ballpark

Notre Dame sees 7.19 TB of Wi-Fi for Stanford game

Add another one to the top 15 list: Notre Dame Stadium saw 7.19 terabytes of data used on its Wi-Fi network during the Sept. 29 home game against Stanford, a 38-17 win for the Fighting Irish.

The top mark so far for the year-old network had 27,812 unique connections during game day, according to statistics provided by Notre Dame. The peak concurrent connection number was 22,447, and the network saw peak throughput of 7.867 Gbps, which occurred during the pregame flyover. According to Notre Dame officials, the fans on the network “maxed our 10Gbps border firewall during the game a few times,” over a firewall connection shared with other networks on campus. All statistics were recorded between 5:30 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. local time, according to Notre Dame.

THE MSR TOP 15 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
2. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
3. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 6, 2018: Wi-Fi: 10.86 TB
4. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
5. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 27, 2018: Wi-Fi: 9.76 TB
6. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
7. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.53 TB
8. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
9. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
10. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
11. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 29, 2018: 7.19 TB
12. (tie) Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 2, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.0 TB
13. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
14. Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
15. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB

Gillette Stadium Wi-Fi sees 8.53 TB for AFC championship game, 9.76 TB for Taylor Swift

As we suspected earlier this year, the bar for single-day Wi-Fi data use keeps being pushed up at big events. At Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., this year has seen two new entries for our unofficial all-time Wi-Fi use list, at the AFC Championship Game held back in January, and a summer concert of the Taylor Swift Reputation tour, which has been racking up big Wi-Fi numbers across the country.

According to a blog post from Gillette Wi-Fi gear provider Extreme Networks, the New England Patriots saw 8.53 terabytes of Wi-Fi used by fans at the Jan. 21 AFC Championship game between the Patriots and the Jacksonville Jaguars, which New England won 24-20. According to Extreme there were 43,020 unique device connections to Wi-Fi during the game, with a peak concurrent connection mark of 37,115 devices, both top marks for the longtime well-connected venue.

Interestingly, the Taylor Swift stop at Gillette on July 27 produced more total data — 9.76 TB, according to Extreme — with fewer connected clients than the AFC Championship game. For the Swift show, Extreme saw 35,760 unique devices connect with the Wi-Fi network, with a top concurrent mark of 27,376 devices. Peak system throughput was also higher for the concert, at 10.7 Gbps compared to 6.3 Gbps for the AFC Championship game. That makes sense, since there are more times during a concert to share social media and other communications compared to a tense football game, where most fans still watch the action while it is happening.

Stay tuned for more big Wi-Fi events! If you have a past event to add to the list, let us know!

THE MSR TOP 15 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
2. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
3. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 6, 2018: Wi-Fi: 10.86 TB
4. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
5. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 27, 2018: Wi-Fi: 9.76 TB
6. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
7. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.53 TB
8. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
9. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
10. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
11. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Sept. 29, 2018: 7.19 TB
12. (tie) Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 2, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.0 TB
13. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
14. Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
15. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB

Team-app builder Built.io acquired by Software AG

Screenshot of part of the Built.io app for the Kings.

San Francisco startup Built.io has been acquired by German software giant Software AG, a deal that will not mean the end to Built.io’s nascent stadium- and team-app business, according to an update from the company.

Started in 2007 as a company with tools to help enterprise businesses move operations to the cloud, Built.io made a splash in the sports scene when it was chosen as the base technology for the stadium and team apps for the Sacramento Kings and their tech-centered new stadium, Golden 1 Center. Built.io subsequently announced a separate business focused on sports operations, and signed the Miami Heat as its second client.

Publicly, Built.io has not announced any new sports customers since last year, and founder and former CEO Neha Sampat has shifted duties somewhat to another company that was part of a sort of conglomerate inside Built.io, a bit of a confusing situation that was cleared up with this message from a Built.io spokesperson late Friday:

Before its acquisition today, Built.io was the best known of the brands under the umbrella of a company called Raw Engineering, which also comprised the sports business and a company named Contentstack. Neha Sampat is still very much involved with Raw Engineering as president, and with Contentstack as CEO. Until recently, these three businesses – Raw Engineering, Built.io and Contentstack – all operated as one company, Raw Engineering, which was doing business as Built.io because that was the best known brand. In 2017, the decision was made to split the organization, in part to differentiate the sports offering and not have it be continuously confused with the things that Built.io was really known for, which is the enterprise integration platform. That platform [Built.io] was the business that Software AG acquired today.

According to the company spokesperson, the sports app business is still alive and well, so we will keep an eye out for more news from that standpoint.

Eagles fans use 10.86 TB of Wi-Fi at season opener

Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Credit: Philadelphia Eagles

In their first regular season home game as defending Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles saw their fans use 10.86 terabytes of Wi-Fi data at Lincoln Financial Field, the third-largest single-day total of Wi-Fi usage, trailing only the last two Super Bowls.

According to figures provided to Mobile Sports Report by the Eagles, an eye-opening 47,274 unique devices connected to the network at some point during the Eagles’ 18-12 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 6, out of 69,696 in announced attendance. John Pawling, the Eagles’ vice president for information technology, also said the Eagles saw a peak concurrent connection of 36,829 devices on the Wi-Fi network, traffic that at one point “briefly maxed out” the Comcast-provided 10 Gbps backbone pipe that supports the stadium’s Wi-Fi network.

Since the night game was the NFL season opener and included the Eagles’ Super Bowl celebration ceremonies, Pawling expected a high amount of network traffic — they did, after all, see 8.76 TB of Wi-Fi used at the NFC Championship game back in January — but admitted the end result left him and his team “somewhat surprised.” One element that might have contributed to additional traffic was a pregame weather delay, time most likely spent online as fans waited for action to commence.

Everest network up to the test

An Everest Wi-Fi antenna points down at the stands. Credit: Everest Networks

The Sept. 6 game marked the start of the second full year for Lincoln Financial Field’s new Wi-Fi network, which uses gear from Everest Networks, a Silicon Valley startup company that was seed-funded by Panasonic, which acted as the exclusive distribution partner until earlier this year when Panasonic relinquished sole distribution rights to the Everest gear.

While Pawling said that the business of Everest leaving Panasonic caused “a little concern” last year, he said that from a technical perspective the Eagles “are dealing with the same people” at Everest as they did at Panasonic, and that there have been no issues that affected the network’s performance.

“It’s business as usual,” Pawling said. “It [the network] is rock solid. We’re very happy with it.”

Pawling said that the Eagles chose Everest a couple years ago during what he called a standard refresh review. Previously, the Eagles had used Extreme Networks gear for a Wi-Fi network put in place in 2013.

“We tend to look at 5 years as a technology’s horizon, and it was time to evaluate what was in the marketplace,” said Pawling. With its new design that puts four radios into a single AP and new antenna technology that theoretically has a farther reach than older equipment, the Panasonic/Everest gear won the Eagles’ bid.

“We did some tests with it [the Everest gear] and it seemed to handle things without a problem,” Pawling said. “We felt it fit our needs the best.”

Only 5 GHz in the bowl

Another Everest AP deployment. Credit: Everest Networks

According to Pawling, Lincoln Financial Field now has 683 Everest APs covering the entire building, a lower AP number than most venues that size because of the multiple radios in most units. Pawling said the entire deployment is top-down, and that the Eagles aren’t even using the 2.4 GHz radio in most of the Everest APs since the team only uses 5 GHz channels for the bowl. (The multiple-radio Everest APs have three 5 GHz radios and one 2.4 GHz radio.)

“It’s a plus, absolutely,” to have three radios in each AP, Pawling said, citing the reduced time needed to deploy fewer APs.

While the NFL opener now joins the top three in our unofficial list of top Wi-Fi events, we expect this list to change rapidly this year as it seems like the surge in mobile bandwidth demands at big events is still increasing rapidly. We can only imagine what might happen if Taylor Swift plays a halftime show at a big football game, but we can guess it would be a workout for any network currently in place.

THE MSR TOP 14 FOR WI-FI

1. Super Bowl 52, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn., Feb. 4, 2018: Wi-Fi: 16.31 TB
2. Super Bowl 51, NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017: Wi-Fi: 11.8 TB
3. Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 6, 2018: Wi-Fi: 10.86 TB
4. Super Bowl 50, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif., Feb. 7, 2016: Wi-Fi: 10.1 TB
5. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., July 27, 2018: Wi-Fi: 9.76 TB
6. Minnesota Vikings vs. Philadelphia Eagles, NFC Championship Game, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pa., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.76 TB
7. Jacksonville Jaguars vs. New England Patriots, AFC Championship Game, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Jan. 21, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.53 TB
8. Taylor Swift Reputation Tour, Broncos Stadium at Mile High, May 25, 2018: Wi-Fi: 8.1 TB
9. Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass., Sept. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 8.08 TB
10. Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys, Divisional Playoffs, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, Jan. 15, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.25 TB
11. (tie) Southern California vs. Notre Dame, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., Oct. 21, 2017: 7.0 TB
Arkansas State vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Sept 2, 2017: Wi-Fi: 7.0 TB
12. WrestleMania 32, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas, April 3, 2016: Wi-Fi: 6.77 TB
13. Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 7, 2017: Wi-Fi: 6.3 TB
14. Super Bowl 49, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 1, 2015: Wi-Fi: 6.23 TB