Impressive renovation makes Atlanta Hawks’ State Farm Arena feel ‘new’ again

Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena, feels like a new NBA arena thanks to an extensive remodel. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to tell what has changed besides the name on the building that is the Atlanta Hawks’ home.

But once inside the doors, the venue formerly known as Philips Arena has pretty much disappeared, with full-scale knockdown remodels, finishing touches and high-definition Wi-Fi making the newly named State Farm Arena feel like something just-built from the ground up.

“If you’re just driving by, you don’t see any changes,” said Marcus Wasdin, chief information officer for the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena. Even the subway signage and a map in the attached CNN Center still call the basketball arena by its old name, not adequately preparing visitors (especially media in town for this Sunday’s Super Bowl) for the $200 million makeover that’s now finished inside.

While those who’d been there previously might have a hard time believing their eyes, even first-time visitors to the hoops venue in downtown Atlanta can be suitably impressed, as the fan-facing structural improvements — including a number of different premium seating and club spaces, as well as open-air concourses surrounding main seating areas — put the newly named arena on a service par with any brand-new facilities that have opened recently.

Throw in a high-definition Wi-Fi network added by Comcast Business’ emerging sports-arena division, using Cisco gear and design and deployment by AmpThink, as well as a solid DAS operated by Boingo, and you have a complete modern fan-experience setting for Hawks followers to enjoy as they await to see if new stars like rookie Trae Young can lift the Hawks into NBA title contention.

Ripping out the concrete

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 the new game-day digital fan engagement strategy at Texas A&M, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at Merceds-Benz Stadium, home of this week’s Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

New trusses were needed to support the new Samsung center-hung video board.

“We call it a new arena under the old roof,” said Wasdin, our host for a stadium tour as well as full-area access to a packed-arena game against the defending world champion Golden State Warriors on Dec. 3. Since Mobile Sports Report had never been to a live event in the venue when it was known as Philips Arena (State Farm agreed to take over as sponsor this summer, with the name change in time for the new season and the stadium re-opening), we didn’t have any old memories to compare it to. But photos from the past show a much different arena, with one side an entire flat wall of suites, a construction strategy popular back in 1999, when the arena opened.

Fast forward to 2018, and visitors to the 17,600-seat arena will find all the cool new things that are popular with today’s fans, like expanded club areas and open spaces where fans can mingle with a view of the court. The renovation also added a wide mixture of premium seating and club spaces above and beyond the old staple of the corporate suite.

Following preliminary activities to get set for the renovation the previous two years, the arena fully closed this past April, with heavy construction machinery in as soon as the fans left. According to Wasdin, some 300 tons of concrete were taken out of the building, opening up spaces for the new, creative architectural ideas.

Why didn’t the Hawks just knock the building down and start anew, like their NFL neighbors next door did? According to Wasdin, the estimated cost at knocking down and building a new structure was in the neighborhood of $550 million — but by keeping the foundations and outside structure and only renovating the insides (including adding a new support truss overhead for the distinctive center-hung video board from Samsung’s Prismview), the Hawks got the equivalent of a new venue for less than half the cost, in the neighborhood of $200 million.

“We call it a new arena under the same roof,” Wasdin said.

Fast wireless and multiple hospitality options

We started our pregame tour at one of the stadium’s innovative club spaces, a stand-up Altanta Hawks logo bar at court level, just behind one of the backboards. Fans who have courtside seats as well as some of the lower-bowl seats can wander there during the game, as well as to a hospitality area just under the stands where amenities like a pizza oven are part of the all-inclusive charge.

A lower-bowl Wi-Fi enclosure

During pregame shootarounds we sat in the lower-bowl seating area, which is covered by Wi-Fi APs in an under-seat deployment. According to AmpThink, there are approximately 480 total APs in the new Wi-Fi network. As the seats were filling up to watch Golden State’s Stephen Curry in his mesmerizing pregame shooting routine, we got a Wi-Fi speedtest of 31.3 Mbps on the download and 41.6 Mbps on the upload. A cellular speedtest on the Verizon network in the same place checked in at 33.7 Mbps / 6.43 Mbps; the DAS antennas for the lower bowl seats are inside railing enclosures. In the upper seating sections, both Wi-Fi and DAS use overhead mounts for antennas.

Other premium-seat options include access to clubs under the stands on both long sides of the court. On one side, a sports-bar theme has touches like tables made from the hardwood used for last year’s court; that club also includes a seating area that opens to the hallway used by players getting from the locker room to the court, an amenity that lets fans high-five the players as they pass by (Sacramento and Milwaukee have similar premium club spaces with the same interactive idea).

As you might guess, the premium club areas are well-covered by wireless. In the sports-bar “Players Club” we got a Wi-Fi test of 59.6 Mbps / 69.1 Mbps and a cellular test of 67.1 Mbps / 32.9 Mbps at just about 45 minutes before tipoff, as fans watched other basketball action on a humongous two-panel flat-screen display behind the bar, more screens from PrismView installed by display integrator Vitec.

Up in the main level concourse, which Wasdin said used to feel more like a concrete tunnel, the open-air concessions area (with stands along the wall as well as in the middle of the space) saw a Wi-Fi test of 20.4 Mbps / 61.4 Mbps, even as thick crowds of fans streamed by. On an escalator up to the second level and the “Atlanta Social Club” premium area, we got a Wi-Fi mark of 30.8 Mbps / 46.9 Mbps.

A very Atlanta feel to premium spaces and suites

We spent part of the game watching from some comfy-chair seats that are one of the options in the “Social Club” premium area, which is backstopped by a large all-inclusive food and drink area with several dining and bar options. Other premium seating choices include “cabana” suites, where couches and tables in the back of an open-air area lead through a passage to courtside seating. Just below that level are four-top tables with high bar-chair seating, an arrangement popular at new venues like Atlanta’s SunTrust Park. A bit lower down are the comfy-chair seats, a range of choices that gives the Hawks the ability to reach a wider audience of smaller groups who are still looking for an above-average experience.

A DAS railing enclosure

And yes, the wireless in this area is solid as well, with a Wi-Fi test of 46.4 Mbps / 60.2 Mbps, back in the bar area just before tipoff. On the other side of the court are the more traditional suites, with the lower-level “veranda” suites offering a back room as well as a courtside seating area that is unique in that it’s open on top. Above that level is the loft-suite row, smaller spaces with a shared all-inclusive food and beverage area in the back.

In and around the suite level there are other premium finish touches, like acoustic wood paneling to help make State Farm Arena a more friendly venue for music acts. AmpThink’s commitment to aesthetics was visible (or invisible, unless you were looking for it) in places like the veranda suites, where a custom enclosure that fit flush to the outside wall allowed a two-radio Cisco AP to broadcast one way out to the seats, and on the other side, back into the enclosed area.

“Food and connectivity were two of the things we really wanted to fix,” said Wasdin about the renovation. On the food side, local dining choices are available throughout the arena, with artisan pizza, barbecue and even a bar/grill area run by local recording star Zac Brown.

On the connectivity side, Wasdin said the Hawks were impressed by the integration work previously done by the fairly new sports-arena division inside Comcast Business, especially at nearby SunTrust Park and at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, experience that led the Hawks to pick Comcast as their lead technology integrator.

“Comcast brought in AmpThink and there could not be better partnering,” Wasdin said. As always in construction projects, the tech deployment had to work around the unforeseen but inevitable hurdles and delays, but the networks were ready to go when the building re-opened in late October. (The networks will likely get a good stress test this week as State Farm Arena serves as the media headquarters for Super Bowl LIII, taking place on Feb. 3 next door at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.)

“We’re pretty pleased with how well the networks are working,” said Wasdin. Both Comcast and AmpThink, he said, “lived up to their track records.”

A look from above at the new courtside club space

And here’s what the court looks like from that same club space

Stephen Curry doesn’t miss many shots. This was a swish

Samsung video walls in one club space

Fried chicken and a Wi-Fi enclosure

Wi-Fi antennas covering the upper seating deck

Mercedes-Benz Wi-Fi (and DAS) ready for Super Bowl LIII

Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s Wi-Fi network is ready for its moment in the Super Bowl sun. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any picture for a larger image)

With less than two weeks to go before Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosts Super Bowl LIII, there’s no longer any doubt that the venue’s Wi-Fi network should be ready for what is historically the biggest Wi-Fi traffic day of the year.

Oh, and that DAS network you were wondering about? It should be fine too, but more on that later. On a recent game-day visit to the still-new roost of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons (and the latest MLS champions, Atlanta United), Mobile Sports Report found that the stadium’s Wi-Fi network, using gear from Aruba, a Hewlett-Packard Enterprise company, in a design by AmpThink for lead technology provider IBM, was strong on all levels of the venue, including some hard-to-reach spots in the building’s unique layout.

And in our game-day interview with Danny Branch, chief information officer for AMB Sports & Entertainment, we also finally got some statistics about Wi-Fi performance that should put any Super Bowl capacity fears to rest. According to Branch, Mercedes-Benz Stadium saw 12 terabytes of Wi-Fi used during the College Football Playoff Championship Game on Jan. 8, 2018, the second-highest single-game Wi-Fi total we’ve seen, beaten only by the 16.31 TB recorded at Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4, 2018, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“We’re confident, and we’re ready for the Super Bowl,” said Branch about his stadium’s network preparedness, during an interview before the Dec. 2 Falcons home game against the visiting Baltimore Ravens. The night before our talk, Mercedes-Benz Stadium had hosted the SEC Championship Game, where a classic comeback by Alabama netted the Tide a 35-28 win over Georgia, while fans packing the stadium used another 8.06 TB of Wi-Fi data, according to Branch.

Along with lawsuit, DAS gets 700 new antennas

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 the new game-day digital fan engagement strategy at Texas A&M, as well as a profile of Wi-Fi at the renovated State Farm Arena in Atlanta! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

An under-seat DAS antenna in the 300 seating section at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

The Wi-Fi totals revealed by Branch were the first such statistics reported by Mercedes-Benz Stadium since its opening in August of 2017. While initially the lack of reports of any kind last fall were thought to have been just some kind of Southern modesty, MSR had been hearing back-channel industry questions about the wireless coverage in the venue since its opening, particularly with the performance of the DAS network.

Those whispers finally became public when IBM filed a lawsuit on Oct. 31 in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta, alleging that subcontractor Corning had failed to deliver a working DAS. In its lawsuit complaints IBM said that the DAS had not worked correctly throughout 2017, and that IBM had to spend large amounts of money to fix it. Corning has since countered with its own legal claims, asking IBM’s claims to be dismissed.

While that battle is now left to the lawyers, inside the stadium, Branch said in December that the DAS was getting its final tuning ahead of the Super Bowl. In addition to (or as part of) the IBM DAS improvements, Branch said that an additional 700 under-seat DAS antennas have been installed in the seating bowl. In our walk-around review during the Falcons’ game, MSR noticed multiple DAS antenna placements that seemed to be new since our last visit in August of 2017, during the stadium’s press day.

“IBM addressed the DAS issues, and we’re in a good place,” said Branch. The NFL’s CIO, Michelle McKenna, also gave her office’s approval of the readiness of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium networks in a separate phone interview. And MSR even got to witness a live opening of the stadium’s unique camera-shutter roof, another technology that ran into some bugs during football season last year but now appears to be solved.

Selfies and speedtests

So how do the networks perform at a live event? The short answer is, on the Wi-Fi side we saw steady speeds wherever we tested, typically in a range between 20 Mbps on the low side to 60+ Mbps on the high side, for both download and upload speeds. On the DAS side, our Verizon network phone saw a wide range of speed results, from some single-digit marks all the way up to 99 Mbps in one location; so perhaps the best answer is that on cellular, your speedtest may vary, but you will most likely always have a strong enough signal to do just about any task you might want to at a stadium, even on Super Sunday. All four major wireless carriers, including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, use the Mercedes-Benz Stadium DAS. And you can also expect all the major carriers to beef up local bandwidth with a combination of permanent and temporary upgrades, to ensure good connectivity throughout downtown Atlanta during Super Bowl week. Sprint and AT&T have already made announcements about their local upgrades, and we are sure Verizon and T-Mobile will follow suit with announcements soon.

The iconic ‘halo board’ video screen below the unique roof opening at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Though we didn’t get any tests during the brief on-field part of our tour, Branch did point out some Wi-Fi APs on the sidelines for media access. Mercedes-Benz Stadium also now has a pair of MatSing ball antennas perched way up near the roof openings, to help with cellular coverage down to the sidelines.

MSR started our speedtest tour in the place where most Falcons fans probably pull out their phones, in front of the metal falcon structure outside the main entry gate. Even with digital ticketing activities taking place close by and groups of fans taking selfies in front of the bird, we still got a high Wi-Fi test of 35.8 Mbps on the download side and 41.6 Mbps on the upload. On cellular our top speeds in the same area were 3.94 Mbps / 17.2 Mbps.

Just inside the stadium doors from the Falcon is what the team calls the stadium’s “front porch,” an extended concourse with a clear view down to the field. On the Sunday we visited there was a stage with a DJ and rapping crew providing pregame entertainment, in front of two of the stadium’s more distinctive Daktronics digital displays, the 101-foot-tall “Mega Column” and the 26-foot-tall (at its highest point) triangular “Feather Wall” display, which frame part of the porch.

In the middle of a slowly moving crowd that was taking selfies in multiple directions, MSR still got good connectivity, with Wi-Fi speeds of 22.4 Mbps / 12.3 Mbps, and a cellular mark of 5.38 Mbps / 12.0 Mbps. As far as we could see, the wide-open space was being served by antennas mounted on walls on two sides of the opening.

Bridges, nosebleeds and concourses

Looking for some tough-to-cover spots, we next headed to one of the two “sky bridges,” narrow walkways that connect over the main entry on both the 200 and 300 seating levels. Out in the exact middle of the 200-level sky bridge we still got a Wi-Fi test of 14.6 Mbps / 8.19 Mbps; celluar checked in at 4.07 Mbps / 4.59 Mbps.

For some more fan-friendly speeds we wandered in front of the nearby concourse watering hole, the Cutwater Spirits bar, where our Wi-Fi signal tested at 35.8 Mbps / 42.4 Mbps, and the DAS signal (directly in front of an antenna mounted above the concourse) reached 99.2 Mbps / 25.4 Mbps even with heavy foot traffic coming by.

The roof opens at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Right before kickoff, we wandered into the top sections of the Falcons’ new roost, where about halfway up in section 310 (near the 50-yard line) we got Wi-Fi speeds of 11.6 Mbps / 1.86 Mbps, and cellular speeds of 13.1 Mbps / 2.50 Mbps, during the height of the on-field pregame festivities. In that section and in others we walked around to, many fans were busy with phones during pregame, with many watching live video.

One interesting technology note: The stadium’s unique Daktronics halo video board, a 58-foot-high screen that circles around underneath the roof, is partially obscured in the uppermost sideline seats. But that’s pretty much the only place you aren’t wowed by the screen’s spectacle, which from most of the rest of the stadium offers multiple-screen views no matter where you are looking up from.

One final speedtest on the 300-level concourse saw the Wi-Fi speeds at 35.8 Mbps / 38.2 Mbps, while another one of those new-looking DAS antennas gave us a speed test of 77.0 Mbps / 21.4 Mbps. During the third quarter we visited the AT&T Perch, a section above the end zone area opposite of the entry porch where there are large displays with multiple TV screens and even some recliner-type chairs where fans can get their other-game viewing on while inside the arena. Wi-Fi in the Perch tested at 42.1 Mbps / 61.0 Mbps.

Fans are finding the Wi-Fi

Though we haven’t yet seen any more detailed network use statistics, like unique game-day connections or peak concurrent connections for any events, Branch said fans are definitely finding the network. Sponsored by AT&T with an “ATTWifi” SSID, there is no landing page or portal for the network asking for any information — once fans find the network and connect, they’re on.

This type of personal assistance might be even more needed at the Super Bowl.

“In the first year we didn’t promote it [the Wi-Fi] heavily, because we were making sure everything worked well,” Branch said. But this year, he said the team has been promoting the network in emails to season ticket holders, and with video board messages on game days. At a high school football weekend this past fall, Branch said the Falcons saw 75 percent of attendees connect to the Wi-Fi network.

“AmpThink and Aruba did a really good job” on the Wi-Fi network, Branch said. “I love it when my friends tell me how fast the Wi-Fi is.”

By adding solid wireless connectivity to the host of other amenities found inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium — including fan-friendly food and drink prices that are simply the lowest you’ll see anywhere — Branch said he felt like the Falcons’ ownership had succeeded in creating a venue that was “an experience,” where fans would want to come inside instead of tailgating until the last minute.

With the Super Bowl looming on the horizon, Branch knows there’s still no rest until the game is over, with new challenges ahead. The Sunday we visited, the Falcons debuted a new footbridge over the road outside the back-door Gate 1 entry, and Branch knows there will be networking challenges to make sure fans can still connect when the NFL erects its Super Bowl security perimeter far out from the actual stadium doors.

“Our motto is be prepared for anything,” said Branch, noting that there is really no template or historical model for a building unique as Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re changing tires on a car going 100 miles per hour,” Branch said, only partially in jest. “But we’re confident we’ll be ready for the Super Bowl.”

The metal falcon is selfie central for visitors new and old

Wi-Fi and DAS antennas cover the ‘front porch’ landing area inside the main entry

Under-seat Wi-Fi AP enclosure

A shadowy look at one of the MatSing ball antennas in the rafters

The gear behind the under-seat DAS deployments

The view toward downtown

Corning seeks dismissal of IBM claims in Mercedes-Benz Stadium DAS lawsuit

An under-seat DAS antenna in the 300 seating section at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Corning asked a Georgia court last week to dismiss the negligence and other claims filed against it last year by IBM in a lawsuit regarding the distributed antenna system (DAS) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, claiming in part that IBM was responsible for any performance issues since it “failed to follow Corning’s design,” among other issues.

Since neither side is speaking publicly yet about the issue, we are pretty much left with the court document filings as the only way to figure out what exactly went wrong with the DAS installation at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened in 2017. While IBM has claimed that the issues were Corning’s fault, Friday’s filing (which we have not yet seen) has Corning putting the blame back on IBM and its outside DAS deployment contractors.

According to a story posted on Law360 (subscription required), Corning’s motion in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia also had a brief which said “IBM attempts to ignore the terms specified in its contract with Corning — and the work it actually contracted Corning to do — by bringing its own fraud and negligence claims along with purportedly assigned tort claims.” The Law360 story said Corning further “argued that the claims either are barred by the economic loss rule or a so-called merger clause in the contracts, or cannot be assigned to the hardware giant by the NFL team or the prime contractor on the project.”

A Corning spokesperson provided the following official comment from the company:

“Corning has provided successful DAS network solutions for dozens of major sports venues around the world. At Mercedes Benz Stadium, Corning performed under its contract with IBM, while IBM failed to follow Corning’s design, failed to provide the DAS for commissioning on time due to hundreds of IBM installation errors, and then failed to optimize the DAS; an area that was IBM’s responsibility. Regarding IBM’s lawsuit, Corning denies the allegations asserted by IBM, and Corning will vigorously defend its work at Mercedes Benz Stadium and its world-class reputation in Court. “

The Law360 story had the following comment from an IBM spokesperson:

“Corning delivered a flawed cellular system to the Falcons and IBM, and then failed to fix it. IBM stepped in and spent a year to deliver state-of-the-art cellular performance for fans, and
Corning is now accountable for failing to live up to its obligations.”

Texas A&M’s mobile browser end-around: How the Aggies and AmpThink changed the game-day fan engagement process

A look at the 12thmanlive.com site at a Texas A&M home game this past season. Credit: Texas A&M (click on any photo for a larger image)

In the short history of in-stadium mobile fan engagement, a team or stadium app has been the go-to strategy for many venue owners and operators. But what if that strategy is wrong?

You can always count on team and stadium apps to be introduced with a long list of bells and whistles, from in-seat food ordering and delivery to digital ticketing, instant replay options and venue wayfinding services. Yet after those apps are bought and released, very few teams or stadium-app vendors are willing to provide statistics on how those features are — or are not — being used. As such, the business benefits of almost every stadium app ever launched remain a mystery.

In fact, the only statistic that emerges with any regularity in regards to stadium apps in their still-young lifetime is that their game-day usage usually trails general-purpose mobile-phone applications by a large margin, far behind social media applications like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, as well as email and text messaging. So why is the conventional wisdom of having a game-day app still so conventional?

To seek an answer to that question and in part to “question every underlying assumption” involving fan digital engagement, Texas A&M University partnered with AmpThink this fall on a wide-ranging experiment centered around using mobile web, as well as a captive Wi-Fi portal, to see if it was possible to find a better way to digitally engage fans, for far less than the cost of a custom app. And so far, it looks like they did.

Via its “12thmanlive.com” digital game-day program website and a gated entry to access the Wi-Fi network at Kyle Field, Texas A&M was able to gather more than 150,000 fan emails this football season as well as another 60,000-plus additional opt-ins for phone numbers, addresses and permissions for more messages from the school. In addition to the marketing lead generation, a “Black Friday” ticket sale promotion, sent to fans who had opted in for more emails, produced 2,285 tickets sold for a late-season game against LSU, an additional $137,100 revenue that Texas A&M might not have otherwise realized.

And unlike app-based programs, the simple WordPress headless CMS behind 12thmanlive.com allowed for fast updates for content and graphics, letting AmpThink and Texas A&M customize the site’s look repeatedly, to test — and measure — the success or failure of different offers and promotions during the seven-game 2018 home season. The 12thmanlive.com program is already slated for more experiments during the basketball season, with an eye to covering as many of the school’s sports as possible.

‘Don’t treat it like plumbing’

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 the Wi-Fi network at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, as well as the renovated State Farm Arena, also in Atlanta! DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY now!

It’s worthwhile to note here that such a forward-thinking experiment is not a huge surprise for the partnership of Texas A&M and AmpThink. While AmpThink may be best known for its expertise in large-venue Wi-Fi design (including at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field), the firm over the past few years has expanded into many other segments of the overall stadium connectivity market, including taking on full-stadium technology integration, optical fiber network design and deployment, enclosure design and manufacture, as well as digital-signage programming and related marketing activities. And Texas A&M was one of the first big stadiums to go all-in on fiber backbone connectivity for its Wi-Fi and DAS networks, which are still at the top level of performance three years after their debuts.

Initially, Texas A&M followed one of the emerging paths of market strategies when it came to engaging fans via its wireless networks: It didn’t require fans to give any identifying information (like email, or name and address) to connect. Some venues, like the Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium, consider it a point of pride to make network connections as easy as possible, with no kind of login information needed. In Atlanta, a sponsorship from AT&T for the Wi-Fi service makes it easier for the Falcons to offer it with no strings attached.

The team at Texas A&M concluded that teams should put a higher value on connectivity, since there aren’t any measurable business metrics to be found that prove that fans are happier or more engaged simply because they have “frictionless” access to Wi-Fi. And by allowing fans to use Wi-Fi anonymously, teams give away opportunities to generate a return on their technology investment.

“Some people say the network’s just plumbing, but they don’t say why,” AmpThink president Bill Anderson said in a recent interview. “Two or three years ago, having Wi-Fi with no hurdles and getting big usage numbers gave you something to brag about. But now, we’re seeing more teams ask, ‘are we getting any return on investment for our technology?’ ”

The first step in exploring that direction was taken by the school for the 2018 football season, when Texas A&M introduced a portal for Wi-Fi login which required a name and a valid email address to connect. Acknowledging that it might lower overall Wi-Fi usage, the portal did serve Texas A&M’s goal of increasing its ability to identify attendees by only allowing access to those who were willing to share some information.

For Texas A&M, using a Wi-Fi portal was an opportunistic business decision. With robust Wi-Fi and cellular networks at Kyle Field, fans who didn’t want to share their information for Wi-Fi had the choice of using the cellular DAS, which has superb coverage from multiple carriers, including Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.

Mobile web instead of an app

For the 2018 football season, Texas A&M added another twist in a new direction: The debut of a new digital game-day program, called 12thmanlive.com, which uses HTML5 to create an app-looking web page with a simple menu of activity buttons located beneath a live scoreboard feed.

According to Pat Coyle, Texas A&M’s new senior associate athletic director and chief revenue officer, the mobile-web game day program was another important cog in the school’s broader data collection and monetization strategy, which he paints as a “digital flywheel” where Texas A&M can use a multitude of data points to “adjust and improve service to our key customers.” But key to that strategy was getting live attendees to engage with the network in greater numbers than previously seen. Enter, 12thmanlive.com.

What made 12thmanlive.com interesting from one perspective was not what it had, but what it didn’t have. With no app to download, the site was quickly available to anyone attending a game simply by entering the URL into a mobile-device browser. Its simple design (no photos or videos, for example) made it fast to load and easy to understand.

On the plus side, what the site did offer was activity much different from most team or stadium apps, which generally focus on content or on interactive services, like ticketing or loyalty programs. Among the 10 buttons on the site’s main interface were features including game-day rosters, a stats tracker and a way to send chat messages to stadium personnel; the site also included a number of sponsored promotions, including a giveaway contest for a helmet signed by new head coach Jimbo Fisher, future ticket giveaways, coupons for food and beverages, and a link to join the Wi-Fi network for fans who might have been on a cellular connection to begin with.

While team apps might have been looked at to fill game-day interactions, Coyle said that previous game-day statistics from Kyle Field’s Wi-Fi network showed fewer than 1 percent of fans would use the school’s old, downloadable app while attending a game.

With a web platform, the idea was that Texas A&M would have the ability to quickly add or change more game-day centric features and to integrate them with third-party services. But in the face of historic non-participation via the app, could Texas A&M and AmpThink get fans to click on a mobile website instead? And would it be worth the cost of trying?

A much cheaper experiment than an app

One obvious factor in the idea’s favor from the beginning was the low cost of development for a web-based project, especially when compared to that of a custom app. AmpThink estimates that most custom apps cost teams somewhere in the range of $1 million. Total costs for the 12thmanlive.com project were “in the mid-five figures,” according to the school, including not just the site and tools design but some “shoulder to shoulder” help from AmpThink during the season, according to Anderson.

A Kyle Field ribbon board advertises the stadium’s Wi-Fi network. Credit: Texas A&M

Launched at the start of the 2018 football season, the site was promoted in several ways, including messages on the big video board at Kyle Field as well as on smaller TV screens and ribbon boards throughout the stadium. The big screens also promoted individual contests, allowing fans to text a code word to a short numerical code, an action that would take them directly to the 12thmanlive.com site.

The Wi-Fi portal also helped, as a “welcome” email sent after a valid login to the network contained a prominent link to the 12thmanlive.com site.

Starting with the first game, the 12thmanlive.com site showed consistent user numbers, with an average visit total of approximately 8,500 fans per game over the 7-game season — close to 10 percent participation of all attendees, a 10x improvement over historic app interaction.

According to the school, Texas A&M started the season with the assumption that they did not know exactly what fans wanted. The 12thmanlive.com site featured some interesting content, like a stadium clock that was close to real time and game-day rosters. But analysis of site visits found that this game-related content had about zero dwell time and high abandonment rates. For contests and giveaways, however, there was very high engagement.

According to statistics provided by Coyle, a repeated contest to win a signed helmet was the most popular with 31,379 registrations over the seven games. That was followed in popularity by a milkshake coupon (14,261 registrations) and a free ticket contest (9,233 registrations).

Measurable and repeatable results

With the site only turned on during game days — and only promoted inside the stadium — the 12thmanlive.com efforts did not affect traffic to the team’s regular website, Coyle said.

Overall, the Wi-Fi portal and the 12thmanlive.com site garnered 156,543 total emails for Texas A&M, with 61,607 of those emails being new to the school’s database, according to figures from Coyle. Of that number, 44,894 came from the Wi-Fi portal, and another 16,713 unique emails came from registrations on 12thmanlive.com activities.

“While it’s natural to focus on 61,607 new records, the 156,543 number is also important,” said Coyle. “These are all fans who were anonymous but are now identified as ‘in attendance’ at particular games. Now we know more of the identities of folks who bought and attended games. So we can figure out which games the season ticket holders sold on secondary, for example.”

Coyle noted that Texas A&M’s overall strategy goes far beyond just the mobile web site, with power from the Wi-Fi network analytics also helping to spin the “flywheel.” For example, the school tested proximity marketing to educate fans about a new food stand on the 600 level of the stadium by using Wi-Fi location information to detect devices on that level, sending them an email promoting the food stand if they were registered in the system.

“We essentially used the Wi-Fi APs like beacons, and the difference is we didn’t need Bluetooth or a downloaded app to do this,” Coyle said.

When users who had previously logged in to the Wi-Fi network at a earlier game arrived for a new one, Coyle said the school was able to automatically trigger an email welcoming those users back; other network data collected included arrival and departure times, and DNS information to see what other apps fans are using, Coyle said.

“All of these data are more valuable when we can connect them to real people,” Coyle said. “When we know who these people are, we can use the data to adjust and improve service to our key customers. This will enhance loyalty, and eventually, profits.”

For Anderson, some additional proof in the pudding was the opt-in information fans were willing to share in the contests, giveaways and food coupon offers. On top of the email addresses another 60,055 fans gave permission to the school to send them follow-up marketing messages, a key indicator that people are willing to engage if they perceive value.

“Compared with other venues we work in, we saw better than expected opt-in rates,” AmpThink’s Anderson said. “I think it’s because Texas A&M gave fans a better value proposition.”

With actionable data already in hand, Texas A&M is iterating the 12thmanlive.com program for basketball season, with an eye toward next year’s football season and all the new ideas they can try. The WordPress content management system strategy allows teams and the schools to do a lot of the work themselves, since experience with WordPress is fairly widespread. In fact, Anderson said teams don’t even need to pick up the phone to call AmpThink, since what Texas A&M and AmpThink did is easily replicable from a DIY perspective.

“Anybody can just go out and get a good web person and build their own successes [with this model],” Anderson said.

Levi’s Stadium sees 5.1 TB of Wi-Fi data used at college football championship

Fans and media members at Monday night’s College Football Playoff championship game used a total of 5.1 terabytes of data on the Wi-Fi network at Levi’s Stadium, according to figures provided by the San Francisco 49ers, who own and run the venue.

With 74,814 in attendance for Clemson’s 44-16 victory over Alabama, 17,440 of those in the stands found their way onto the stadium’s Wi-Fi network. According to the Niners the peak concurrent connection number of 11,674 users was seen at 7:05 p.m. local time, which was probably right around the halftime break. The peak bandwidth rate of 3.81 Gbps, the Niners said, was seen at 5:15 p.m. local time, just after kickoff.

In a nice granular breakout, the Niners said about 4.24 TB of the Wi-Fi data was used by fans, while a bit more than 675 GB was used by the more than 925 media members in attendance. The Wi-Fi data totals were recorded during an 8-1/2 hour period on Monday, from 1 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. local time.

Added to the 3.7 TB of DAS traffic AT&T reported inside Levi’s Stadium Monday night, we’re up to 8.8 TB total wireless traffic so far, with reports from Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile still not in. The top Wi-Fi number at Levi’s Stadium, for now, remains Super Bowl 50, which saw 10.1 TB of Wi-Fi traffic.

AT&T: Lots of DAS traffic for college football championship

DAS on a cart: DAS Group Professionals deployed mobile DAS stations to help cover the parking lots at Levi’s Stadium for the college football playoff championship. Credit: DGP

This may not be a news flash to any stadium network operations team but the amount of mobile data consumed by fans at college football games continues to hit high levels, according to some new figures released by AT&T.

In a press release blog post where AT&T said it saw 9 terabytes of cellular data used over the college football playoff championship-game weekend in the Bay area, AT&T also crowned a cellular “data champion,” reporting that Texas A&M saw 36.6 TB of data used on the AT&T networks in and around Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

(Actually, AT&T pointedly does NOT declare Texas A&M the champs — most likely because of some contractural issue, AT&T does not identify actual stadiums or teams in its data reports. Instead, it reports the cities where the data use occurred, but we can figure out the rest for our readers.)

For the College Football Playoff championship, AT&T was able to break down some specific numbers for us, reporting 3.7 TB of that overall total was used inside Levi’s Stadium on game day. Cell traffic from the parking lots and tailgating areas (see photo of DAS cart to left) added another 2.97 TB of traffic on AT&T’s networks, resulting in a game-day area total of 6.67 TB. That total is in Super Bowl range of traffic, so we are excited to see what the Wi-Fi traffic total is from the game (waiting now for the college playoff folks to get the statistics finalized, so stay tuned).

DAS antennas visible at Levi’s Stadium during a Niners game this past season. Credit: Paul Kapustka, MSR

For the additional 2+ TB of traffic, a footnote explains it somewhat more: “Data includes the in-venue DAS, COWs, and surrounding macro network for AT&T customers throughout the weekend.”

Any other carriers who want to add their stats to the total, you know where to find us.

Back to Texas A&M for a moment — in its blog post AT&T also noted that the stadium in College Station (which we will identify as Kyle Field) had the most single-game mobile usage in the U.S. this football season, with nearly 7 TB used on Nov. 24. Aggie fans will remember that as the wild seven-overtime 74-72 win over LSU, an incredible game that not surprisingly resulted in lots of stadium cellular traffic.