NBA stadium tech reports — NBA West, Northwest Division

Editor’s note: The following team-by-team capsule reports of NBA stadium technology deployments are an excerpt from our most recent Stadium Tech Report, THE HOOPS AND HOCKEY ISSUE. To get all the capsules in one place as well as our featured reports, interviews and analysis, download your free copy of the full report today.

Reporting by Chris Gallo

NBA WEST: Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets
Pepsi Center
Seating capacity: 19,155
Wi-Fi: No

The Denver Nuggets rely on DAS to help fans stay connected at games. As the Pepsi Center turns 16 years old this year, there are no immediate plans to add fan-facing Wi-Fi to the arena. No Wi-Fi means it’s no surprise the Nuggets rank towards the bottom of the league in home attendance.

Minnesota Timberwolves
Target Center
Seating capacity: 19,356
Wi-Fi: No

Still no Wi-Fi available at the Target Center. But the city of Minneapolis and the franchise are working toward an estimated $97 million renovation that would be sure to include ways to improve the experience for the fans. Any connectivity upgrades would be welcomed, as the arena enters its 25th year of existence. Maybe Kevin Garnett can help hang some APs as part of his return?

Oklahoma City Thunder
Chesapeake Energy Arena
Seating capacity: 18,203
Wi-Fi: Yes

Oklahoma City installed new video boards and reconfigured suites as part of an estimated $2.4 million worth of upgrades this offseason. The updates are a nice compliment for fans, who can connect to Wi-Fi and DAS in Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Portland's Moda Center, home of the NBA Trail Blazers. Credit all photos: Moda Center (click on any photo for a larger image)

Portland’s Moda Center, home of the NBA Trail Blazers. Credit all photos: Moda Center (click on any photo for a larger image)

Portland Trail Blazers
Moda Center
Seating capacity: 19,980
Wi-Fi: Yes

Owner Paul Allen delivered on a $16 million renovation plan this season, bolstering Wi-Fi and DAS in the Moda Center for years to come. It’s now easier for fans to view highlights during home games from the team’s mobile app.

Utah Jazz
EnergySolutions Arena
Seating capacity: 19,911
Wi-Fi: No

The Utah Jazz partnered with Boingo Wireless last spring to deliver a modern Distributed Antenna System to EnergySoultions Arena. The neutral DAS system is a major upgrade for fans and the 24-year-old facility. While Wi-Fi is not yet present in the arena, the franchise is patiently evaluating its needs to make it available in the future.

Stadium Tech Report: Blazing a Trail to Connectivity at Portland’s Moda Center

Portland's Moda Center, home of the NBA Trail Blazers. Credit all photos: Moda Center (click on any photo for a larger image)

Portland’s Moda Center, home of the NBA Trail Blazers. Credit all photos: Moda Center (click on any photo for a larger image)

When it comes time to build a stadium network there are two obvious choices of how to get it done: You let someone else build and run it, or do it yourself.

When neither of these options appealed to the Portland Trail Blazers and their planned networking upgrade at the Moda Center, they went with a third option: Using a neutral host provider for both DAS and Wi-Fi.

After turning to neutral host provider Crown Castle to build out the enhanced cellular DAS (distributed antenna system) network as well as a fan-facing Wi-Fi network, Portland’s home at the Moda Center now has a level of wireless connectivity that mirrors the team’s excellent on-court performance — challenging for the NBA lead and looking to keep improving.

With Wi-Fi gear from Aruba Networks and an app developed by YinzCam, fans at Trail Blazers games can use the stadium Wi-Fi to gain access to live-action video streams, player stats and even a radio broadcast of the game. The app also supports seat upgrades, a feature powered by Experience.

Now in its second year of existence, the network and all its attributes are a big hit with Portland fans, according to Vincent Ircandia, vice president for business analytics and ticket operations for the Trail Blazers, and Mike Janes, vice president of engineering and technology for the Trail Blazers.

“We do a lot of fan surveys, and the approval [for the network] continues to go up,” said Janes. “We want to figure out what we can do next.”

Third-party the third and correct choice

Editor’s note: This profile is part of our new Stadium Tech Report HOOPS AND HOCKEY ISSUE, available for free download. In addition to this story it contains additional profiles and team-by-team tech capsules for all 30 NBA teams. Download your copy today!

Aruba Wi-FI AP in the rafters at Moda Center

Aruba Wi-FI AP in the rafters at Moda Center

If you dial the clock hands back a few years you would find an arena in Portland with not much connectivity at all, and fans who made their displeasure over the situation known, loud and clearly.

“Trail Blazers fans are not shy about letting us know how they feel,” Ircandia said. “Two years ago we learned that fans didn’t have much connectivity here [at the Moda Center]. That was a real gap in the customer experience.”

Janes said the top two methods of bringing a network in — allowing a carrier to build and operate it, or to build and run it themselves — both had significant drawbacks.

“You could hand it over to a carrier [to be a neutral host] but I’ve seen that before, where one carrier has to ride on another carrier’s DAS,” Janes said. “That’s not a good solution.”

The DIY option, Janes said, would mean that the Trail Blazers team would have to build the networks themselves, and hire someone to manage it.

“That would mean we would have to deal with the [multiple] carriers directly, and we didn’t want to do that,” Janes said.

In the end, Portland went with the neutral host option, with Crown Castle building and running the DAS and installing a Wi-Fi network as well. With its wide experience in building and managing DAS deployments, Crown Castle already has AT&T and Verizon as tenants on the Moda Center DAS, with Sprint coming on soon and possibly T-Mobile joining in the near future.

And on the Wi-Fi side, the team itself “owns” the network and the associated data — “and that’s good, because we are starting to take deeper dives into that,” Janes said.

And how’s it all operating?

“No complaints [recently],” Janes said. “The fans are pretty quiet when it’s just working.”

User numbers flat, data use doubles

Maybe those users are quiet because they are busy posting pictures to Instagram or posts to Facebook, two of the leading applications being used at the Moda Center, according to the Trail Blazers. According to Ircandia, what’s interesting about the usage patterns from last year to this year is that while the number of fans using the network has remained fairly stable (at about 25 percent of attendees), the amount of wireless data consumed has just about doubled from last season to this season, meaning that people are doing more things on the network.

Toyota pregame show on the Moda Center concourse

Toyota pregame show on the Moda Center concourse

Some of that may have to do with a redesigned app, which added four live streams of video action, as well as live radio broadcast coverage.

“We didn’t leave [interaction] to chance,” Janes said. “We spent a lot of effort improving the app and redesigning the web presence to make it more enticing and robust.”

While having more features is always a good step, a big part of the challenge for any team is just getting fans to use the network and the team app. At Moda Center, there is a unique method of network promotion, which also directly benefits the team: By selling the “sponsorship” of the network to local-area Toyota dealers, the stadium operators now have a partner who actively promotes the network to fans walking into the building.

According to Ircandia, the Toyota dealers also sponsor a pregame show, set on the arena concourse with the team’s dancers in attendance to help attract attention. “They [Toyota] want to sell cars, so they have a lot of signage [about the network],” in addition to the show, Incardia said.

If there is such a thing as a good problem, there is one involving the ticket upgrade feature: Since the Trail Blazers have such passionate fans and are doing so well, there aren’t many available seats to offer for upgrades. “It’s a bit of a constrained inventory,” Janes said. Still, the team is using the Experience feature to offer last-minute ticket deals to students in the area, alerting them that there are seats available that may have a chance to be upgraded.

“They [students] have the time to drop whatever they’re doing to come over to the game,” Janes said.

Retrofitting an old flower

Previously known as the Rose Garden, the arena, which was built in 1995, clearly wasn’t initially designed with wireless connectivity in mind.

“We were retrofitting for technology that didn’t exist [when the building was built],” Ircandia said. “That’s where creativity comes in.”

DAS headend gear

DAS headend gear

Some of the creativity in network design included separate Wi-Fi antennas for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz transmissions, so that older devices didn’t have to compete with newer devices for the best Wi-Fi connection. Ircandia also said that the Moda Center “created” some new DAS headend space up in the highest reaches of the building.

“We built catwalks above the catwalks,” Ircandia said.

Looking ahead to what’s next, Janes said the network team is looking to use wireless to connect to food and beverage carts, so that point of sale operations don’t need to be tied to a plug in the wall.

“If we go wireless we can move the carts around, even put them outside, which gives us a business case improvement with no impact to the fans,” Janes said.

And now that those fans know what is possible, they will want what they have now, and more.

“That’s their expectation now,” Janes said, “that it will work when they walk in the building.”

Stadium Tech Report: NBA, NHL teams deploying more Wi-Fi without league-wide help

Hoops and hockeySo who needs a league-wide stadium networking strategy, anyway? Neither the NBA nor the NHL has such a beast, but it doesn’t seem to be stopping the deployment of fan-facing Wi-Fi services that now reach almost every NBA arena and almost two-thirds of NHL venues.

That’s one of the main themes explored by our latest STADIUM TECH REPORT, the HOOPS AND HOCKEY ISSUE, now available for free download from our site. If you’re new to our site, our quarterly long-form reports are designed to give stadium and large public venue owners and operators a way to dig deep into the topic of stadium technology, via exclusive research and some profiles of successful stadium technology deployments.

We’d like to take a quick moment to thank our sponsors, which for this issue include Mobilitie, Crown Castle, SOLiD, CommScope, TE Connectivity, Extreme Networks, Aruba Networks, and JMA Wireless. Their generous sponsorship makes it possible for us to offer this content free of charge to our readers.

In this issue we take a look at NBA and NHL arenas, with profiles on how some of the leading teams and stadium owner/operators are using technology to improve the fan experience, even without a stated, public direction on stadium technology from their respective leagues. What did we discover? First, that the lack of such strategies may not be such a bad thing, with 24 out of 29 NBA venues and 19 out of 30 NHL venues all offering some comprehensive form of free fan-facing Wi-Fi.

And while the lack of a single strategic direction also means there’s a bit of chaos when it comes to picking technology or building a team app strategy, we also think that scramble could also be a bonus right now, providing more choice and competitive pricing as the industry starts to grow as a whole. Inside our 40-page-plus issue you’ll find four in-depth profiles of Wi-Fi and DAS networking deployments, and the kinds of things those deployments make possible, like greater granularity when it comes to knowing who the fans are. There’s also analysis on the situation from yours truly and some key thinking on DAS deployment strategies from industry thought leader Seth Buechley. Again, all this is yours for the free reading, just download your copy today!

Stadium Tech Report: Aruba’s Wi-Fi smarts at the base of Trail Blazers’ new stadium experience

An Aruba AP inside the Moda Center

An Aruba AP inside the Moda Center

Though it’s not been generally known for stadium deployments, being named as the Wi-Fi supplier for the new network at the Portland Trail Blazers’ 20,000-seat Moda Center should give a boost to the arena business for Aruba Networks, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based network infrastructure supplier.

After learning of Aruba’s win in Portland we caught up via phone with Manav Khurana, vice president for product marketing at Aruba, to learn more about what Aruba is doing differently in the stadium market. Though the company might have had the inside track in Portland (since it had previously sold gear there for an internal Wi-Fi network) Khurana said the Blazers had treated this year’s stadium technology upgrade as a brand-new project. What helps set Aruba apart from other vendors, Khurana said, are some in-house hardware innovations combined with software management techniques that help overcome the obstacles faced by wireless LANs in crowded spaces.

Focused antennas, optimized connections

To help meet the Moda Center’s design criterium of supplying a wireless network “faster than your home,” Aruba brought in the custom antennas it has designed for use in high-density situations. The Aruba access point antennas, Khurana said, can be focused “like a floodlight,” allowing pinpoint coverage of specific seating areas — and also allowing multiple APs to be positioned closely together without fear of interfering with each other.

On the management side, Aruba has an interesting piece of AP firmware it calls ClientMatch, which Khurana said helps combat the problem of mobile devices “locking on” to a specific access point, even if it’s not the best AP the device might see. “ClientMatch actively monitors all APs [in a network] and if there is a better AP available [for a device] it will move the connection in a real-time basis,” Khurana said. Aruba also uses some internal firewall smarts to help prioritize traffic, a necessary evil especially when video streams are part of the equation, as they are with the new Trail Blazers’ team app.

Advertising and infrastructure partners team up in Portland

One aspect that is unique from a business angle in Portland is the branding of the public Wi-Fi network by the local Toyota dealers, a longtime Blazers advertising partner; in fact, the in-stadium SSID reveals the name “Toyota Free Wi-Fi.” Since Wi-Fi users everywhere are accustomed to seeing a splash screen when they sign in to a new network, Khurana said it should get easier to convince advertisers that Wi-Fi connectivity can provide a new kind of billboard, one with the opportunity for one-on-one engagement.

“Three or 4 years ago it used to be tough [to sell Wi-Fi ads],” Khurana said. “Now everyone sees that screen whenever they log in at the airport. It’s a lot easier now to talk about those kinds of [advertising] opportunities.”

The new network infrastructure in Portland — which will eventually include 400 Aruba APs — was deployed by Crown Castle, and a new team app for this NBA season was developed by YinzCam, which has numerous big-league team app deals in all the U.S. major leagues. Thanks to good local coverage by the Oregonian, we should be able to follow the network’s performance over the NBA season (and see if the locals ever get around to calling the stadium by the new sponsor name instead of the Rose Garden handle by which it has been previously known).

Aruba scores with new Wi-Fi deployment for Portland Trail Blazers; Toyota dealers sign on as Wi-Fi sponsor

Wireless networking vendor Aruba Networks scored a big-time NBA deal as the centerpiece technology behind an enhanced Wi-Fi deployment at the Moda Center, home of the Portland Trail Blazers. With more than 400 Wi-Fi access points reportedly deployed, the 20,000-seat arena should have great connectivity for fans as the 2014 NBA season kicks off this week.

While we haven’t yet talked to Aruba folks about the deal (we are working off the numerous versions of the press release we found yesterday) there seems to be a really interesting financial twist, one that could prove a model for others if successful: According to the press releases the local Toyota dealerships in the greater Portland area have signed on as title sponsor for the new Wi-Fi service, which will appear to user devices as “Toyota Free Wi-Fi” in the SSID list. With teams and stadium owner/operators facing the question of how to pay for Wi-Fi infrastructure deployments, title sponsorships could be one way to help offset the millions in sunk costs.

We’ll try to circle back with all the companies involved in the deal, since there are many fingers in this pie: According to the release there is participation from Crown Castle on the deployment side, and popular team-app provider YinzCam scoring yet another team-app deal.

Comcast Sportsnet Northwest to Stream Trail Blazers Games

The deal will give fans multiple on-line options

The Portland Trail Blazers have expanded their broadcast reach with a deal with partner Comcast Sportsnet Northwest that will enable fans in remote areas of the team’s NBA-approved area to now have the option to pay to get streaming live video of games in areas that Comcast does not broadcast.

The deal involves the NBA, the Portland Trail Blazers and Comcast and will permit the cable company to have a pay-per-view streaming option for fans that are in the parts of the state that Comcast does not have broadcast rights.

The deal, which is free for a trial period that runs from Jan. 1 to Jan.11 after which CSN games will be $2.99 a game or $69.99 for the season. The team has also been streaming the games that have been broadcast by partner KGW/Channel 8 last year and has continued this year. Each game is available for $2.99.

Comcast has had some difficulty in getting some TV providers in the territory to carry its broadcasts including DirecTV, Dish Network and Charter Communications. This will now enable fans in those areas to watch games.

Fans outside of the territory have the option of subscribing to the NBA League Pass that provides TV and streaming access as well as mobile for $169. The league also offers mobile only and streaming only options.

Aside from Portland the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chicago Bulls also stream cable games for their fans. I expect that this will be a tool that other teams will use to fill in gaps in their broadcast map going forward.